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Documentary film review: Dead Name

By Alline Cormier

In a new documentary called Dead Name, about the parents of children claiming a cross-sex identity, a psychiatrist, Stephen Levine, shares his haunting perspective:

“I’m well aware of the anguish of the parents, and it’s not just a one-time anguish that is settled by kind words from the doctor. It’s ongoing, continued anguish. Many of the parents I’ve seen have gone into therapy as a result, have become depressed and anxious, can’t sleep, and so forth. And they don’t know what to do… But I think for every parent who gets involved wisely with other parents, there are probably more parents who just deal with this by themselves, in shame and in horror and in sadness.”

Dead Name was removed from Vimeo last Monday. The popular video platform censored BrokenHearted Films’ for “violating their Terms of Service prohibiting discriminatory or hateful content.”

Vimeo removed Dead Name after 34 days—along with BrokenHearted Films’ entire dashboard with all its financial information and other analytics, according to director Taylor Reece. Reece received an email from Vimeo stating: "We have unsuccessfully published your film." This is an interesting claim, given that, according to Reece, viewers from 16 countries bought the film. Contrary to claims of hatred, which have become a pattern across social media, tech platforms, payment platforms, and elsewhere, as a reason for the cancellation of material critiquing wrong-body ideology, hatred, and discrimination seem to have nothing to do with why Dead Name and other films are being fast-tracked to the dead heap of censorship. As Reece explains, there is nothing hateful or discriminatory about the film, which discusses the personal experiences of parents whose children say they are the opposite sex. It seems the critique itself is what is being canceled, not the content of the critique, and this is a dangerous precedent being accepted across various countries.

Dead Name is a timely exploration of the experiences of parents of children labeled “transgender.”

The film foregrounds interviews with three American parents: Amy, Bill, and Helen. For most of Dead Name’s 50-minute running time, these thoughtful, caring parents share their moving experiences and what happened to their children when they—or someone in their circle—decided they were “trans.” The film also includes brief interviews with a psychiatrist and a reporter. Near the end credits, we hear briefly from other parents of children swept up in wrong-body ideology.

Mainstream media has ignored the plight and effects on the immediate family of children affirmed as “transgender,” an amorphous word with only a brief cultural history. Since thousands of children across western cultures, generally from mid-to-upper class backgrounds and white, are suddenly clamoring for drugs and surgeries to alter their sex characteristics, it stands to reason that their parents are a group we would want to hear from. The fact that Reece shines a spotlight on some of these parents, giving them a rare platform all but wholly denied them in the current “no debate” climate, is what makes Dead Name significant—and so timely.

Amy, Helen, and Bill’s stories share many commonalities. They talk of their child being influenced by others and becoming withdrawn, of feeling alone and powerless to protect their child, of others treating them like terrible, unsupportive parents for questioning their child’s new identity, and of not wanting other parents to go through what they went through. They describe this period of their life as a nightmare—their sadness and distress are palpable. They remark on the incongruity of others, presuming to know their child better than they do, and discuss being let down by mental health professionals seemingly intent on rushing their child to adopt a cross-sex identity.

One psychiatrist told Bill he was an unsupportive, abusive father for failing to identify that his son was “transgender.” In Amy’s daughter’s case, there was no psychiatric evaluation.

According to Bill, professionals’ hands are tied by the trans-affirmative model, and insufficient attention is given to other paths, for example, the watchful waiting approach used in other countries. He remarks, “How the affirmative model ever got approved is mind-boggling.” He, Amy, and Helen relate how this approach is portrayed as the only way. The message generally conveyed, Helen tells us, is: “If you don’t do it this way, you’re wrong.”

In a post-credit sequence, the mother of a trans-identified child observes, “There were entire senior classes of kids graduating from high school in small schools where every single kid identified as ‘trans.’” This fact should raise red flags, but institutions, media, and the medical industry are seemingly in thrall to an activist narrative that body dissociation is progressive. Young women with double mastectomy scars on display are being used in advertising. According to this mother, a “transgender” identity has become social currency for children, a way “to be part of something unique and unusual.” Having been a teenager myself, I can sympathize with that desire, but none of my “unique and unusual” choices led me to remove body parts or become a life-long medical patient.

Amy, Helen, and Bill make thoughtful observations about wrong-body ideology and ask valid questions that merit much more discussion than they currently engender. Amy asks her interviewer, “Where does our species go if you can cut off your body parts like this?” She wonders what her grandmother would think of all this and asks: “How are we getting so far from reality?”

When I heard Helen consider her grandmother’s thoughts on this, I knew exactly what she meant. Over the last couple of years, especially, I’ve regretted my grandmother’s death because I know that were she still alive, she wouldn’t hesitate to express in her forthright manner that wrong-body ideology is nonsense. Growing up on a farm, she knew perfectly well that castrating a bull didn’t make it a cow.

Helen asserts that people must stand up for the truth. She adds, about her son Jonah, “And the truth is: he’s not a ‘transgender girl.’” Helen doesn’t consider, at least openly, that there is no such thing as a ‘transgender child’ or person. Body dysphoria can’t be a wholesome identity and a medical condition simultaneously.

Helen, a soft-spoken woman in a loose-fitting blue T-shirt, recalls how, in 2014, after splitting up with her wife, she got a call from her four-year-old son Jonas’ daycare director, who told her Jonah said he was a girl—a call that left Helen shocked and confused. Shortly after that, the preschool sent a letter to all the parents, informing them they had a new student named Rosa (Jonah) and that the school wanted the parents to support “her.” Helen, who received the same letter, recounts how this made her feel invisible and without any control over the social transitioning of her son. Sunlight streams through the window on Helen’s right as she describes how, feeling completely helpless, she did not know what to do. She describes how it became a crusade about Jonah’s new female pronouns, which everyone had to use. Rather than challenging the idea that Jonah was the opposite sex, Helen says: “It was all about me having to accept this.”

In footage of Jonas taken at this crucial period of his life, viewers see him stating that he believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Home video footage also shows Jonah doing stereotypically masculine things—playing with guns and spaceships for example.

When Jonah was six, Helen says his kindergarten teacher told him about “sex-reassignment surgeries.” In Helen’s footage, she asks him about this. It becomes apparent that Jonah’s teacher shared information way beyond the understanding of any six-year-old.

Helen tells her interviewer:

“I started to learn about the puberty blockers and the hormones and the surgeries, and if my nightmare could’ve gotten worse, it got worse. Because now I knew there would be a permanent end to this. There could be physical changes to my son that could never be turned around, and he could be permanently harmed. And it would be a complete lie.”

At this time, Jonah developed two identities: a ‘boy identity’ with Helen and a ‘girl identity’ at school. Helen agreed to call him Rosa and gave him the choice of ‘boy clothes’ or ‘girl clothes’ but believed using female pronouns would harm him.

A mother of two boys, I found Helen’s story heartbreaking and chilling—as with many of the revelations made throughout Dead Name. When Helen remarks: “His well-being and mental health have been sacrificed. He has learned to navigate this world by not saying anything and telling people what they want to hear” I imagined my sons in Jonah’s situation and was outraged on Helen’s behalf. No one’s children should have to suffer this.

Helen describes how she would have to be very careful speaking to others because she did not want them to think she was "transphobic" or not accepting of her child. Helen, like Jonah, was learning to censor herself.

She ended up going to court over a child-custody battle with her ex-wife. American Canadian clinical psychologist and sexologist James Cantor attended as her witness. Though Helen got sole legal custody of Jonah, she cannot stop her ex-wife from calling him by a girl’s name and using female pronouns when speaking to him.

Amy, the mother of a teenage daughter, recounts how in 2015, her daughter—who had shown no signs of childhood gender dysphoria—suddenly announced she was “trans” and said she needed a new name. She had started hanging out with a friend that identified as the opposite sex. Interviewed in what appears to be a sunny park, Amy says: “We didn’t get the time to process what was going on… I could see that this was coming from somewhere else… This just came from somewhere and swept her away.”

Amy’s “easy” child, her daughter, became combative and had terrible rows with Amy, who questioned her daughter’s desire to “transition” to the opposite sex. Her daughter told her: “You have no idea how difficult my life is. I need to do this now.” She states that her daughter became verbally abusive and would say, “If I kill myself, it’s all your fault.” Their fighting led to arguments between Amy and her husband. Fearful that their daughter would take her life, Amy’s husband urged Amy to stop fighting with her.

A counselor who treats gender non-conforming youth met with Amy and her daughter. At their first meeting, after talking with Amy’s daughter for 20 minutes, the counselor told Amy she needed to support her daughter as best as she could (in her new opposite-sex identity). This meeting led to another blow-up and her daughter moving out of the family home.

In another segment of the film, Bill, wearing a blue golf shirt, is interviewed about his son, Sean, in what appears to be his kitchen. He tells us of Sean’s short-lived, difficult life—full of hardships it would pain anyone to hear. At two, Sean was diagnosed with cancer, and his leg was amputated. At five, it was discovered he had a form of leukemia, which resulted in a bone marrow transplant. When he was eight, his older brother died of a heroin overdose. Sean’s mother also died. Moreover, Bill says Sean likely knew he was sterile due to the chemotherapy. Sean had suffered so much trauma during his childhood—trauma Bill believes played a part in Sean embracing wrong-body ideology.

Following these traumatic events, Sean was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. According to Bill, it was at this point that Sean wanted hormones “to become a girl as quick as possible.” Sean set up an appointment with an endocrinologist at the hospital. However, the endocrinologist at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), who had been following Sean, canceled this appointment, as cross-sex hormones would be fatal to Sean in his condition.

Bill maintains that in Sean’s case, there were no signs of early childhood body dysphoria. Certainly, the numerous pictures we see of Sean as a child (with his buddies, his prom pictures with his girlfriend, etc.) do not indicate that he “identified” as female.

Bill believes that during his freshman year at college, Sean fell in with the wrong crowd and says Sean was going to move in with three girls who were “involved heavily into the trans thing” and told him how pretty he would look as a girl—named Eliza.

When you hear Bill, say Sean died while at college—not to mention how he learned of his son’s death—your heart can’t help but go out to him. In a surreal moment in the film, Bill tells the audience about the police officer sent to Bill’s home to inform him his daughter had died. It prompted Bill to believe the officer had the wrong parent, as he did not have a daughter.

Bill believes there is a strong possibility that Sean was taking cross-sex hormones at the time of his death because when Bill viewed his body at the funeral parlor, he didn’t recognize him. He looked so unlike himself that Bill thought the staff had the wrong body.

In relating her lonely experience of her daughter’s “transition,” Amy tells us: “It is so easy to find groups to push you along the way, that move you onto this train, and it is so hard to find people on the other side.” She was in what she describes as a nightmare for close to a year before she found a parent support group. Both she and Helen found strength and hope in a community of people who understand their situation as they, too, have been caught up in it. Now Amy is there for other parents living this nightmare.

In footage of a PEC (Partners for Ethical Care) protest outside a gender clinic, we see parents holding signs with the following messages: “Gender clinics harm children,” “No child is born in the wrong body,” “Stop tranzing gay kids.”

Brandon Showalter, a reporter at the Christian Post, remarks in his interview:

“What I would see consistently is that this ideology ruined everything it touches. And that the heartbreak and the devastation of parents and families were just staggering… To be forced to watch the slow-motion dissociation and disintegration—chemical disintegration sometimes—of their children was just like living in a horror movie. And that has only increased through the years.”

Mothers of children claiming an opposite-sex identity, interviewed in the post-credit sequence, express how this ideology has alienated their children from them, taught them that their parents are not safe, that they are the children’s enemies and toxic if they are unwilling to be 100% supportive of the child’s desire for a medical attack on their sex.

A so-called “dead name,” we learn, is a wrong-body ideology term referring to one’s name before it was changed to correspond to the new, opposite-sex identity—in most cases, the name given by one’s parents is the “dead name.” It refers to a dead identity. Synthetic sex promoters would have us believe it is criminal to use someone’s “dead name.”

Bill explains how, following his son’s funeral, people Sean had met at college decried, on the funeral parlor’s website, the use of Sean’s name rather than the name he had recently begun using, claiming he had been “dead named.” Most parents watching this documentary will sympathize with Bill and his decision to use Sean’s real name on his grave marker. After all, we understand that young, impressionable people can easily be swept up in nonsense—but at the end of the day, somebody has to be the adult in the room and act reasonably. If we don’t, where will this ideology take our children?

Dead Name is dedicated to the memory of Sean Mahoney. It can be purchased here:

Alline Cormier is a Canadian film analyst. Her articles on women in film/TV have been published in various women-led publications in Canada, the United States, and India. She is currently seeking a publisher for her film guide for women. Her website is found at, and she tweets @ACPicks2. PayPal: PayPal.Me/AllineCormier


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