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Teacher Asks If She’s Wrong For Deadnaming A Trans Student Who Constantly Changes Their Name

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When one teacher discovered a student’s non-cisgender identity, offering support and creating a safe space seemed a simple, non-negotiable task. And at first, it was.

But as time wore on the teacher struggled to be so unconditional. In fact, the teacher’s patience grew thin.

The teacher, a Redditor who goes by the name TouchMyRustySpoon, apparently needed some closure about their approach to the student. They posted a full explanation on the “Am I the A**hole (AITA)” subReddit, hoping to gain absolution. If not, at least some clarity about where they went wrong.

At the beginning, the teacher’s attitude toward the student was clear as day, even if not everyone in the child’s life felt the same way. 

“I’m a high school teacher and this year I’m teaching a student I’ve not taught before. After our first lesson the student came up to me and told me they’re trans [female to male] and prefer I use their chosen name to the name on the roll. I was happy to do so.”

“Next day they left the room crying.”

“I found them and they explained they were upset because they came out to their mother the night before and she didn’t accept them. We talked it over and I offered what advice and comfort I could and made sure they were seeing a school counselor.”

But a conversation with another teacher tainted TouchMyRustySpoon’s opinion of the student. 

“Afterwards I mentioned it to another teacher. They rolled their eyes and told me this student changes their name every other day and has come out several times.”

“The student went through more name changes and was often coming to me upset and needing to talk.”

“They also do things like pretending to not be able to breathe in class (really over the top) and pretending to limp on a broken foot (walking when they thought I wasn’t looking).”

Things escalated further from there, leaving the teacher unsure how to proceed. 

“They started showing up outside my classroom and office to talk. Would usually take up about an hour of my time. At first I was happy to because I was concerned but the more it went on I realized they just wanted attention.”

“It also made me feel uncomfortable and I need to protect myself from anyone getting the wrong idea. I started pretending to be busy, in meetings, asking other teachers to rescue me etc.”

When another name change occurred, the teacher’s thinned patience reared its head during roll call.

“One day they emailed me telling me they had changed their name AGAIN.”

“It’s so awkward in class whenever I use their new name for the first time because the reaction from the other students is who the f*** is that?”

“Next day I’m calling roll. I get to this student and I can’t remember what the new name is. I default to their birth name. I use it again a few more times that lesson.”

That class ended with a confrontation.

“At the end of the class they came up to me and asked, ‘Miss, why did you deadname me?’ I hadn’t heard that term before so I was like ‘huh?’ “

“Then this student just explodes on me, starts screaming and crying, ‘Using my birth name! Don’t you know it f***ing kills me when you do that?!’ “

“I was a bit stunned and said, ‘Honestly, you change your name so much I couldn’t even remember the new name.’ “

For the teacher, this was a clear turning point in their relationship with that student.

They put their foot down and explained it all in an email. 

“That evening I wrote the student an email. I explained that although I respect everyone’s gender identity and their right to choose a new name to go with, I don’t think they have the right to change her [sic] name whenever they feel like it and use gender identity as an excuse.”

“That they need to choose a name and stick with it and if they keep changing they can’t expect people to respect it.”

With everything laid out on the table, the teacher then acted on those words.

They made a point to change how they handle the student during the school day. 

“Since then I’ve been avoiding the student. I teach them in class but ignore the fake injuries and when I see them waiting outside my classroom or office I just say ‘go to the class’ or ‘not now, I have a meeting.’ “

“I have passed everything on to the counselor and they have advised me to make my boundaries clear and to not let them take up all my time.”

The AITA community clearly grasped the sensitive dynamics at play.

Most did support the teacher, but by no means threw the student under the bus as they did so. Many encouraged the teacher not to feel guilty about their response, invoking the “NTA” prefix, meaning “Not the A**hole.”

But these responses did advocate for the student’s needs nonetheless. 

“NTA. They took their inch and were trying to see if they could take their mile, too. This child is clearly in need of therapy, be it for gender identity issues and/or whatever else is going on.”

“As long as you continue to involve the [counselor] and set clear boundaries you won’t have done anything wrong.” — ScarlettsLetters

“NTA. But you do realize that cries for attention ARE signs of greater issue right? Them doing these things just tells me their home life is pretty horrible . Also some people struggle finding a name that fits when they transition.” — absinthe_66

“NTA. You’ve gone out of your way to help and assist them and they have simply unreasonable expectations. Drawing a line in the sand and establishing your boundaries is the best thing to do for both you and your student.” — JahamasWitness

“NTA. It took me a while to finally decide on an answer because this seems like a very delicate situation. I completely support trans rights and recognize your student’s feelings as valid, as the attention-craving could indicate emotional neglect at home.”

“However, it isn’t fair to expect a teacher to remember every single name change without a slip-up. You were trying to do the best you could, but your student kept pushing your boundaries further and further until it seemed like they almost viewed you as a same-age friend.” — Satanium

Some were more blunt. 

“NTA. This person needs help and you are not the one to provide it. If you keep engaging, they will keep coming to you.” — awkward-velociraptor

“NTA. You bent over backwards to accommodate them, but there are limits.” — The_forgotten_child

Others skipped any moral judgment and went straight for solutions. 

“Honestly I think this student is going through a lot right now by the sounds of it, even if this is all for ‘attention’ this doesn’t dismiss the fact that this student is crying out for help for some reason whether it be mental health issues, family troubles, learning dis. Whatever.”

“To avoid this happening again just ask the student 5 min before the lesson what name he would like to use and maybe refer them to a trans charity to help them in their self discovery, that way they can’t use you and pull you in for reprimanding if you just follow their harmless request each time.” — fvckaboutavegetable

Some solution-based responses focused on the role of a teacher.

They felt other professionals would help the student more effectively. 

“NTA. You are a teacher, not the school psychologist. The student obviously needs help, but it’s not your job. You have other students who need your time too. Send the kid to the school psychologist and focus on teaching.” — ik101

“NTA. On seeing the title I was all ready for some righteous indignation. However, this kid is blatantly attention seeking. They may truly be Trans but the constant name changing and faking illness etc… Is definitely begging for attention.”

“It may be worth getting the counseller to investigate their home situation to see if their is a reason for this behaviour. You should keep a distance as their seems to be an attachment issue.” — GrannyW3atherwax15

“NTA in this case, but honestly I do feel this kid needs HELP they can’t get from you, but from a professional dealing with psychological issues.”

“That being said, I do want to make this side note: you probably would have been better off using <last used name> than <birthname> because the <birthname> might have actual associated trauma and at least <last used name> would probably be the correct gender identity, i presume?”

“But given the circumstance, I understand you stopped wanting to accommodate this.”

“I’m surprised they even convinced so many people to keep switching names. I went through one name change in school and it took like 3 years to get everyone on board.” — Kay_Elle

The teacher did not provide an update, so it’s unclear if they took any of the advice offered or not. Hopefully the teacher got the answer they wanted and the student gets the support and help they needed.

Written by Eric Spring

Eric Spring lives in New York City. He has poor vision and cooks a good egg. Most of his money is spent on live music and produce. He usually wears plain, solid color sweatshirts without hoods because he assumes loud patterns make people expect something big. Typically, he'll bypass a handshake and go straight for the hug.