Towards A Trans Inclusive Publishing Landscape

Addressing common concerns about allowing transgender authors to change their names on previously published work


By Theresa Jean Tanenbaum, Robyn Speer, Irving Rettig, Teddy G. Goetz, Phoebe O. Toups Dugas, Katta Spiel, & B.M. Watson

Image Credit: Flickr User SEO, Creative Commons

As transgender, nonbinary, and gender-non-conforming (henceforth, trans) authors and scholars, we all struggle to properly receive credit for our contributions to scholarship in the sciences and humanities. At some point in our careers the names and/or pronouns that we used to publish under stopped being correct, and we found ourselves having to fight to be called by the names that we now use in all aspects of our lives. We seek a simple remedy: to have the words that we have written properly attributed to us. However, when we’ve reached out to publishers to correct the record, we’re frequently met with objections ranging from the practical (“How will anyone ever find the paper if the name is changed?”) to the ideological (“We can’t disrupt the sanctity of the historical record.”) Over years of facing down hostile editorial boards, publishing committees, and angry internet commentators, we’ve encountered the same objections again and again. Even as you read this, you may find yourself entertaining some concerns about allowing trans people to correct their names in previous work.

We have produced this essay to document and respond to the most common objections that we have encountered in our journey to reach a more trans inclusive publishing landscape. Our goal with this work is to reduce the amount of ongoing emotional labor and time that transgender people and their allies must spend addressing the most common arguments. These arguments surface repeatedly because their perpetrators are people who are unaccustomed to thinking about the particular challenges faced by trans scholars, and the specific risks that we incur by transitioning in the midst of an academic career. We hope that by laying this out comprehensively here, the many trans writers who are engaged in struggling for the right to be called by their names may be able to reclaim some of that time and redirect it to the actual work of education, service, and scholarship that we have dedicated our lives to.

Who are we?

We are trans authors and researchers who work across the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. We are graduate students early in our careers, postdoctoral scholars, and tenured and untenured faculty at major research universities. We have all dedicated ourselves to our particular disciplines but have found, in transitioning, that the publishers and associations upon whom we rely to disseminate our work lack a clear understanding of the needs of trans scholars within the community. Although none of us initially set out to be activists, or experts on publishing policy, we have all had to develop this expertise out of necessity to persuade our institutions to accord us the basic dignity of our correct names. Some of us have had success within our fields, most notably within the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and more recently within the American Chemical Society (ACS), and yet the struggle towards a universally adopted trans inclusive approach to name changes carries on.

What is at stake for trans authors?

Harms of Juxtaposition and Inadvertent Disclosure

Perhaps the single biggest harm to trans authors who change their names, is the risk of their gender identity being disclosed to readers without their consent. Academics broadly agree that the sexuality, race, age, religion, marital status, and other such private information about an author should not be emblazoned across a work of scholarship that they produce. While details about a given author may or may not be ascertainable through a search of that author online, it is not the place of a publisher to disclose private information about an author that is peripheral to the scholarship that is being published and presented. Yet, some publishers, when asked to correct a trans author’s name, will publish it as an erratum to a previous article. This commonly looks like the following:

“Author [DEADNAME] has changed their name to [CORRECT NAME]”

When this happens, it is often the result of a publisher trying to accommodate the trans author’s request for a correction to their previous work. Most publishers lack the policy or processes needed to do so invisibly or are resistant to the idea of an invisible name change in principle.

In other cases, publishers are willing to update an author’s name on a website, metadata, or index page, but are unwilling to alter the file associated with that work, typically a .PDF. Other publishers simply will not make any change at all, leaving trans authors to choose between continuing to link to their previous scholarship in a way that discloses their deadname, or abandoning their intellectual property in order to make a clean break.

Continuing to publish a trans scholar’s previous name in relationship with their work, whether through refusal, partial correction , or the same process that is used to report errors in scholarship, is harmful and discriminatory for several reasons:

First, trans individuals have long been stigmatized and vilified in media representation and anti-trans discourses as being deceptive about their gender. Locating any remedy for properly identifying trans authors under a policy for errata, retractions, and corrections only serves to perpetuate that stigma. It suggests that in changing their name, the trans writer has committed a scientific or factual error within the content of their scholarship.

Second, we view inadvertent public disclosure of a trans individual’s previous identity as an act of violence against that individual with social, professional, economic, and psychological harms. When a publisher refuses to change a name or does so in a way that preserves a trans author’s previous name for public viewing, this increases the likelihood of public disclosure of an author’s gender identity without their consent.

Third, by supporting the continued circulation of an incorrect identity, publishers harm the scholarly record itself by disseminating incorrect information and dividing an author’s work across multiple records. Not only is this harmful to and discriminatory against trans scholars, it is damaging to scholarship at large. It interferes with the bibliometrics that are used to assess a work’s impact, it produces confusion about how to cite and attribute scholarship, and it endangers the tenure and promotion process of an already vulnerable minority.

When someone transitions they become susceptible to significant social, political, economic, and personal risk. These risks are not the fault of trans authors for transitioning, nor are they intrinsic to transness — they are the risks incurred by being trans within a cisgender dominated society that routinely mistreats transgender people. Trans people often seek to mitigate these risks by correcting their personal documentation and legal identification when this option is available to them. However, even when there is a legal correction available for names and gender markers, such processes are typically slow, demeaning, and costly. Failure to update public facing records increases the risk of inadvertent disclosure, and has material consequences for trans people.

Social Consequences of Current Policies

Allowing a previous name to persist online discloses that someone is trans to even a casual observer. This directly increases the chances that the trans person will be subjected to abuse, harassment, assault, and even murder. Trans people need to be able to choose how and when they disclose their gender identity.

Frequently, trans scholars publish their scholarship through their affiliation with a university, research center, or other site of knowledge production. These affiliations come with addresses that make the author locatable. Within our group of authors, we know trans researchers who have had guns shot into their homes when hate groups in the area learned that they were trans. We know trans people who are subjected to vicious campaigns of harassment and abuse as a result of their gender identity. Therefore as a measure of public safety, the protection of trans identities must be at the forefront of any new publication policies.

Only recently has the US Supreme court ruled that Title VII anti-discrimination protections include queer and trans people in the workplace. However, there is still a huge constituency of people who seek to erase trans identities and do so by removing any and all legal protections in pursuit of that goal. This harsh reality is evidenced by the recent adoption of a policy in the US that allows doctors to deny trans people access to healthcare on the basis of their gender identity. The situation isn’t much better in the rest of the world, where trans identity is sometimes criminalized. In addition, within the US, there are more states where someone can murder a trans person, and then claim the “trans panic” defense than there are states where our murderers would be held accountable.

Professional Consequences of Current Policies

Disclosing someone’s transition through the use of their previous name not only endangers that person’s life, and livelihood, but also exposes them to implicit and explicit bias in terms of citations, tenure and promotion, and other aspects of their professional life. A trans scholar should be evaluated based on their scholarship, not their transness. It is not appropriate for a publisher to endanger the career and safety of a trans author by disclosing their identity.

Allowing an incorrect name to persist within the scholarly record also incurs ongoing costs to a trans author by splitting their bibliometrics across two different online profiles. This complicates citation counts, makes H index and i10 scores more difficult to calculate, and leads other scholars to continue to mis-cite the trans person in future publications. Additionally, the perpetuation of incorrect citations harms the author’s metrics and use of tools such as Google Scholar, PubMed, ResearchGate, Crossref, DBLP, and others.

It’s essential to understand that the consequences that trans scholars shoulder are passed along to their students, colleagues, and the field at large. Time that a trans researcher must devote to resolving naming conflicts is time lost from teaching, research, and service.

Psychological Consequences of Current Policies

Many trans people use the term “deadname” to discuss their previous identity. This word choice may seem melodramatic to someone who has not experienced a lifetime of being misgendered, but for many trans people their old name refers to an aspect of their life that they’ve had to take extreme measures to distance themselves from. Many trans people choose to change their name as part of their transition, despite the knowledge that doing so will incur all of the previously mentioned social and professional consequences, because the alternative is so much worse. We should not have to link to statistics on suicide in the trans community while making a case for a scholarly organization to adopt a trans inclusive policy, but here are some. We raise this, not to be histrionic, but to drive home what is at stake for trans people requesting a name change. For many trans people, the need to be recognized as their correct gender is a matter of life and death. Continuing to disclose and disseminate their deadname perpetrates an act of violence against a trans person.

Research on the health problems of minoritized populations demonstrates that improper description and categorization can have a measurable health impact. Minorities are especially prone to stressors that include “feedback from others that is incompatible with one’s self-identity [and] negative feedback from one’s in-group and the consequent threat rejection by the group.” When this stress is compounded with the everyday stress of work, family life, and so on, it can cause an increase in the likelihood that the individual will experience negative psychological consequences including “anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or actions.”

Continuing to publish and propagate a trans scientists deadname online causes them direct material harm, as well as significant social and psychological distress. We establish and assert these harms as real, material, and lasting with consequences for trans scholars, and the project of scholarship itself. At this moment in history, it is incumbent upon the publishing world to remedy the longstanding injustice and discrimination embodied in previous name change policies.

Refuting common objections to trans inclusive name change policies.

As part of the ACM’s process for vetting our trans-inclusive name change policy, they circulated it among their entire membership and asked for feedback. This feedback was provided anonymously, and included people advocating on behalf of the policy, and in opposition to it. As trans people who have spent years coming to terms with how publishers, editors, and internet commentators think about name change policies, very little of what we saw surprised us. We preserved the negative comments and objections so that we could better address these concerns when we encountered them. In this section, we present the collected anonymous objections of the Association of Computing Machinery, followed by extensive responses to the most common concerns. We also include, within our list of objections, concerns raised by editors that we have interacted with over the course of our years of advocating for more inclusive name change policies. We hope that by comprehensively refuting the common objections to this policy we can provide a resource for publishers and editors to educate themselves, and for other trans scholars to push back against the ignorant and often transphobic arguments that we face. The objections we faced are as follows, organized roughly by theme:

Objection #1: If we allow trans authors to change their names, what next? Can anyone revise any history they want?

Quotes from editors and the ACM community:

  • “Changing history is a fool’s errand. This feels like a scene from 1984.”
  • “What is published is published. It’s public record. A name change isn’t a correction to research that is published; it’s a personal decision that need only be reflected in the present. I am against name changes on published work.”
  • “I’m wary of a trusted archive implementing a policy to change archived data. One of my concerns as a computing professional In watching the cultural shift to everything being digital is the ease with which information can be silently filtered/changed/suppressed. Implementation of this policy would seem to normalize archives changing archived records and encourage the development of tools needed for an Orwellian Ministry of Truth. Can we trust an archive that modifies its artifacts?”
  • “I don’t see any good reason to change the policy. A paper is identified by the names of the primary authors at the time the paper was written, this is part of the permanent record and is the underlying mechanism that allows academia to function. Even when someone marries or changes gender, this does not allow them to rewrite history.”

Responding to Objection #1:

This is a form of the “slippery slope” fallacy. It raises the question: why should trans authors get to change their names, but other people can’t make changes to previously published scholarship? Won’t allowing name changes undermine the sanctity of previously published scholarship?

There are two clear ways to refute this:

  1. An author’s name is not a scholarly contribution. The name of the author is an essential part of a work of science, but it is not the science itself, which is reported on within the body of a published work. The name published with a work tells us who is speaking but not what is said. This is an important reason to allow a trans person to update their name on the work: so that readers may more clearly know who has authored it.
  2. An author is the sole authority over their identity. The publishing world currently does not require external verification of an author’s identity. When any author submits a work for publication, there is no background check performed, and the author is not asked to furnish legal ID attesting that they are in fact the person they say they are. We rightly assume that it is within the authority of any scholar to assert their identity at the time of publication without additional cumbersome infrastructures. Similarly, we don’t spell check the contents of every bibliography in every published paper. We trust authors to correctly cite their colleagues and sources, even though peoples names are frequently misspelled in reference lists. Scholarship operates on a system of discretion: we allow authors a degree of autonomy and discretion over these things, because it would be untenable to police academics to this degree. Thus, when my name is misspelled in a publication, I may request that the error be corrected. Similarly, it is the business of the trans person and only the trans person whether or not their name is correct in any given instance. They are the only stakeholder whose opinion matters in this situation, and the sole authority to which a publisher should defer when deciding how to handle that person’s scholarship.

More broadly, the notion of a sacrosanct historical record fails to understand the myriad of ways in which this record is a construct, constituted by our ongoing collective negotiations around what is and isn’t a meaningful contribution to the project of scholarship. The historical record, of necessity, is a curated archive. It cannot possibly contain everything that we might imagine including: drafts, working copies, notes, discarded notions, failed studies, and abandoned and incompetent scholarship. As a community we agree that certain information merits preservation and other information doesn’t. Scholars of archives recognize that the task of maintaining the information we’ve chosen to preserve is a dynamic and ongoing one, involving continuous transformation across different platforms and standards. Everytime a publisher introduces a new schema for organizing, tagging, and cataloging their publications, the historical record changes to accommodate the new perspective. The so-called “historical record” is a living thing that we collectively tend-to, and nurture, to advance the project of knowledge production and preservation. Insisting on the sanctity of some sort of static idealized “historical record” misunderstands the very nature of such a record. It’s the equivalent of saying that because a paper was initially published on paper, it would violate the historical record to digitize that paper and put it online.

Objection #2: How will people find the paper if it’s cited under the wrong name everywhere?

Quotes from editors and the ACM community:

  • “I am unsure how the policy would manage the authenticity of a previously referenced article? If the original article has been referenced elsewhere, how will future readers reconcile such references when the original version is no longer available? This comes from the point “present all publicly accessible versions of that author’s past published works as if those works were originally published with the correct name.” I would think that at least the metadata for the original record would remain accessible and be linked to the modified version.”
  • “Will this policy impact the references listed within other ACM publications? Will existing records be modified to reconcile with the most recent version of the authors’ names?”
  • “Then what happens to all the papers that REFERENCED THE ORIGINAL PAPER WITH THE ORIGINAL AUTHORS’ NAMES. They are all now wrong.”
  • “My only concern is when trying to track down articles cited in papers I’m using- how will I find the correct paper? If this barrier can be overcome, then I’m all for it!”

Responding to Objection #2:

This is a place where we agree with the objection that is being raised: it’s true that citing a trans person by their deadname is wrong. It’s confusing, disrespectful to the trans person, and increases the possibility of inadvertent disclosure and its associated risks. We don’t, however, see this as a reason to refuse an author the right to be named properly in their own scholarship. Instead, we see this as a reason for name change policies to extend to all instances of the published name, in both the trans scholars work, and in the bibliographies of all scholarship that cites that work. Papers that include a trans person’s deadname do violence to that trans person. This is true, whether or not the person has applied for relief from the publisher. Once a publisher has agreed to honor a trans scholar’s name change petition, that relief should extend to every instance of the scholar’s name within the archives of the publisher. Unfortunately, we know of no publisher who is currently willing to take this step. The ACM has allowed that they might permit trans scholars to request their deadname be corrected within citing scholarship, however they insist that the authors of those citing papers must grant permission first. This is both impractical and unethical. Impractical, because administering a massive process of permission seeking is beyond the scope of any publisher or individual author, especially for established scholars with hundreds of citations from thousands of other authors. Unethical because it amounts to telling someone being punched in the face that the rights of the person doing the punching to be free to punch someone in the face take precedence over the rights of the punchee to not be harmed.

This objection also misunderstands how search engines and scholarship work. An author changing their name, contrary to the objections raised here, does not render their work more difficult to find. Much contemporary scholarship is now published with unique identifiers such as a DOI, or an ISBN, or even a permanent URL for an online publication. These kinds of unique identifiers are “machine readable” and differ from the “human readable” details of the paper’s citation. If you have a citation without a DOI and want to find the corresponding paper, you put it into a search engine. Search engines are robust to minor changes or errors. The citations you already see in papers often contain minor errors, and yet you can still find papers.

Additionally, authorial names already change depending on which citation style a journal uses. For example, MLA requires that an authorial name be spelled out in full, whereas APA requires that only the first letter of the author’s first name be used. Additionally, library and information science research has demonstrated that information seekers overwhelmingly depend on words from the article title, followed by the author’s surname and words from the article title. Users searching by surname and the first or last words in a title found the material they were looking for over 90% of the time. In practice, a trans scholar changing their name does not materially impact the findability of their work.

Objection #3: Won’t someone find a way to use this policy for fraudulent ends?

Quotes from editors and the ACM community:

  • “I think we are really opening a can of worms. What if they want to remove their name altogether? Or change order of authors, etc. (I guess all of those are rejected, I assume).”
  • “Our lawyers raised concerns that having no threshold on when we permit a silent change to happen could leave it open to fraud or other sorts of abuse. I’m also concerned about creating opportunities for dishonest actors ― the first instance of which could threaten to undermine the whole endeavour.”
  • “How might someone who has committed sexual harassment or fraud use this policy to avoid their reputation by changing their name?”

Responding to Objection #3:

The bogeyman of “someone committing fraud” if we allow trans people to correct their records is grounded in the transphobic idea that trans people are somehow deceiving everyone about our identities. This is parallel to the rules that many state governments in the US maintain, where a trans person must publish their intent to change their name in a public newspaper for a month, so that it may be contested by the community prior to a name change hearing by a judge. This practice is grounded in the assumption that the only people who want to change their names are criminals with something to hide, and it’s a form of pernicious discrimination that trans people deal with every day. In this sense, arguments that say “trans people can’t be given consideration because there are sexual criminals out there or people commiting fraud” feels very similar to the rationale behind the trans exclusionary bathroom bills, which vilify imaginary “men in dresses” in order to prevent trans women from using facilities that conform to their identity. In doing so, this position ignores the reality, which is that trans women are far more likely to be the victims of an assault than the perpetrators.

This objection causes real harm to trans authors in order to prevent an imagined harm to publishers. The idea of fraud and abuse seems scary, but in practice isn’t especially threatening when one considers the circumstances in which fraud might occur.

Scenario #1: Charlie Smith is one of those senior colleagues that the whisper network in his academic community knows about. Younger female colleagues are warned to never be alone with him at a conference, and many women in the community have stories about his inappropriate behavior. Perhaps Charlie wants to change his name to avoid this reputation? How would this work? Charlie is still Charlie. He’s still a presence in his community. He might be publishing under the name of Bob Lazarus now, but is that sufficient to distance himself from that reputation. More crucially, is it within the moral or legal mandate of the publisher to hold him accountable for his reputation? After all, publishers don’t ask authors to publish under their legal names. Plenty of people publish pseudonymously without consequence or accusation of deception. None of us want to require legal proof of identity before a publication is entered into the scholarly record — administering such a system sounds like a nightmare for everyone involved.

Scenario #2: Allison Shifty is a researcher who has been shown to have falsified data in a publication, which has led to a correction being issued to her most significant paper. She wants to change her name to avoid further stigma associated with her past lapse in ethics. Even if the publisher changes her name on the previous paper, it still retains the correction notice, indicating that the author initially committed a breach of professional ethics. Changing her name won’t distance her from that work, unless she leaves that work unmodified. And Allison may well choose to publish under her married name as A. Contrite in future publications: or under a pseudonym. We don’t exercise any control over authors in this situation currently, nor should we for reasons discussed above.

Do publishers have an obligation to warn readers about the sexual indiscretions of scholars within the field? Is it within the publisher’s responsibility to determine that a scholar is publishing under only one name at any given time? Both of the scenarios outline possible abuses or “harms” that are either outside the remit of academic publishers, or are not exacerbated by a trans inclusive policy.

It’s important to remember that reputational currency is attached to names. Changing names inconsistently undermines that currency, a cost that few scholars are willing to bear. Denying trans people access to their previous reputation in the name of preventing these kinds of imagined abuses enacts real harm in avoidance of fiction.

Similarly, the Springer lawyers raised concerns that having no threshold on when we permit a silent change to happen could leave it open to fraud or other sorts of abuse. Their editors expressed concern about creating opportunities for dishonest actors ― the first instance of which could threaten to undermine the whole endeavour. The argument “we can’t possibly do X because ill meaning folks could undermine the proposed systemic change and wreak havoc” is an argument that has been used to denounce trans-inclusivity and equity in countless legal battles throughout history. We see parallels with the main arguments against trans folks in athletics: that some hypothetical bad actor might use a trans-inclusive policy to abuse the new system that was built to support trans folks. The problem here is the assumption that treating trans people with dignity requires publishers to circumvent their existing protections against fraudulent behavior. If those policies can’t hold up when new policies prioritizing trans inclusivity (name changes) are pushed through, the problem lies with inadequate consideration of potential abuses to the system, not with the trans-inclusive policy.

In envisioning that allowing people to change their names produces an opportunity for fraud or abuse, this objection fails to understand the current regulatory processes (or lack thereof) that all authors are subject to. This is especially apparent when one considers that right now, authors are not required to publish under their legal name, or under the name they published under before. Right now, if someone with a history of plagiarism wants to publish their work pseudonymously and is willing to go through the trouble of creating a fictional identity under which to do so, the presence or absence of a trans-inclusive name change policy will neither help nor hinder them. The proposed name change policy, in practice, can only be used for one thing: making certain that the entire bibliography of an author is attributed using the same name.

To allay similar concerns from the ACM’s lawyers, the implementation committee introduced a formal written layer to the request process whereby an author submitted a signed letter attesting that they were submitting the request solely on their own behalf for the purposes of correcting the bibliographic record. This produces an actionable paper trail, but more importantly, it allows the ACM to shift liability to an author for any misrepresentations. Given that the entirety of the publishing endeavor relies upon an assumption of good-faith action, this is an extraordinary step beyond the level of protection applied to cis authors at the time of paper submission, but it does not present a major obstacle to trans authors seeking this remedy.

Additionally, ORCIDs have already set a precedent for linking scholarly work done under different names due to middle initials, marriage, and other reasons (e.g. “Jane A Smith” and “Jane Smith” or “John Jones” and “John Jones-Williams”). With ORCIDs, one is able to set one’s name (and multiple additional alias versions) without any legal documentation or justification. No cases have yet been publicized of that system being misused or abused. The proposed name change policy would simply build upon that precedent.

Objection #4: Won’t allowing name changes impact accessibility, break gender-based bibliometrics, and otherwise terribly inconvenience publishers?

Quotes from editors and the ACM community:

  • “This relates more to implementation, but if pdfs in the digital library are to be updated, please ensure this does not break accessibility features that may have been present in the original pdf. Perhaps this could even be an opportunity to add accessibility to a pdf that was not originally accessible.”
  • “Why don’t publishers want to accommodate these requests? Is it just because they are costly and inconvenient, or are there other deeper reasons?”
  • “What about bibliometric studies that look at citation rates by gender? Will they be thrown off?”

Responding to Objection #4:

Frequently, when we ask publishers to justify their resistance to changing their policies, we are not given a well considered or thought out reason. “Because we say so,” is typically the response we receive from the publishing world. We believe there are a few reasons for this.

  1. Publishers don’t have a good reason why they won’t change their policies because they haven’t ever had to question those policies until now.
  2. Implementing this kind of change is costly and often inconvenient. Publishers view this as a “minority issue” that doesn’t merit the costs associated with solving it.
  3. Up until pretty recently, trans people were sufficiently invisible and misunderstood in our society, and so there were no reputational costs to the publishers for leaving discriminatory policies in place. Our society is only just starting to attempt to hold people accountable for their misogyny and homophobia: increasingly there are reputational costs to enacting transphobic policies, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Trump administration or the recent unmasking of JK Rowling as a transphobic bigot, it’s that there are plenty of folks out there ready to celebrate anyone who is willing to kick trans people — one of the most vulnerable and discriminated-against populations in the world — to the curb.
  4. When pushed, publishers will argue that changing the names of authors violates their commitment to the historical record — a position that misunderstands the ways in which the historical record is itself a construct designed to justify and preserve existing power structures.
  5. Because trans authors lack legal protections throughout the world, there is no external system to apply pressure to publishers to adopt more inclusive policies.Publishers are free to continue to maintain discriminatory policies with impunity because there are no robust legal protections against being deadnamed or misgendered in any state or country.
  6. It’s also likely that most major publishers are staffed by people who are cisgender and are not personally famiar with any trans people. Given the long history of media portrayals of trans people as deceptive, mentally ill, dangerous, and ridiculous, it is unsurprising that few publishers have been motivated to act on the behalf of the trans members of their community.

We suspect that these six things are at least partially responsible for the longstanding apathy within the publishing world.

To the question of gender bibliometrics, there isn’t a database of gender markers associated with authors that bibliometric scholars can reference, which means that all studies of citation rate by gender are operating on the shaky inference that one can correctly gender someone based on their name. This is questionable at best, precisely because many trans people feel unsafe disclosing their correct gender due to safety concerns. A demographic survey that included trans woman prior to her transition would have (incorrectly) designated her as male. Should those same people revise their assessment of her work following her name change, the result is a more accurate demographic sample than previously reported. This is because she was always a woman, even if they didn’t know it.

Finally, on the issue of accessibility, this feels like a situation in which the needs of one vulnerable population are being pitted against the needs of another. Trans people seeking to have their names corrected should not be held accountable for whether or not publishers are able to maintain accessible documents. Like the other concerns expressed above, this objection isn’t serious.

Objection #5: Who decides who deserves a name change? Are name changes really necessary?

Quotes from editors and the ACM community:

  • “My one question is there is no definition of what is meant by ‘changing their name.’ Is it simply choosing to be called something different or will there be a higher bar whereby the individual has legally changed their name. I support the policy with stating it should be ‘legally’. That said, if there is a reason why it doesn’t state ‘legally’ then it would be helpful to know why.”
  • “Implementation sounds challenging. Will the corresponding author of a paper where a co-author is changing their name be contacted for permission, or notified of the change? If authors of a second paper that references the old name cannot be reached for permission, what happens? If the corresponding author does not give permission for their pdf to be updated, will their metadata still be updated?”
  • Instead of changing your name on the paper, why don’t you register your paper with “ORCID and change your name there?”

Responding to Objection #5:

These objections are all forms of unnecessary gatekeeping. Most commonly, we’ve found publishers and editors who insist that the person seeking the name change must provide proof of the legality of the name change. Not every trans person obtains a legal name change for many reasons. For some, the financial and logistical burden of legally changing their name is simply too great. For others, they may live in a state or country that does not allow trans people to legally change their name. Some places will only grant a legal name and gender marker change if the trans person has been sterilized, and undergone gender confirmation surgery (GCS), a process which can take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Many trans people never seek a legal name change due to these restrictions. Given the tenuous and precarious nature of trans people around the world, requiring proof of a legal name change effectively discriminates against scholars in certain geographical regions, or in financially precarious circumstances.

Relatedly, allowing co-authors to block a name change for a trans author puts the rights of a secure majority over the needs of a vulnerable minority. We endorse notifying co-authors, but don’t believe that there are circumstances where they should be given veto power over a trans person’s identity.

Finally, while trans authors do register their papers and change their name on ORCID, this “why don’t you just” suggestion doesn’t solve the problem. ORCID indexes an author’s work, but this is not a substitute for correcting that work at the source. Updating and ORCID doesn’t prevent a trans author from being deadnamed by others, and it doesn’t reduce the harms of disclosure.

Implementation Case Study, April 2020: Theresa Jean Tanenbaum’s Name Change at Springer

How not to handle a name change request.

We close this essay with a brief case study, intended to illustrate the current state of affairs in the publishing world.

“I reached out to editors of my work at Springer in July and August of 2019 about my desire to change my name on the 14 articles and chapters I had published with them. I was told that a name change was not possible, however Springer could issue an erratum for each article indicating that I’d changed my name. I was dissatisfied with this solution, but accepted it as a stopgap. However, I was unprepared for exactly how terrible the final outcome would be for me. In many ways, Springer’s partial solution is much worse than no solution at all. The curious reader might naturally, at this point, want to visit Springer’s site and look up my work for themselves. I’d humbly request that you do not do so. Springer currently juxtaposes my deadname and my correct name in their system. While I recognize that my deadname is easily found online, I’d prefer if people knew me first and foremost as “Tess”. That old name didn’t really fit me.

Springer’s erratum and retractions policy is simply not the correct tool for dealing with my name change. First, and foremost, this correction doesn’t actually correct my name in the publication. On Springer’s site, my deadname continues to be associated with the full-text .PDF copy, and in the metadata. There is no way to download a correct version of my article — indeed, no such version exists — which means my deadname will continue to propagate with the outdated .PDF because it is the only version of the paper available.

Because there is no corrected version of my work available it means when I cite myself in those old articles, I’m deadnaming myself within them. This is true even when those citations point at articles where the publisher has implemented my name change. Thus, my own work is turned into an attack on me, and points to versions of my scholarship that no longer exist.

Insult is added to injury: even though Springer published an errata they failed to update their metadata files. When a reader uses springer’s site to download a .RIS (Zotero) .ENW (Endnote) or .BIB (BibTex) file the metadata in the file (under the AU, author, or %A field respectively) still lists my deadname, which means that I am confronted by my own deadname everytime I use a citation manager. This means that anyone citing my work also is automatically populating their database with this incorrect information, and is given no indication that this information is wrong. This means that while a change has technically been made, it doesn’t actually impact how I am cited, and it means that I am not correctly receiving credit for my scholarship.

The newly published website announcing the correction is also hugely problematic because it doesn’t contain a complete copy of my article. Instead, it simply provides a single page paper stub that links back to the incorrect original. Frustratingly, it directly juxtaposes my deadname with my correct name. You might as well have just put up a big red tag: WARNING THIS AUTHOR IS TRANSGENDER!

When you click on my correct name in Springer’s system, the only articles I’m credited with are these “corrections”, rather than my actual scholarship. As myself, I don’t get credit for my work.

To add further to my discomfort, the notification of changes is being sent to my deadname email account, and addressed to my deadname.

Taken as a whole this is dehumanising and insulting.

Whether Springer intends it to be or not, this is a form of discrimination that amounts to a misattribution of my scholarship. It will lead to me being incorrectly credited in an unceasing and ongoing fashion, and — more insidiously — it means that any reader of my work now is aware that I am a transgender woman, without my consent. This disclosure means that any transphobic reader is more likely to disregard my work, or worse. This has undoubtedly had a direct impact on the frequency and manner in which my scholarship is cited. It also exposes me to death threats, hate mail, and abuse from anyone who happens to take issue with my gender identity. Compounding all this, since my affiliation information is included on each paper, Springer has now disclosed my location to anyone who might wish me harm simply for being a transgender woman writing about games and digital media. These concerns are not hypothetical, nor are they an academic exercise for me: they are a matter of personal safety. While Springer might be willing to assume this risk, I am not. It’s also worth noting that my case has helped raise this issue within Springer, and currently their editors are making progress on a new policy that will hopefully improve things for trans authors in the future.”

— Theresa Jean Tanenbaum

Next Steps: Advocating for Trans Inclusive Policies around Author Name Changes

In this document we have made a case for more trans inclusive name change policies within the academic publishing world. Already we have heard that publishers are starting to acknowledge this as a legitimate concern and working to develop new approaches to author names. We hope that this document can help other scholars and activists working to change the publishing world make their case heard.

In the coming weeks we will be releasing a model policy and a model implementation plan. If the first step is convincing publishers to take action, the next steps are to guide publishers in sustainable approaches to name changes. We hope that our efforts here will contribute to increased justice for trans people within our scholarly communities, so that they may focus on their scholarship and not continue to throw countless countless hours away in pursuit of the most basic of human dignities: to be properly named.



Theresa Jean Tanenbaum
The Name Change Policy Working Group

Just your regular transgender, polyamorous, Sapphic, AuDHD, disabled, Jewish, witch. Making music, poems, stories, games, and trouble.