In a column in Xtra, “‘They’ is me: TRANS REPRESENTATION / Call us what we wish to be called”, Ivan Coyote tells the story of receiving a email from a student who was looking for Ivan’s legal name as part of an assignment for a university course. Ivan writes: “This young woman had tried and tried, she said, to find it online, but couldn’t, and she really wanted those extra marks. Would I be so kind as to just tell her?”
Ivan’s reaction? “I took a deep breath. I was flabbergasted, skin crawling with chill fingers at how totally creepy this felt, an entire college English or writing or queer studies or whatever class assigned the task of violating my privacy for extra credit at school.”
After reading the column, I shared Ivan’s reaction. I thought this was an appalling assignment. But after talking about this issue with library science and journalism professors it turns out that this sort of assignment isn’t out of the ordinary. Students are often asked to track down the legal name of authors. One student told of being asked to find a particular writer’s home address. I’m still not clear what purpose this serves in the study of library science though I can see the purpose for journalism students, I guess. It seems to me there is an interesting question of teaching ethics here. Has anyone dealt with this before?