X-Factor UK judge and pop star Robbie Williams caught some heat on social media this weekend after asking a transgender contestant his birth name prior to his performance.
Before Felix Shepard of Birmingham could launch into his take on Kodaline’s “All I Want,” he mentioned that he was trans, and it was his hope was to be “more than just a transgender guy” on the show.
The audience roared their support.
Williams took that as his cue to pose some personal questions of Shepard asking him what his birth name had been as well as inquiring, “When did you know you were Felix?”
For those who may not know, asking a transgender person their birth, or “dead name”, is considered “verbally violent” as it is seen as disregarding their gender identity.
From The Advocate: “’Deadnaming' someone who is transgender is the practice of uttering or publishing the name that a trans person used prior to transition. Cisgender people often refer to this as a trans person’s 'real' name, as if the name a trans person either uses or have legally had changed is somehow less real than the one given them at birth, when they were assigned male or female. It is seen as a verbally violent offense that attempts to invalidate a person’s authentic gender identity."
Fans on social media were not amused. Here's just a small sample of the reaction to Williams' questions:
#XFactor okay so Felix is lovely and I'm really proud to see another trans person on the TV, but has No-one told Robbie Williams it's considered pretty darn rude to ask someone's birth name? That's quite an on-the-spot situation to be put in, having to explain oneself.
— Alexandra (@alex_staddon) September 8, 2018
Hey @robbiewilliams I must say I felt it was offending from you to ask Felix’s deadname… I’m sure there was no bad intentions Behind the question but Felix’s name is Felix. He changed it because the other one didn’t fit and I don’t think it was relevant to bring it up? #Xfactor
— céline (@quidditchfranta) September 8, 2018
@robbiewilliams made an honest mistake. It's not his fault that he wasn't educated on trans issues ect, it's important to educate people! Education is important! Let's learn from this and stop using #deadname
— Katrina Marie Scanlan (@Katrina_Scanlan) September 9, 2018
But in an interview with The Sun, Shepard explained that Williams had asked in private before he took to the stage if he could pose the question. Shepard asserts Williams was nothing but respectful.
“I was in no way offended by Robbie’s question and he did ask me if it was okay beforehand but they didn’t show that on the episode,” says the 20-year-old singer. “He was extremely sensitive about it and said ‘do you mind me asking?’ It’s a shame viewers didn’t get to see that.”
“After my audition he even came backstage and shook my hand and said another well done,” Shepard added. “He was very much on a level with me. It’s just not a common every day thing to hear about on Saturday night TV and it’s not something people have pocket knowledge about; it isn’t always in daylight for people to see."
"I don’t take it personally; I just know people don’t have a great understanding of it," said Shepard.
Fortunately, the vast majority of the response Shepard has experienced since his performance aired has been very positive.
"It has been overwhelming – the amount of people who’ve messaged me to show their love has been amazing,” said Shepard. "I’ve had messages from a few trans guys who’ve told their families that they’re trans and parents with kids that are going through it have contacted me. I stayed up until 5am replying to every single message.”
Watch Shepard’s pre-performance chat and then his rendition of “All I Want” below.