Parker: My Wildcard is a lie


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

“NBWays” is a column that discusses the trials and tribulations of transgender and nonbinary student life on NU’s campus.

Riley Parker, Columnist


I hate my Wildcard. Not because my photo is outdated or cringeworthy, but because Northwestern misspelled my preferred name so completely that the letters on the card actually spell my legal name! Isn’t that such a totally wild coincidence?

I faced crushing disappointment last August when I tore open my mail, only to find a card emblazoned with a name different from the one I specifically requested. Assuming I had simply been the victim of a secretarial mistake, I immediately scheduled a September appointment with the Wildcard office to have it reprinted.

But when I arrived at my appointment, I learned Wildcards can only bear legal names. The woman behind the counter clearly saw my dismay, because she reprinted my unchanged Wildcard for free anyway. I left that appointment confused and crestfallen, overcome with an acute sense of isolation as I shoved my still-warm pity present into my phone case.

I started to use a sticker to hide the name on my ID that day. I fear dropping it without noticing; a stranger might pick it up and read my legal name. Every time I pick up something from the package center, I have to peel the sticker off and stand there biting my lip, hoping when the employee asks if they have the correct name, they don’t announce the false name out loud. I always speed-walk back to my dorm afterward, clutching a package with a phrase like “check first name” or “check recipient” scrawled on the outside in black marker. The name on my Wildcard is not the name I use. Its inaccuracy hinders processes like these all the time.

Legally changing my name is not currently realistic for me. For anyone who goes by a name other than the one they were assigned at birth — especially transgender people like me — a legal name change can be a convoluted, expensive or otherwise logistically unattainable process, involving mountains of paperwork and oodles of time. Equally salient is that the name change process can prompt questions from people and organizations that one might not feel safe coming out to. 

I will officially change my name someday. While I understand the purpose of legal name use in regards to financial aid matters and similar contexts, I don’t see why my Wildcard can’t reflect who I am. Many other schools — including Northeastern University, Yale University, Harvard University and New York University — already offer ID card reprints for preferred name changes. My preferred name is already associated with my campus address, CAESAR account and Canvas pages. What’s the material difference between class rosters sporting the name “Riley” and my Wildcard doing the same?

My Wildcard clashes with the reality of my everyday life as a student. Every time I pull it out, I half-expect my real name to smile back at me, because I almost never use my legal name on campus. The resulting contradiction is, if nothing else, fundamentally inefficient. The name on my Wildcard is not my name and I have to explain that fact to everyone who sees it, including professors, my work-study employers, the librarians, the package center employees and my friends. 

I would love to keep my legal name a secret. In the transgender community, an unused assigned name is popularly known as a “deadname,” and it is generally considered to be incredibly private information that’s dead for a reason. I wish I were in control of when, how and to whom I disclose my deadname, but NU has declined to grant me that agency. My Wildcard, which the school structurally forces its students to carry everywhere, is a constant burning badge of shame.

I love my name. I chose it for a reason. It fits me in a way that my old one never did and it infuses me with confidence every time I hear it. I have a billion little positive personal associations with my name, but beyond all of those reasons lies one simple truth: It makes me happy because it’s authentically mine. I have always struggled to be my nonbinary self in a world so insistent on rigid binaries, and having my own name is enormously invigorating.

I wish basic respect didn’t have to come in the form of charity, but it too often does. I sincerely hope that someday, NU will be charitable enough to print me an accurate ID card. I’ll even pay the overinflated $25 fee. Just a stroke of the pen to effect a simple policy change would make all the difference for me and surely for many others.

Riley Parker is a Communication freshman. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.