zaac writes: When the Letters Don’t Match (Pt 1)Posted: May 11, 2012
So if you know me well, you know I have luck of a weird kind. Strange things happen to me at various times. In this three-part series I’ll address my experiences in legally changing my name and updating my name on my driver’s license. While this is one experience, and my own, I have a feeling there might be others out there who have encountered similar situations. For me this experience highlights, among other things, the way gender markers, revered as such important pieces of information, say little to nothing about a person.
Last month I applied for a name change in my home state. (We’ll call it HS, short for home state). (I’ll address some general tips on this process in another blog). I submitted my petition, $200+ in clerk fees, and called a few days later for my court date. Much to my surprise my hearing was scheduled for one week later. Whew! I awaited the day with a sense of excitement and dread. I prepared the paperwork alone and would be representing myself. Not uncommon, but a little scary for me. Thankfully I was the last person to be called on during the open docket because the hearing did not go as well as I’d hoped.
I approach the judge’s bench and the first thing he says to me is “So, I see here that you’re female and you’re changing your name to a male name, is that right?” (Oh wow, here we go.) This didn’t exactly feel like an open invitation to explain my trans identity. I was standing before him in a suit and tie, patchy beard, had a somewhat deep voice; I move about “passing” as male most of the time, my gender is legally defined as “female” and I identify as a queer transguy. Not male, not female. I wasn’t about to explain all of this so I squeaked out a “Yes you’re honor.” He then proceeded to ask me questions like “Well, don’t you think you’re being deceiving?” to which I answered, “I’m not sure what you’re getting at your honor.” (Woo, sassy!) He said that he didn’t know what I told people when I met them. (I.e. if I disclosed my trans status, if I “lied” and told them I’m a guy or what.) When I explained that I identify and present as male (to keep matters simple) he quipped back with “Yeah but you’re not.” Ouch. I stood there stunned. What do I say to that? I shut down and said as little as possible to keep from crying and to get through the next few moments.
After interrogating me about my gender “off the record” as he said for another five or so minutes, he assured me he wasn’t “trying to offend me” and finally got around to asking me the questions related to my name change. You know, things that are actually pertinent to this matter, like if I was running from debt, a lawsuit, if I had a criminal history, etc. (Things that I do not believe people who change their last name through marriage have to go through, I might add). As he signed the paperwork the judge reminded me in a stern voice that I was not to use this document to try to change my gender (“No, you’re honor”) and he was specifically including this in his notes. He also informed me that I would have to actively work hard at not deceiving people. (Gee thanks, I’ll remember that. Give me a break) After giving me shit about my signature “Is this really how you sign your name? This is your name here? These are initials.” (Okay, now you’re being nitpicky. I have a long name and no one can actually read signatures anyway. It’s in cursive at least, what do you want?) he signed my paperwork and said “Good luck, sir.”
Good luck, sir. Good luck, sir? Sir. I’m sorry, did we just spent the last 15 minutes discussing my gender and you called me sir? I appreciated it but I also wanted to yell at him to stop patronizing me because at that point, that’s what it felt like. My brain was so confused..
I held it together as I walked to the clerk’s office with the bailiff, filed for my certified copies, and went into the men’s room (ha! so there!) and cried my little eyes out.
This should have been a celebratory moment, a milestone in my life and transition. Instead, I let an ignorant judge steal all of my joy and I wasn’t able to really appreciate this until probably an entire week later. (Found out he outed me to other people..so the bittersweet taste lasted awhile..*sigh*) My partner and I went out for drinks that night, partly to celebrate, but mostly to commiserate. I got what I needed, but the process I went through to get it did not feel good. There is this fallacy that some cis-people have about trans people being inherently deceptive when we’re actually striving to live our most authentic lives (or just get through the damn day!)
The power dynamic in the room also made it difficult to know how to navigate through the hearing and I really wasn’t sure what I did / didn’t have to answer. I needed a form signed from this man with an over-inflated ego so I didn’t want to argue or push back too much. I also didn’t want to get thrown into jail for contempt or something ridiculous. I eventually learned to be proud of myself for handling the situation in a way that was best for me, but I replayed the hearing in my head over and over again. What could I have said or done differently? Did I make it harder on myself? Should I have lied about my legal gender or have been more open about my trans status from the beginning? And honestly, what difference does the gender marker make? I’m not running from debt, lawyers, cops; I’m not trying to be deceptive; I was honest from the beginning; and what makes a name inherently “male” or “female” anyway?
I’m going to continue on a similar theme in the next post (my trip to the DMV!), but for now, what are your experiences with name changes? Have you had one? Why, why not? What words of wisdom would you offer to transguys who’d like to get their name changed?
In kindness and solidarity,