zaac writes: When the Letters Don’t Match (Pt 2)Posted: May 11, 2012
Continued from: When the Letters Don’t Match (Pt 1)
So to continue on this journey…Yesterday I went to the DMV to obtain a new drivers license in my new name. This was also my first time applying for one in this state. To do so, I provided my old drivers license (from another state, gender listed as F), my Passport (from 2005, pre-transition, pre-first thought about anything trans-related, gender listed as F, pretty feminine looking picture and all–pony tail, pink shirt, tank top; my how I’ve changed!), vehicle registration, court ordered name change (again, gender listed as F), and my lease. (I also threw in the social security card and school ID for fun.) The teller made copies of all of these documents and entered my information into the system.
Well, much to my surprise the teller issued a driver’s license with gender listed as male! In HS (homestate), to change your gender on a driver’s license, the information I’ve found indicates that you need proof of surgery. Anecdotally, this means either top and bottom surgery or a strongly worded letter that indicates the individual has had “enough” surgery. Well, I’ve had no surgeries and have no letter so what happened here?
Here are my theories: (1) The teller skimmed over my documents and skipped the gender markers because I was passing as male so was presumed to be male. (2) The teller saw my previous documents but because I looked male, maybe thought those were incorrect so she was now correcting them; (3) She thought I might be a transwoman and didn’t provide an “F” for my license because I didn’t have documentation supporting gender change (4) She knew what was up and thought she’d help me out?
At first I was excited. What luck! Finally, something goes right! Thank goddess! And then… then the guilt set in, and the shame, and the fear. I couldn’t help feeling like I had “gotten away with something” or had “done something wrong.” I worried about the repercussions. (I still worry!) I’m a rather anxious person who likes to do weeks of planning for anything, so to suddenly have a drivers license with an “M” on it really took me by surprise. I was afraid of being caught for obtaining this license in an improper way, of being denied proper health insurance in the future, of having documents that don’t match, and who knows what else. I fretted, gave myself heartburn, made myself nauseous, and returned to the DMV today (why!) to alert them of the error made the previous day. I feared I was still acting too quickly on the matter, but thought if I let them know early enough I wouldn’t be charged for corrections. I also thought if I waited until Monday I would worry myself into an ulcer..
I consulted with folks on Twitter and went back and forth on the issue. After waiting in line at the DMV for 20 minutes, I ducked out just as I was about to be called. I sat in my car, fretted, fretted, then went back in, deciding to do it the “right” way in the future would set my mind at ease. Thirty minutes later I was called up to the teller. “May I help you?” “Um, hi. I had my DL issued yesterday. It has an error on it?” “Okay sure, let’s see. What’s wrong? Address? Spelling? Eye color? [gets set to type corrections into computer.]” “Um, actually my sex…It should be female. Legally, it’s female.” ((Heart pounding in ears, palms sweating.)) The teller asked what documentation I provided yesterday and I said my passport, social security card, previous license, and name change form. This is what I needed to get my license in the first place, so I should be able to “correct” it now, right? Since that was the “right” thing in the first place?
The teller looked at my document and asked (very quietly and discreetly, I may add) asked “Were you born female?” Yes I was, I say. Well wouldn’t you know it…The teller looks at my name change form and sees that my middle name (my birth name) is a “male” name. I said yes, but that’s my middle name, and my first name wasn’t a male name. “Yes, but this is a male name [pointing to middle name].” I explained that in my family, in my heritage, it’s tradition to have your dad’s first name as your middle name. She insisted. This was policy. The only way they could change it back, she told me, was if I provided my original birth certificate (which I’m going to have to request again, having lost it after moving 16 times within a 7 year period).
So you mean to tell me, I provided several documents yesterday that indicated I’m “female,” the teller made a “mistake” and wrote “male,” and now I can’t change it back without this piece of information that you didn’t need yesterday because my passport and other docs satisfied those requirements? And all, it seems, because I was born with a “male” middle name? During my name change I was told I was changing to a male name, now I was being challenged for being born with a male middle name. Oh this was too much!
Are you laughing yet?
I left the DMV, sat in my car and had a good chuckle. I could not believe it. Here I was, so worried about having the “wrong” ID that I waited in line again to correct everything and I’m told I can’t. Now, as “funny” as this all is, it raises several serious issues which I’m going to examine and explain in the next post. Again, it highlights that gender markers are just about meaningless, and also points to how unequally laws are applied, how experiences can differ based on presentation, passing-privilege, a single teller, and why obtaining documents that reflect our gender can be a ridiculous, expensive process or a matter of privilege (or what those with privilege call sometimes call “dumb luck”) and clerical error.
I’m looking forward to hearing your experiences and feedback as I move into the next post to explore more about the wider implications of this experience.
In solidarity and kindness,