zaac writes: When the Letters Don’t Match (Pt 3)Posted: May 20, 2012
In my previous two posts (Part 1 & Part 2) I wrote about my experiences in obtaining a name change and a new drivers license in a new state with a new name. I alluded to some deeper meaning in those posts that I would like to take some time and explore here.
To summarize, the judge presiding over my name change accused me of being deceptive because I was a “female” changing my name to a “male” name, and reminded me that I would have to work hard to not deceive people. He gave me a hard time but eventually signed off on it. Then, the DMV issued me a driver’s license with a male gender marker, despite my providing supporting documentation that I’m legally female. I rejoiced over this oversight (in this state you need surgery and a subsequent court order for a legal change on a driver’s license), but quickly felt guilty, anxious, and shameful about “cheating” the system and having “incorrect” documents. I returned to the DMV the following day to alert them of this error but the teller would not change it back without my original birth certificate. I showed her all of the documentation I had yesterday that has that stupid little “F” written all over it but it didn’t matter. I can’t be sure, but I think the teller might have changed it back without today except she was really hung up on the fact that I was born with a “male” middle name. Alas, I now have a driver’s license with a male gender marker until I return with my birth certificate.
I am ecstatic to have one piece of ID that has what I feel to be the correct gender marker, but I still feel anxious about it. This whole process has also made me think about the policies, laws, requirements that dictate gender in this country and why the system is so twisted.
Here’s some of the reasons why these things bother me:
Briefly, perhaps most obviously, both the judge and the DMV teller were really stuck on what constitutes male and female names. And if you’re born on one side of the spectrum, no part of your name can fall on the other. Why does this matter? Who gets to decide? And what about gender neutral names or nonbinary folks?
This also speaks to the power of privilege, namely passing privilege. If I had applied for my name change and driver’s license last year, before starting T, I might still have been questioned about having a “male” name, but I don’t think my license would have been changed. Yesterday I appeared before the DMV teller passing as a man, so this registered in her mind more so than my supporting documents. If she read me as a cis-female, I would most likely have an “F” on my license unless I could produce documents that showed proof of a gender-related surgery. I’m still not sure how this happened except that my passing privilege let me skate on by.
That a different teller wouldn’t change it back today, I think, shows some inconsistency in requirements and processes. I understand I needed a birth certificate today (I guess), but a Passport was sufficient yesterday. Was this official DMV policy? This one person’s feelings? Did my male middle name really throw her that much? Would it have mattered if I had a “female” middle name? I tried to explain but once she saw my middle name she shut me down. Truth be told, I was happy to keep the “M” so I didn’t push it. It also felt wrong to argue that I was “really” female when I know this to be the real lie. I also wonder what would have happened if I were a transwoman, had all of this documentation showing that I was female, but the teller read me as male so indicated this on my license. I most likely would have said something yesterday and it might have been resolved then. But what if she asked for my birth certificate? And if I lived in a state that didn’t allow birth certificate alterations? What if I moved from a state that didn’t require surgery to change my license so I didn’t have these letters either?
I know we can drive ourselves crazy with what-ifs, but they’re important questions to ask. The US needs to get it together with gender markers if we’re going to make such a big fuss about them. In this state, a license can’t be changed without proof of surgery but I can hold a Passport with an “M” on it as long as I’ve met certain requirements. Had I applied for a Passport that displayed an “M” and obtained a license that said “F” and then I have a birth certificate and social security card floating around out there with different genders (which now I do).. What does that mean? Which takes precedence? What can I “legally” call myself now? What does this say about me anyway? And now will I really be accused of “lying?”
And for nonbinary people? Those that don’t identify as male or female or have an identity that falls outside / in between / around the binary? Why should there only be two options? Why is a non M/F identity any less valid? Why do we attach such strict requirements to who can hold what identity and how people get to identify themselves? Even for me, if we’re going to be perfectly accurate, my ID should say “TG” or “TM” for transguy or transman because that’s how I see myself, that’s who I am.
Nash also brought up a good point as he talked me through my anxiety earlier today. It’s a shame that trans folks should carry such shame, guilt and anxiety for possessing identification cards that do reflect our true genders when we can actually obtain them. I was / am afraid taking this step means that I’m defrauding the system, that I will be denied health coverage in the future because as a “male” I “shouldn’t” need certain things (e.g. gynecological care) so it won’t be covered, and that I feel more confused now than ever about what to put on forms that ask for gender when it actually “matters.” Standing in line at the DMV today.. I felt anxious to the point of having nausea and heartburn. I was afraid of what might happen if I didn’t say something (maybe the judge’s words are still ringing in my ears, too), and terrified to expose myself to a DMV teller and feel the potential wrath and humiliation there. Fortunately she was nice and discreet about it, but I have my guard up all the time because you just never know.
I don’t want to sit here and say gender doesn’t matter.. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know…I do know that our society places a significant emphasis on it and that I’m trying to get to a place where I feel comfortable with my gender identity/expression and way of going about the world. I also love appreciate and love the gender diversity of others. But when a single group usurps the power to control gender, dictate what it means, decide who claims ownership over one letter or another or neither and what it takes to obtain that status, and makes it so damn difficult to just be, gender feels oppressive rather than freeing.
I’m going to wait and see what happens when I get my permanent ID in the mail (if they switched it to F or left it as M since they might have caught the “error” or discrepancy between that and my paperwork), and then decide if I want to return with my birth certificate to “correct” the gender marker. If I change it back, I know I won’t be able to get a more-accurate license until after I’ve had at least top surgery (which I would like) and maybe even bottom (which I have no desire of doing)…
I wish I didn’t care so much, think so much, get anxious or fearful so much. Now you know all of my secrets and flaws, eh? (Okay, maybe just a few of them…) I made the decision not speak up right away at the DMV yesterday out of fear, and returned less than 24 hours, still motivated by fear. This does not feel like a safe or rational place from which to make significant decisions. Something tells me it’s time to move into some more advocacy work, to start shaking this state up so that other transfolks don’t have to experience what I’ve dealt with and worse.
How lovely it would be to hear President Obama say that he believes transgender people deserve equality, access to care, ability to make decisions, and the right to live a life free from fear, violence, anxiety, and discrimination, and to see him actually do something about it. Then maybe he would move me with his words.
Thoughts? Experiences? Words for an overly anxious transguy?
In kindness and solidarity,