I just turned 31 years old and received my first birthday cards addressed to Nick, as well as my first “Happy Birthday, Dear Nick”s (including one “Happy Birthday, Dear Nick? Nick? Nicky?” My friends think my mom wasn’t confused or giving me a nickname as much as she needed two syllables.) I also received my first check made out to Nick.
I know I shouldn’t make fun of this check-writing relative. Changing one’s name legally is not only possible but done by many people who are not transgender, like women who embrace patriarchal “tradition” by taking a husband’s name, which they’ll keep long after the divorce having discovered the first time around what a huge pain it is to change a name.
I usually try my best not to mock trans ignorance, but sometimes I’m ready to explode. Like last week, an English teacher referred to my past as a time when I was a “she” whereas now I am a “he.” I wanted to shout in this grammarian’s face that a person cannot be a part of speech. “He” and “she” are simply pronouns, words used as replacements or substitutes for nouns.
But I shouldn’t make fun of my check-writing relative because she was probably being kind and supportive or thought I’d gone through the legal channels, but part of me just knows she’s one of those people who believes in transitional magic, that if I say “sex change operation” three times while rubbing my genitals before bed, I’ll wake up in the morning with dick. Man, I wish. The reality is that me and my friends sit around (when nobody else is listening) discussing the various T-gels, pumps, and mediocre surgeries to grow an extra 2 or whopping 4, not inches, but centimeters.
Instead of making fun of this relative, I’m going to share why I haven’t changed my name. To start with, the petition for a change of name costs $335 (there are fee waivers I wouldn’t qualify for) and this is just the first in a long bureaucratic path that includes a newspaper announcement (to notify the public in case I’m trying to escape my bookie), court appearance, trip to the DMV and the social security office, not to mention contacting passport agencies, banks, credit card issuers and other financial institutions. All of that I could do, but haven’t because this is the exact same path to change gender, except with more paperwork and higher hurdles to clear.
The various agencies have different criteria to change gender; phrases like “surgery to alter sexual characteristics” or “completion of sex reassignment surgery” help, as does luck, the mood of the paper pusher drawn. Once again, I’m in a huge position of privilege here because I was able to afford top surgery, and since there’s no dick fairy, top surgery can sometimes qualify as SRS completion (at least in California if the doctor says so). Taking testosterone (more affordable than surgery) doesn’t do the trick. This means that there’s a ton of dudes walking around this city with the official designation of female, whereas I, simply boobless for now, could legally change my gender.
I haven’t changed my name because I don’t know what to do about my gender, and I want to avoid the process twice (as well as shelling out an extra $335.)
Perhaps I’ll change my mind, hence the wait, but now, I just don’t give a shit about having an “M” on my license, my passport, anything. I do care about my safety and my health. And this is where my main concern lies. If all of my official paperwork recognizes me as male (and it’s recommended that documents match up), I worry about my health insurance. I am a dude and my gynecological care matters to me. At the same time, as I move towards starting testosterone, I worry about looking like a man with an “F” on my license and passport and the harassment, abuse, physical and sexual violence this could inspire.
There are ways to work through these things, loopholes to uncover, employers and insurers that can, maybe, be reasoned with. I don’t have all of the information and knowledge yet. Most of what I learned came from a presentation by the awesome Transgender Law Center and from talking to friends. The most interesting and scariest part is that nobody has all of the information. It doesn’t exist. The law, as well as the semantics, are still being argued and fought over. The system doesn’t know what to do with us any more than society knows what to do with us.
What’s that old cliche about laughing instead of crying? Maybe it has something to do with my desire to mock the check addressed to Nick. Which, as I’m sure you could guess, was still very easy to cash.