Thursday, April 17, 2014

Transgender Rights in India

This CNN video report describes a ruling by India's supreme court that declares transgender to be a third gender. Quite a remarkable and welcome ruling.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Legally Changing Your Gender

For transgender people, changing your name on all those legal documents is only the start. We also have to change our gender. The very notion of legally changing your gender from what is listed on your birth certificate is relatively new. As a result, the laws very widely by state. However, most states, including Georgia, require that you have had surgery in order to change your gender. This sets a very high bar simply because almost no insurance plans have traditionally covered gender assignment surgery. (As I understand it, the situation under the Affordable Care Act is a little murky; that may need a separate blog entry.) A Social Security representative told me that she sees a lot of transgender name changes but that she had seen only two gender changes in the seven years she had worked there. And the results of the gender change vary widely from state to state. Some states will change a birth certificate; others will simply annotate it, so that the change is visible; some states won't change the birth certificate at all, making legal marriage all but impossible. As with name change, everything starts with the driver's license bureau. You walk away with a new, temporary license and get the permanent license a couple of weeks later. The next stop is the Social Security Administration. That change takes a couple of weeks to work its way through the system. Since gender isn't shown on the Social Security card, it's a little hard to tell when it's done. Then there's insurance, retirement, etc. Anything flying-related has gender on it for ID purposes so they have to be updated. And gender crops up all over the place---the Georgia Tech bowling pass asks for gender for some unfathomable reason.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Liberal Bigots

This CNN opinion piece discusses some recent public statements by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The article quotes him as saying that the worst treatment he has received has come from Northern liberal elites.

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Justice Thomas. I've met many people who consider themselves so forward thinking that they can't see their own prejudices. They make belittling statements about transgender women; they take actions that denigrate and harm us. All the while, these people couch their words and actions in high-sounding language that is, in fact, intended to minimize and comparmentalize us. The people of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Atlanta are just one of the many examples who come to mind as I write this. They congratulate themselves on their own acceptance of each other while refusing to admit that their motto "All Are Welcome" is simply not true.

At least the haters are consistent and easy to identify. Liberal bigots try to hide their thoughts and actions for their own protection. The African-American civil rights movement made its greatest gains when African-Americans stood up and claimed their civil rights for just what they are---rights, not gifts from self-congratulating white liberals. Transgendered people should, in my humble opinion, stand up for ourselves and rely less on others for gifts that may never come.

Friday, February 14, 2014

News on Gender ID

I devoted two recent posts to the name change process. I will write another post later on changing one's gender identification, which is a long process separate from changing one's name. In the mean time, two recent news items relate to gender identification. First, the City of San Francisco now issues city IDs that do not identify gender, as reported by USA Today. The city cites the needs of their transgender population as the motivation for this move. Second, Google now offers a number of different gender identifications for its users, as reported by CNN.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Changing Your Name, Part 2: Everything Else

My post of last week went through the process of obtaining a court order for a name change. As any married woman who has changed her name knows, that's only the beginning. More steps are involved even to complete the basic legal steps. And when you look at all the things that have your name on it---club memberships, magazine subscriptions---the process can drag on for a very long time. My women friends all express consternation at the process. You would think that, given the number of women who change their names each year, either through marriage or divorce, that someone would have streamlined the process, at least a little.

The next step after the court order is the driver's license. Since I had a court order, the process was in principle straightforward. But I knew that my local Driver's Services office had a gal who was used to dealing with transgender people, so I asked to see her. Everything went pretty smoothly and my photo turned out well. I left with a temporary license with my new name. The official, laminated license arrived in the mail a little over a week later.

When that arrived, I drove north on I-85 once again to the Social Security office and waited in another line. The young gal who helped me was very nice; at the end she said, "Congratulations!" She was very thorough, even noting that some paperwork event in the '80s had caused my old middle name to be misspelled. I left with a notice, but it would take about two weeks for the change to go through the system and for my new Social Security card to arrive in the mail.

In the mean time, I could start to work on other quasi-legal documents: the car registration and title, car insurance, credit cards, and utility bills.

Georgia Tech's name change process, however, had to wait for the Social Security document. They claimed that they couldn't act based on the court order, which seems interesting given that they are a state institution. Mind you, they had announced my transition six months before, officially announcing my gender and updating my Web page. The fact that my name on the class registration lists didn't conform to my published identity made for some uncomfortable moments. To make things worse, their process involves two different offices: my Buzz Card ID came from the Office of Human Resources; I then had to trudge to the Registrar's office to change my name on the course catalog listings.

Meanwhile, I continued to work on all the other memberships and documents that needed to be changed. In several instances, the people processing these requests refused to comply. The implications of my request were clear---my first name had changed, not my last. Delta Air Lines first ignored my name change, then made up excuses as to why they couldn't change my frequent flyer account; I had to make several rounds of complaints for them to comply. I saw the same pattern at the Stanford Alumni Association: first ignore it, then make excuses. They processed my name change only after I threatened to email Stanford's president. TIAA/CREF, my pension organization, managed a particularly blatant insult. During a phone call about my accounts, their representative accused me of lying about my identity: "I know you aren't Marilyn." I eventually received a curt apology letter from them.

I still get my utility bills under my old name---I don't have the energy to file the paperwork. I still get junk mail and robocalls for my old name; at this point I know that these people are very out-of-date.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Lack of Faith

My faith in God hasn't waivered. It's my faith in the church and its members that continues to be weak. Today, at one of the churches I occasionally attend, a man asked for prayers for a personal concern. His prayer request was something close to my heart and I wanted to speak to him, offer my prayers, and do what I could to let him know that I had some idea of what he was going through. But I kept thinking, I just don't trust these people. Explaining the source of my empathy for his situation would very quickly lead me down a conversational path that I didn't want to take with those people. I have reason not to trust the church. But this is also my failing. I am not strong enough to risk rejection by yet another church, even though I know I should try to someone who cries for help.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Changing Your Name, Part 1: The Court Order

Changing one's name is very important to transgender people. One's name is closely tied to gender; having a name associated with the wrong gender can create all sorts of problems. Changing your name is a complicated process, so we will look at the court order here and consider everything else you have to do in a separate post.

Let's start with two caveats. First, this blog post is not legal advice. Second, the legal procedures for name changes vary from state to state; has some very useful information on name change procedures.

Georgia's name change process take several steps but it isn't inherently difficult. (If you plan to change your name in Georgia , be sure to plan for it to take about 3 months.) I decided to conduct my legal name change myself for two reasons: I didn't want to pay $1000 to a lawyer; and I wanted the experience of doing it myself. I found sample name change paperwork online and filled it out. I then took it to the county courthouse and got in line at the clerk's office. The clerk who helped me was very nice; I clearly wasn't the first transgender woman he had dealt with. He showed me several things I needed to fix. I scratched out a few things and wrote them in by hand; not neat, but it didn't cause any problems with this judge. I paid the filing fee, was in the $100-$200 range. The law also requires that a notice of the pending name change be published in a particular newspaper several times (four, as I recall). I got the form from the clerk, filled it out, and mailed it in along with another check. When the notice had run the required number of times, the newspaper sent me an official form stating that I had completed the public notice process.

I then received a court date. Georgia law states that the only reason a name change can be refused is if the person's intent is fraudulent. Our intent is quite the opposite---transgender people change our names to be truthful about ourselves. has some stories of Georgia judges turning down transgender name changes improperly. My judge was very helpful, but my divorce did complicate the issue. The court session was a general one, with perhaps a dozen cases ranging all across the board from my name change to criminal matters. I think that another person there was also transgender. My spouse's lawyer hijacked the proceeding, asking the judge to rule on a number of matters on the divorce. He also asked that the name change be refused, citing his client's feelings. The judge asked me if I was willing to wait a few months until the divorce was final for the name change to be granted. I wanted to show that I was willing to be accommodating, so I agreed.

The divorce proceedings continued for another 2-1/2 years. A few months after the court hearing, I wrote a letter to the judge explaining my situation: I had already transitioned at Georgia Tech, but both my Georgia Tech records and driver's license referred to my old name. The judge was very accommodating and made sure the name change order went through promptly.