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Archive for October, 2010

Trans Ma’am at the SSA

The smoothest part of my transition paperwork saga to date was my experience yesterday at the Social Security Administration office. I didn’t realize anyone – transitioning or not – could have a smooth experience dealing with the Social Security Administration. It has an even worse reputation than the DMV, and my wretched and recent DMV experience put me on guard for a battle.

The only place local where I could change my Social Security card was a single office in Minneapolis located just far enough south of downtown that I couldn’t simply walk there (they’re convenient like that). But my manager offered to drive me there from work, so that proved to be painless (Quick aside: Did I mention my former supervisor was promoted to become my manager this week? It’s so cool! I now have a rock-solid ally even further up the chain of command.).

We got to the building just after they opened, and saw a line stretching out the door. “Here we go!” I thought, sure that a two hour wait was about to begin at the back of that scraggly looking line. But once we parked (easily finding a spot in the adjacent parking lot, I should add) we noticed a sign directing people with Social Security Card matters to go to a different door on the other side of the building.

Once through that door a woman quickly and politely handed me a number, and instructed me to sit and wait for my number to be called. The waiting room wasn’t very full, but was considerably more multi-ethnic and less scraggly than the people lining up outside the other door had been. I settled in to chat with my manager about work related stuff, but within little more than five minutes my number was called.

I headed back to the interview area to meet the assigned case worker. He was a man in his late 20’s – early 30’s. He greeted me with smile and a “Hello Ma’am,” asking what I needed. I told him I was there to make a name change on my social security card. I told him I had the court order with me.

He nodded while I passed over my name change application (which I’d filled out previously online and printed out). He looked it over and I got nervous. Here’s where he was going to get his first notion that I was a trans person, as my previous name was very clearly male.

Before he was finished looking it over I handed over my court order, as if challenging him with the force of law. His expression remained just as friendly and professional as he took it. As he carefully read over the court order, I knew the trans genie was definitely out of the bottle.

When he told me he needed some identification I expected the worst. I handed over my ugly, old, very male drivers license, and tried to hand over the yellow paper to show I had applied for my new one in my new name name. In a friendly tone he explained that he didn’t need the yellow paper. Just the old license was fine.

Flumoxed by how easily this seemed to be going, I handed over my old social security card. He explained he couldn’t give that back to me. I’d have to wait for my new card. … Wait a minute… did he just imply that I was getting a new card? He hadn’t even thrown any roadblocks at me yet. He had only asked for the bare minimum level of documentation. For gosh sake, he hadn’t even made a funny face upon learning that I was trans!

After he finished entering information from my forms into his computer, he printed something out and had me look it over to make sure it was correct. I did, and it was. He asked me a couple of questions, apologizing as he did because they were already covered on the application. I had to tell him my birth city and county (Omaha and Douglas, FWIW). Then I had to swear that all the information I was provided was accurate as far as I knew. It was, and I did.

And then he handed out a paper that served as a sort of “receipt,” explaining that my new card should be arriving in about two weeks. I asked him about that a bit incredulously. Two weeks… really? He laughed and told me yes. I sometimes takes longer of there are citizenship issues, but since I’m an American citizen there should be no hold ups.

And with that he said, “Have a nice day, Ma’am,” and I headed back out. The whole thing had taken about five minutes.

I’m sure this would have been more difficult if I had tried to press the gender change issue as well. But based on the experience and advice of friends, I didn’t. That will be revisited in my post-op phase. But still… I was blown away by how easy this was. And how politely and kindly I was treated. I didn’t get any of the transphobic treatment – even subtly. There was no bureaucracy thrown in my way. There was no judgment or singling out of any kind from start to finish. I could get used to this kind of treatment.

Anyway,  I’m definitely not thrilled about the overall state of Social Security policy in regard to handling trans issues. It’s BS that they can require proof of specific surgical procedures to make basic documentation changes about my gender (surgical procedures which insurance companies classify as “cosmetic” I might add – can you think of any other people who require “cosmetic” surgery to update basic government paperwork?). But as far as the way I was treated and the overall professionalism of the people I encountered there? Take a lesson, other government agencies. More of that, please.

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One of the more intriguing things for me these days is listening to ordinary people – the non-trans kind of ordinary people – trying to describe transsexuals. I’m not talking about the opinionated haters, or the agenda-driven special interests. I’m talking about average Joes and Janes just trying to understand what the heck this “transsexual” thing is, regardless of any opinions they may have about it.

A pretty good example of this recently was on the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast. This podcast usually hovers around the fifth or sixth most popular downloaded podcasts on iTunes, so they’re speaking to a substantial audience. And with that in mind, they recently took on the topic of “How Gender Reassignment Works.”

I have to say, they did a pretty decent job explaining it. They stumbled through a few things and made some forgiveable mistakes. But they had really tried to do their homework, and tried to cite recent information as much as possible (there was one statistic cited from 1992 which they were tempted to discount because of its age – thankfully I’m not a statistic!).

The main themes that seemed to grab them as the “wow” moments, as in “Wow, I never realized that about gender reassignment” were:

1. It’s not a quick or easy process. They remarked about this a number of times in a number of ways. Paraphrasing some of their comments about this: “You have to jump through a lot of hoops.” “You have to clearly and strongly want this.” “You have to spend a lot of money.” “The whole process seems designed to weed out anyone it’s not right for.”

2. There is no single “sex change operation.” There are lots of different operations and it’s all part of a larger and longer process. Some people require several operations, some gender reassigned people don’t have any operations at all. And besides…

3. WPATH Standards of Care (which they cited prominently) require living for at least a year as the target gender before they’ll allow most surgeries (with some exceptions – they called out top surgery for FTMs as an example of an exception). They clearly realized how challenging this must be.

4. There are LOTS more transsexuals among us than they ever realized – even if you only count the post-ops. They cited Lynn Conway’s research about this here – which they should, because Lynn thoroughly debunked the far more commonly cited “rare” numbers.

5. They were noticably “struck serious” over this topic as a whole once they were informed about it. After researching the whole thing they realized it’s not a joke. There’s a whole lot of injustice affecting transsexuals currently, and few legal protections. After they understood more about who we are, they didn’t feel right joking about it.

All of this contributes to my general belief that the facts are on our side, so our long term prospects for understanding and acceptance are good. Average people trying to make sense of the transsexual condition by and large draw sympathetic conclusions once they have the facts in hand. The challenge is how to get those facts better understood. And this podcast was a step in that direction.

Sure there are some people who form opinions first and ignore any facts which don’t fit. But those people are a minority – even if they can sometimes be a very loud minority. When looked at purely as something to be understood, rather than something to be judged, we tend to win people over on the merits of our case.

Anyway, check out the podcast, and let me know what you think.

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Shooting Craps at the DMV

This morning I took a couple of hours off work to go to my local Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) branch office and apply for a new drivers license in my new name and gender. Along with my old drivers license, some cash, and a checkbook I took along my name change court order, and letters from my doctor and therapist attesting to the permanence of my transition and recommending the change to both name and gender marker.

I got to the DMV just a few minutes after they opened, and I was shocked by how amazingly non-crowded the place was. There were actually two counters open with NO wait. I have never seen the place like that before, and wouldn’t count on seeing it again. Anyway I counted my blessings as I filled out the drivers license form and prepared for a longer-than-normal interaction with the DMV clerk.

I got to step up with my paperwork without taking a number because there was no wait (!!!). And then the saga began.

I explained I was there to change my license due to a name change AND… a gender transition. I babbled on that I had my court order and some letters in support of this. So far, so good.

The DMV clerk said she’d only ever handled one gender change before, so she’d need to ask for some help. I said sure, no problem. She left the counter.

About five minutes later she returned apologizing for the wait and going over what she’d been told with me. She looked over the court order and seemed confused. “This covers the name change and the gender change, right?” I sighed and explained that, no. My judge ruled the gender change petition beyond the scope of my filing. He only granted the name change. This clearly messed up the clear instructions she’d been given, so pretty quickly she was on the phone with another office.

I heard her side of the phone conversation saying yes, I had the letter from the doctor. Something about the court order. Then a lot more I couldn’t make sense of. Finally she turned back to me and said she needed to go confer with someone else. She left the counter again.

About ten minutes later she returned with another form – the variance form – to fill out. She had me fill out on the form an explanation of what I was asking for (a gender change) and make sure to include why my court order didn’t cover the gender change.

I was getting a little upset over this, as it became clear that they expected the same court order to cover both, and I had properly petitioned for both just as they expected, but my judge had arbitrarily ruled that I couldn’t do both at once. The rule of men trumps the rule of law. I didn’t get a trans tolerant judge, so now the only legal paperwork I have to help change my documentation is in a state of uncertainty.

The other thing I was miffed about, and something I eventually explained, was that I have had friends go through this before. Some had the judicial order, some didn’t. Regardless of that some were required to submit a variance, and some were not. It’s really frustrating to see the county workers running around as if their actions are meticulously covered by official policy when the experience of trans people in this state shows it to be more of a crap shoot.

Anyway, after a lot more back and forth and phone calling and checking, she ended up having me submit my drivers license change along with the variance. She tried to figure out how it all needed to be paid for, which proved ridiculously difficult. Could I pay with cash? Check? One payment? Two separate payments? One cash and the other check? It took a lot of research to determine that a single check should cover both.  Again, it felt like a crap shoot. For all I know it will eventually be rejected because it wasn’t paid for properly.

Eventually they went ahead and took my picture for my new license. I noticed they had marked the “Female” box on my gender for the license. So I had apparently satisfied my particular DMV clerk. The  problem was, as she explained, they couldn’t do anything more with the license until the official ruling on the variance. If it’s approved, I will receive my new license in the mail. If it’s not, I will receive notice of the rejection in the mail… and apparently nothing else.

So I left the DMV almost an hour later, feeling like I got the runaround. I didn’t get any bad looks or attitude from any people at the DMV, just a lot of confusion. It’s so disheartening when you try so hard to do everything by the book, only to find that your situation isn’t really part of that book.

When and if I hear back about this whole mess, I’ll post the results here. At the moment it feels like all I’m waiting for is an official rejection that I got the privilege of paying for. But maybe I’ll get lucky.

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Now that it’s barely in my system any longer, I’m beginning to appreciate the role of testosterone in human history. Or at least as much of it as I can intuit from its effect on sports fandom. Hear me out here. It sounds silly, but I’m actually kind of serious.

Before transitioning, one of the many things I tried to use as a proxy for the repressed emotions of gender dysphoria was fanatic devotion to my chosen sports teams. I didn’t really fit the normal “guy” stereotype for being  a super-fan in any sense except the emotional intensity I invested into the games. I really, intensely cared about the outcome of each game – and especially the outcome of the season as a whole. If one of my favorite teams lost I reacted like someone close to me had died. E learned over time to leave me alone and keep the kids away following any… and I mean ANY… loss by one of MY teams. This seems a little silly to me now, but it was pretty serious stuff in our household. Any time it means the difference between yelling at your kids or hugging them, it’s not a minor thing.

And then came transition. And with transition came a hormone adjustment which stripped nearly all the testosterone out of my system (last checked I was in the very low normal range for testosterone in an adult female). And since I didn’t realize this would change anything about my sports team emotional ride, I’ve been prepared for the same thing. But then… it hasn’t happened. And I’ve got three solid examples now to draw upon for evidence.

This summer I was happily following baseball through the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had a great season, made the playoffs, there was talk of a World Series run… and then they promptly lost three straight games to the New York Yankees, ending their season. I was disappointed. But that’s all. No big emotional toll there. Life went on no worse than if I had disliked a particular episode of any other favorite television show.

I mostly chalked that up to the fact that baseball is not my favorite sport. That would be football (the American kind for you readers from elsewhere). And football season was already underway. My favorite pro team and favorite college team both looked poised for big seasons. Surely this explained why I wasn’t so impacted by the baseball loss.

The pro team, the Minnesota Vikings, faltered first. They lost their first game. Then their second. Won their third. Lost their fourth. A horrible beginning. And in each case I shrugged it off with no more serious an effect than I did with the Twins.

Once again I chalked this up to another factor. Pro football was not my favorite anyway. That would be college football. And my favorite team there was undefeated and rising fast in the polls. With my busy life I supposed I only had time to truly care about this one team.

And so, today, the mighty Nebraska Corkhuskers lost yet another heartbreaking game to the Texas Longhorns, dropping four perfectly placed potential touchdown passes on the way to a single touchdown loss. Many shouts and gasps were uttered as hopes shattered over the course of a few hours. Devastating.

E grew very silent and shooed the kids from the room. Surely, the expected emotional avalanche was about to ensue. I was prepared for it as well. I had been really into the game just like always. And it was a game I had really wanted them to win.

But suddenly I realized… even before the final seconds ticked off the clock… I was already getting over it. It had been a good game. It was exciting. My team was still good. They made too many mistakes, but they’d live to play another day. Why let it ruin my mood? And just like that, I was over it. There was no bout of pouting or “leave me alone” isolation. I not only wasn’t emotionally broken up over the loss, but  it didn’t even make sense to me that I should be.

I was suddenly of a mind to remember how my mom and sister – big football fans both – reacted to such things so differently than my dad and brother the whole time I grew up. They’d cheer just as wildly as the games were played. They’d cheer the big wins and curse at the losses (though perhaps more politely). But then… they were over it. Time to get back to the important things in their life. Some game played by other people – no matter how beloved – just didn’t have a serious effect upon them after it was over. Dad and brother (and myself in former days) carried the joy or pain from the wins and losses with us much more tangibly and personally and far longer.

I had never before associated these different reactions with hormones. But I’m starting to think they play a major role. Because I spent forty years watching this stuff with lots of testosterone in my system, during which I reacted just like the men in my family – even though in recent years I was well aware of my transgendered nature, and didn’t feel like I must act that way any more. But  just about exactly one year since going on a full dose of female hormones it’s just… different now. Now I’m reacting much more like the women in my family, and it’s not due to any kind of conscious  effort to change on my part. Heck I sort of tried to get devastated over the loss today, and I certainly expected to. But it’s simply not there anymore. I simply can’t make myself feel with the intensity I used to feel about the results of a competitive game played by third parties. It’s still exciting to watch and to cheer for. But it’s no longer personal to me or my life.

Now carry that thought into how it might relate to human history. I happen to believe (thought it’s surely an arguable point) that competitive sports fill a social role in modern society much like wars between tribes, cities, and nation states played in the past. Competitive sports provide an acceptable (and less destructive) channel for the same kinds of natural urges to compete and dominate and establish honor which seem universal to human societies across history and culture.

If my first hand observations are correct about the effect of testosterone upon the importance of competition – and especially the emotional importance based upon winning or losing – then just imagine how many wars must have been fought for reasons not all that unlike feeling upset over ones’ team losing a football game.

For all the talk about estrogen making one more susceptible to emotion, and for all the stereotypes about women being more sensitive and emotional in general, I frankly don’t think most women have the faintest idea how seriously and deeply men are driven to be emotionally invested in competition. The depth of caring that goes into competitive results seems to ride along with testosterone level.

So maybe it’s time to stop blaming Helen for launching those thousand ships.

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May It Please The Court

It is now official. My name is now – legally – Diana.

Here’s how it went down.

We got to the courthouse just about on time. We checked in. And then we watched a bunch of cases go forward while we waited. Lawyers popped in and out of the court room, mostly just sitting there as bored as we were. You could tell they were lawyers from their snazzy suits. But otherwise they just sat on benches like the rest of us.

About forty minutes in I got called up. By my old name of course.

I went forward with E, and my friends Erica and J. Most of the rest was a blur.

“Are you changing your name to escape criminal prosecution? Debts? No? Okay so it’s just for changing your gender… is that right?”

Swear in the witnesses… repeat a couple of times…

The judge refused to grant my additional petition to order my gender marker changed on state documents. He said that was a separate matter. But he granted the name change.

The clerk told me to wait in the hall if I wanted official papers for the ruling. Which I did, of course.

And then it was over.

E thought the judge was kind of a jerk, and was barely holding back from laughing about the gender change stuff. But really, I didn’t notice that so much. Maybe it was because I got the main thing I came there for.

Afterward we went out for a celebratory breakfast at the ambiguously named “G’s Cafe” a block from the court house. My over-easy eggs, hashbrowns, and kielbasa tasted pretty great.

Afterward I started pouring through all the documentation for updating stuff with my new name. Apparently I have a new hobby.

So that’s the story. Not really much to tell. But it feels like I have climbed a mountain all the same.

 

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Name Change Eve

Tomorrow I stand before a judge. I will plead that I deserve to be named Diana. The judge will decide whether or not my plea has merit. And then the same judge will rule.

Like most other milestones in my transition, this one has my stomach in knots. I know rationally that this one is almost a rubber stamp. I have followed the Standards of Care. I’ve paid my filing fee. I’ve waited for my turn on the court docket. It should be almost a formality.

But it doesn’t feel like a formality. It feels like a big thing. A major break from my past.

I like to jest that after my court ruling it will be illegal for anyone to call me by my old name. That’s not technically true, but it’s not far from how it feels. Once the judge legally affirms my name I’ve got that backing me, no matter what others try to push upon me. That’s not nothing.

Anyway, I’m rather freaked out over the technical details about my court appearance. I’m mostly sure I’m going to screw it all up.

But in the odd chance that I get it right… this is the last night I will legally be known by my old name. After that you go to jail for calling me that. Or so I like to tell myself.

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Transition and Loss

I was talking to a friend last night who is going through a rough patch due to her transition. In the course of our conversation she said something pretty profound: “I wonder if it’s possible to make it through transition without major loss.”

I thought about it for a while and told her, no. I don’t think you can make it through transition without major loss. Though not everyone loses the same things, I’ve never heard of anyone losing nothing. We learn to cope, we learn to smile, and we learn to move on. But the loss is there, and sometimes it’s hard to hold the emotional toll in check.

There are plenty of obvious losses, like jobs, marriages, wealth, and status. Lots of attention is focused upon these things, for good reason. But the thing my friend’s question got me thinking about wasn’t any of those. It was about relationships.

Relationships – with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. – are  incredibly vulnerable to loss during transition. It’s not only that some people choose to leave your life, but also that the people who remain so often change dramatically in the way they relate to you. You can feel a serious loss of intimacy from people who still return your phone calls and send you Christmas cards.

In my case, I didn’t realize this going into things. I had mental columns for “out of my life,” “still with me,” as I prepared for my coming out. But it didn’t work like that. Very few ended up on the “out of my life” list. But most of the others weren’t so much “still with me” as “Still in my life, but acting like virtual strangers.” In my own experience, over time this has balanced out with new friends and renewed relationships. But the initial shock of loss felt devastating… and still can at times.

If all this sounds scary, it should. To paraphrase something I’ve heard in various forms from others, “transition is not for sissies” (to preserve the irony we can perhaps change it to “transition takes balls” for the FTM’s out there).

The hardest part about all of this is that we normally cope with loss in our lives through the support and comfort of our friends. But this kind of loss can, by its nature, severely impair the support you can receive this way. You can be left feeling very much alone – you against the world – during a time when that is the last thing you want to feel.

All this being said, I would caution anyone from letting the loss experienced from transition tell the whole story. It’s simply part of a larger narrative – a life story akin to the mythical Hero’s Journey. We must suffer great loss on the way to greater reward. It’s dangerous to discount the importance loss plays within this narrative. But it’s even more dangerous to discount the reward which is only available through perseverance.

The same thing so many people are saying to LGBT teens these days, serves as salient advice to all suffering the loss of transition: It gets better.

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