Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Born As" is Cissexist BS, Rant 2

If you missed my first Rant please click here

Rant 2:  Legal Names and Former Legal Names.

Just a bit of background before I begin.   Ive been looking for new employment ever since a few weeks after getting a huge promotion at my old job; I had realized that I had been promoted under sketchy circumstances.  As the months wore on I became more and more convinced that my working relationship with my boss was toxic, abusive, and flat out unbearable.

In August  I gave 4 weeks notice on a wing and a prayer. The gamble paid off as  I was only recently offered a position with another company I had applied  with much earlier in the summer.   This new job begins next week.

(An aside, this is why I've been so long in posting.  My energies have been nearly completely consumed in securing gainful new employment!)

Part of the "final preparations" for coming on board with the new company includes a background check.  Specifically, this check require new hires to list any and all former legal names we were ever known by.

This is almost ALWAYS a risky proposition for all us post-transition trans women.  It is particularly vexing for those of us who are DECADES post transition.  At one point does one finally get to STOP answering to the identity our well-meaning but totally ill-informed parents chose for us at birth?

The individual risk of real consequence to me here is minimal.  I live in Seattle, a city which explicitly protects gender identity in EEOC laws.  I've already been offered the position and if it were suddenly rescinded my new employers would have to prove to me they did so for reasons other than my legally changed gender status.  No employer, large or small, wants to incur the legal costs of defending themselves against EEOC violations if they can avoid it, not even in employment-at-will states such as Washington.

This new employer is HUGE... mind you.  So huge that the HR department conducting this check is nowhere near the actual location where I will be working.  The chances of "overlap" between persons who will learn my full legal history into my office is minimal and this is a small comfort.

That said, that's not the frigging point!! I just don't understand why I must be continuously associated with, and consequently OUTED by, a name I haven't used legally for nearly 15 years now? At one point does it finally end.

In spite of all the indicators that this won't amount to much in the longrun, I still feel I need to be ready to play the same games I had to play back when I was teenager growing up in the early 90's.  The "Oh I'm sorry did you think I was a boy? How weird of you!"  Game.   
I had to play this game alot in situations where my legal name preceded me or was unavoidable.  For instance at the DMV.   Saddled then with my father's name, an obviously masculine name with the definitely masculine Jr attached.... I had been forced to accept a Male designation on my first license.  Even getting the license in the first place was a study in institutionalized homophobia and transphobia.  But that's another story. A couple of years later and fully in transition, I had worked up the courage to try and change that M to an F, even if I had to keep that awful Jr. name.
One day I walked right up to the doddery old white man working the DMV branch and the farthest end of town where nobody would ever know me I could find and I gave an oscar worthy performance for all its subtlety and nonchalance: 

"Excuse me, Sir... I need to fix something on my license.  I realize I was named after my Dad and all, but..."  pointing to the Sex: M on my license, my eyes batting for all they were worth.

I was so RELIEVED that he didn't miss a beat.  " OH nooooo.  I'm so sorry about that Young Lady... I can imagine how that happened tho.  Junior, eh?"

"Yep... They reeeeeally wanted a boy! LOL  I think it took them a few years to finally give up on that one..."

"You poor thing.  Not a big deal, darlin', mistakes happen."

"Oh good. I brought my birth certificate with me just in case."  I really had. And I was bluffing my ass off since it listed me as Male in all fucking caps, not exactly persuasive evidence.

"That won't be necessary, hon, I can see you really are a girl."
And that was that!  I had broken State Law perhaps,  but in doing so I had made my life ALOT easier.

But Oh that fucking NAME still worked to undo every scrap of progress I made.

Keep in mind even at this time my so-called "passability" was far from a given.  My youth, feminine voice, and lack of significant facial hair made it so I passed most of the time, but by no means 100 percent of the time.   It appears I just happened to find and "fool" (gawd how I hate that phrase) the right person in that DMV on that particular day.  Any other day it was pretty much hit and miss; it was another few years before people completely stopped staring and pointing and wondering at me in public. Until this point I was constantly braced for the possibility of confrontation, especially when mention of my birth name was unavoidable.

I wasn't able to change my name legally for years after this point, but I began to build an official gender history of "F" from that point on.  About half the time I could get away with saying "I was named after my dad, long story" as if there were nothing more to the story.  But eventually the seeds of doubt were planted and would begin to flower... leading to my inevitable being outed.

This means that in dealing with potential employers, bank workers, loan officers who might otherwise have taken me for just another female were it not for the huge fucking hint my former legal name gave them up front I was (and sometimes still am) constantly dancing around "the question."  

An example:  Getting my very first bank account was an unnecessary ordeal what with the bank teller calling me Sir the entire time.  He did this clearly out of spite because up until the point I had to show him my ID he had been extremely courteous and even flirtatious.   While filling out the necessary forms at his desk, he flat out refused to consider my using anything except my FULL legal name on all fields, including the cursed Jr. title.... as if to spite me.  

"I'm sorry SIR, but we are legally obligated to go by what's on your driver's license. I'm sure you understand..." the sneer in his voice was almost visible.

Then when filling out the Sex in his ID I was finally able to call his bluff.  "If you insist, SIR, on going faithfully by what's on  my license then you will notice that there is an F in the Sex field.  Please change it.  NOW."

The look on his face was of outrage and total surprise, as if I had just pulled some master chess move he couldn't counter.  He VERY bitchily complied at this point and typed F into the field.  But you could see the wheels turning in his head the whole time, trying desperately to figure out how to challenge this, how to expose me to the world.  ALL FOR DARING TO OPEN A CHECKING ACCOUNT!

Keep also in mind this exchange happened in full view of all patrons of the bank, who appeared to be very amused by the show.

Keep also in mind that because of my legal name, even after I finally legally changed it, I was all but unemployable in my home state thanks to the almighty background check.  It wasn't until I was 30 fucking years old, when I first moved to Seattle, that I was able to find and KEEP my first real life day job.   In an actual office. With *gasp* normal everyday people for an actual living wage!!  I had triple majored in college, graduated with two separate BA degrees, and dropped out of my Master's program a few credits shy of completion.  I was more than qualified to work, is my point.  But the hostility I found in the job market was overwhelming....  the gender incongruity of my former legal name being a HUGE factor in attracting said hositlity.

So yeah... I have a HUGE effing problem with being forced to list my former name under any circumstance. It has never served me except as an obstacle.  I mean why bother changing it legally when its always going to show up as an alias anyway?   While I am very grateful that Seattle happens not to care one way or another.. I am very angry that I feel confined to living and working here.  

Dont' get me wrong I love Seattle, it's home, I don't wish to leave it.  But I shouldn't feel I have little choice in the matter just because I prefer to keep my past in the past while the world and it's institutions demand I remain accountable to legal and social decisions made for me, about me,  but never BY me. 

How is this acceptable in a free country I ask thee?

1 comment:

  1. I'm really glad you're back, when you weren't updating I assumed it was because your life was changing in a negative way and I'm really happy to hear that you not only have a really good job, but that it's a good job you might actually enjoy! :D

    But yeah, the way the government handles name changes/driver's licenses etc. is total BS.