Tuesday, August 25, 2015

8-25-2015 Entry: Buying a New Car As Emma, Despite Legally Being Robert


Hello my lovelies, I hope you had a good weekend! Mine was definitely much more relaxed than the one before since we didn’t go on a road trip, but it was also a bit stressful. My wife and I, despite it probably not being the best plan ever, decided to trade our car in for a brand new one! We went from a 2010 Honda Civic, which I loved to pieces (it was the first car I’d ever bought myself), more than anyone should ever love an inanimate object (although I’m not entirely sure cars don’t have souls of their own kind), to a 2015 Honda CRV.

 

The decision was rather spontaneous and may come back to haunt us later since the payment is higher than our previous car, but the civic was closing in on 100k miles and was starting to need some costly repairs that our warranty wouldn’t cover (damn wheel bearings and brakes!). Rather than pour a thousand dollars or more into it to get it back into tip-top shape, we decided that for the first time ever, the two of us would like to own a BRAND NEW car; as in never owned previously. We did just that! our CRV had 13 miles on it when we bought it which gives me a feeling unlike any I’ve known before.

 

To know, to a rather sure degree, that I won’t have to fix anything on the car for probably at least 30k miles makes me feel very happy. Our previous cars, Chevy Cavaliers, were total lemons that required constant repair and upkeep, and ended up costing way more than they were worth to keep running. Our Civic has been almost completely perfect except the 2010 civic burns through brakes like a teenage boy burns through 12-packs of mountain dew (I’d know a thing or two about that) because of the way they are constructed.

 

So, buying a car, that’s totally unrelated to transgender issues or the transgender experience, right? Actually, no; not at all, at least not this time. So here is a lovely aspect to the story I just related that you might not have considered. I bought my Honda Civic as Robert. That’s right, the title of the car belonged to Robert. The loan on that car belonged to Robert, so in order to trade in my car and buy a new one I had to be Robert for the day.

 

The only snag in this was that I went to the dealership as Emma, because that’s who I am now. I very rarely go out into public without wearing a wig, female clothing and/or makeup, and Saturday was no exception. I was at the Honda Dealership presenting as Emma. The sales person who worked with us addressed my wife and I as “ladies” and for the beginning of our interaction understood me to be Emma… until it came time to get down to the legal logistics, and then everything changed.

 

Talking with the salesman, looking at cars with the salesman, and test driving cars with the salesman was great. It was fun and exciting. We were going to buy a new car! The new car was so nice and had all the features we wanted in a new car. Everything was going great, and then I had to out myself to the salesman who’d been quite content to help my wife and I as “ladies” before then.

 

The look on his face when he read the name on the previous loan information was both amusing and really disappointing to me. He had no idea what to make of us. How could two women own a car belonging to Robert?

 

I was filled with a sick feeling in my stomach as I had to say, “Yeah, that’s me. I’m Robert.”

 

To his credit, he rolled with it pretty quickly and just proceeded without question or further displays of confusion. I felt the need, although likely without necessity, to explain that I hadn’t changed my name yet because it is an expensive and drawn out process (another lovely burden placed on trans* people by a cis-stratified social system).

 

He continued with the paperwork and disappeared several times to go talk to the financing guy and I’m guessing to do other job-related things. Whether or not his increased absence was a result of or, effected by, the discovery that I was transgender is hard to say, but I couldn’t help but notice, in my heightened defensive state, that he interacted with my wife and I a lot less after he found out. He was probably just busy doing things, but the fact that I was feeling suddenly so… unattended to after revealing something so personal about myself to a complete stranger cannot be discounted.

 

Eventually, upon one of his return trips to his desk where my wife and I were waiting to hear how much this new car would cost us, I did manage to revive the conversation. My wife thought I was being a bit ridiculous, I’m certain, but I figured that if I was going to sit there with this great awkward air about us that I might as well capitalize on the rather unique situation. Although I’m never shy about explaining that I’m transgender to anyone interested or asking me about it, I have very rarely, thus far, experienced getting to know someone as Emma the apparent woman only to have them discover that I used to be Robert rather suddenly and unexpectedly.

 

So, without much hesitation, I decided to ask him if he had figured out that I was transgender before he saw my name Robert on the car title/loan. His answer was difficult to discern because of the way he responded but I believe he said that didn’t have any idea that I wasn’t just straight up cis-female until after we had gone into the dealership to talk with him about buying the last car we test drove. I almost think he was saying that he didn’t really know until he’d seen the name Robert on the car info, but I cannot be certain.

 

Part of the reason I was so curious about this was the fact that I wasn’t wearing any makeup for this outing, so it was basically just me, wearing a wig, some women’s shorts, shoes and a regular t-shirt I wore as Robert. If passability was something to be concerned about, my appearance that day would have been the least likely to be passable. When I wear makeup, I do notice that people seem to notice me less, so I was very curious to know how long I’d been able to be perceived as female on such a not-so-passable day.

 

When I asked him this question he eventually explained that he had lived in San Francisco for a long time and was therefore used to seeing transgender people. He did proceed to also ask me the question that everyone always asks, “Did you always know?” (When did you first know? How long have you known? Etc. they are all basically the same question).

 

I answered as best as I could, saying that I always knew there was something going on but that it took a long time to figure out what it was. He was rather respectful and said some affirming things like, “We are who we are,” and “Everyone has the right to be happy.”

 

He then proceeded to ask about the next subject people always ask about: my marriage. He asked if we were married now, and then proceeded to ask if we had been married before my transition. Under different circumstances I might have balked at these questions from someone I barely knew, but he was not only respectful but seemed genuinely interested in learning/understanding more. I try my best to always educate anyone who is willing to learn because I know that shutting out a curious mind is the fastest way to build resentment in that mind. It’s okay, at least for me, to ask questions, especially when done respectfully.

 

My wife answered for us saying that we were married before, and he responded by nodding and saying something like, “It’s still the same person.” After that he disappeared again. My wife and I sat, talking a bit about this and that, discussing what we would and wouldn’t be willing to pay for this new car. All the while, however, I felt really frustrated by the situation. I knew there wasn’t much I could do given the circumstances but I was suddenly so aware of how little I wanted to be Robert anymore.

 

I hated the fact that I had to buy this car as Robert. I hated the fact that I had to give Robert’s ID over, what with his silly expression and the goatee he was sporting. I hated that I couldn’t just be Emma, that there were so many legalities to changing my name and gender. I lamented, then more than ever, the fact that I hadn’t already gone to get my name changed. And more than anything, I felt really alone in my struggle.

 

My wife was there with me, of course, but even though she was sharing this experience with me, she couldn’t really know what it was like to have to be someone else for legal reasons; what it was like to go from being seen as the person you want to be seen as to being seen as some sort of aberration or anomaly. I doubt the salesman has had this issue more than perhaps once or twice. So few people know what this experience is like, and it struck me that my situation was so uncommon. True, among the trans* population this experience is likely something that isn’t completely unique, but the 99% of people who are cis, never go through this.

 

I certainly didn’t have these feelings or experiences when we bought our first car. The only anxiety I felt then was the worry that my credit would be denied. There was no sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I had to go into the financing office as Robert, the man who looks like a woman. There was no feeling of regret for not having legally changed my status in the world so I didn’t have to go through things like this.

 

Just as I was trying not to be overwhelmed by these thoughts and emotions the financing guy came out of his office (a burly white guy in his 40’s with a giant gut, wearing a shirt and tie) and wandered around for a minute before he asked if we were Robert and Sarah. The confusion on his face was rather apparent as he looked over what appeared to be two women. Clearly our salesman hadn’t warned the financing guy about my appearance.

 

 We confirmed and he reached out to shake my wife’s hand, introducing himself to her. She replied with her name and shook his hand. He came over to me and extended his hand again. I hesitated. How did I introduce myself? This was the man who was responsible for giving a car loan to Robert and agreeing to buy Robert’s car, but I wasn’t Robert, not anymore. Did I introduce myself as Emma? Would that further confuse him? The pressure of the situation crashed in on me and I shook his hand dejectedly saying, “I’m… er… Robert… but please call me Emma.”

 

He nodded without making eye contact and took us into his office. We discussed the price of the car, which was higher than we wanted, honestly. He did pretty well with making sure to call me Emma (only slipped up once or twice), despite all the paperwork saying Robert on it. It was obvious to me, however, that he was feeling a bit out of sorts at having a previously believed-to-be male dressed and appearing like a female in his office.

 

Eventually we settled on a price and signed the all the paperwork. Each time I had to sign I was reminded yet again of who I used to be and wasn’t anymore. I even decided that in order to keep things as legit as possible I should use Robert’s signature on all the lines with his name listed below them, so signing felt almost alien to me. It was like Robert had been temporarily raised from the dead so he could sign away his rights to property that used to be his but was now mine in all but name.

 

We finally finished with the paperwork. He shook our hands and thanked us for our time. We went out to the old car to move everything from it into the new car. We got into the old car and sat in it for a minute, saying our goodbyes to a trusted friend. I started to cry as I said goodbye. My very first car that I bought and owned myself was no longer going to be in my possession. I felt as though I was abandoning it to some unknown fate, almost like I was leaving a pet behind at a shelter, hoping that the next person who owned it would love it as much as I did. It felt truly awful to say goodbye.

 

We got out of the old car, wiping our tears away (my wife cried too) and got into the new car. The salesman wanted to help us connect our phones to the new Bluetooth integrated system. We followed his instructions and all was going well until the he referred to my phone as “Robert’s phone” despite it being titled Emma’s Phone in the car system. It was then that my grief returned in full swing.

 

The excitement of the new car wore thin as I looked over at Robert’s civic once more. Another piece of my former life, gone, given away with the hopes of a better life ahead. No, Mr. Salesman, it’s not Robert’s phone, and it isn’t Robert’s car either. Robert is gone, dispelled as quickly as he was summoned to sign away his final piece of property. His name might be on the title of this car, but that is only a temporary means to an end. There really is no Robert, not anymore.

 

-Emma

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