Wednesday, September 16, 2015

9-16-2015 Entry: I've Got 99 Problems... and 97 Deal With My "Legal" Name

Hello my darling readers! I hope you have been well. I’m happy to report that I seem to be recovering somewhat quickly from this dreadful cold/cough I came down with last week. Needless to say my weekend was filled with a lot of sniffling, coughing, and actively wishing for death (not in a suicidal way, just so we are clear) while I tried, and failed, to muster the motivation to do all the homework/reading I have for grad school. Unfortunately this setback in motivation has put me further behind than I already was, so I’m currently in an uphill battle to get my shit together before the consequences become too dire. But I’m sure you didn’t come here to listen to me expound on the ways I need to improve my scholarly efforts. No, I’m certain you came here to read about the transgender side of things, which is, honestly, much more interesting; that I will admit without reservation.

So, what’s been happening? Well, honestly, a lot actually. I’m not sure I can put everything that’s transpired over the last few weeks into this entry without it becoming novel-length, and while I would love to do that and I’m relatively certain you would find it entertaining there just aren’t the hours at hand for such an in-depth retrospection of the past few weeks. As such, I am forced to cherry-pick the highlights and wrap them together in an overall theme that (hopefully) keeps your interest.

I think the primary theme of today’s entry is going to be the name change burden that comes with transitioning genders. It goes without saying that many transgender individuals that transition genders in public life are tasked with the ever burdensome effort to change their name. At first glance, this seems relatively simple, but it’s more complicated than you might think.

So, my situation is perhaps not all that unique in that I’ve been living full time as my true self, Emma, for about 3 months now, but I am still legally my old self, Robert. There are a lot of reasons for this. The first reason is that in order to change my name/gender I have to:

 1. Go to a courthouse across town, during regular M-F business hours (AKA the time I’m always at work) to request a hearing with a judge.

2. I have to provide the correct paperwork, which is different than a simple name change like my wife had to do when we got married, so I have to get the correct paperwork from the actual court clerk. Then I have to pay $300, which I rarely have just sitting around thanks to student loans.

3. Get a court date, and show up to that court date with 2 or 3 witnesses.

4. Convince the judge I’m not trying to hide my identity for criminal purposes.

5. Get the court order.

6. Go to the DMV, and give them the court order.

7. Have them make the changes, and then ultimately get a new license.

And all of that is just for my driver’s license. That doesn’t include my social security number or my birth certificate (which is already weird because I was a U.S. Citizen born abroad in Panama, so god only knows what hoops I’ll have to jump through for that).

But the madness doesn’t stop there, as I’m quickly coming to find. Not only are all of my bills, credit cards, loans, car titles, paychecks, college transcripts, taxes, credit reports, and ID’s in the name of Robert, but nearly every secondary stage of paper-identification of who I am is/was in the name of Robert. What I mean by secondary stage ID’s are things like (to list a few), Facebook accounts, Amazon accounts, Gmail accounts, Yahoo accounts (for junk mail purposes of course), the books I published, the copyrights registered to those books, the diplomas/degrees/certificates I earned, my phone, and every new account that’s been created for my graduate education.

That last one has been the newest battle in my struggle for worldly recognition as Emma. Because my legal name is Robert and all of my transcripts were in that name, (not to mention the financial aid portions) I pretty much HAD to apply to grad school as Robert. Thankfully all of my professors and the program director for my master’s degree have all been super affirming and amazing about calling me Emma/referring to me as her/she, but they are not the same people who dictate how the university sees me.

The university sees me as Robert, because that’s who they accepted. Robert was the one who complete the B.A. that allowed him to apply for grad school. Robert is the student getting financial aid. Robert is the one registered for classes. Robert is the one who gets credit for passing courses. Robert is the one signed up for blackboard, is the one assigned a university email, and is the one associated with student number 123456.

So what does that mean in practice? How does that affect my day-to-day life as a student? The first way that it affects me is that every class I take from now until I can legally change my name with the government/university means I’m registered as Robert. If I haven’t had the professor teaching the course before, then that means I have no choice but to come out to them on the first day of class. “Hi, nice to meet you. By the way, I’m trans* and the person you have registered as Robert is actually me, and really I’m Emma, so I hope you aren’t transphobic, thanks!”

Tied hand and hand with that aspect is the fact that I pretty much HAD to come out to all of my classmates. I ultimately did this willingly as discussed previously, but there wasn’t much of a choice. I suppose I could have emailed the professors beforehand that I was trans* so I didn’t have to out myself in class, but even that would not have saved me the anxiety and consequences of outing myself publicly. I say that because the next way this “officially Robert” aspect affects me is that my email and Blackboard account (online tool where there are discussion boards/quizzes/ect. for class) both have me listed as Robert. So, every time I submit a discussion thread or comment on blackboard it comes up as Robert. Every time I send an email to my classmates or professor, it reads as Robert. Every time the professor does roll call they see Robert listed and have a brief moment of confusion until they remember that Robert is Emma.

Beyond being just a nuisance there is a very deep psychological component to seeing the name Robert pop up when I submit things or send emails. Every time it happens it’s like being punched in the stomach. That’s not who I am anymore. I’m not Robert. We aren’t Robert anymore. We are Emma, and we are so much more than Robert ever was.

We are struggling to find a situation comparable to this one to illustrate what this is like to experience. Imagine being forced to go back in time to something lesser than what you are now. Imagine being in college and them deciding that no, actually, you have to go back to being a freshman in high school again and pass all 4 years before you can progress further. Imagine being a full grown, autonomous adult living a happy rewarding life and being suddenly transported into the body of a 9 year old where no one believes you when you tell them you’re supposed to be an adult (like the movie big, except in reverse and a lot less amusing). That’s what this is like. It’s like being forced to wear shoes that don’t fit anymore and honestly kind of hurt to put on.

This issue came into the spotlight this week when I approached one of my professors about my name being displayed as Robert in blackboard. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to be confused when I submitted my homework or that my classmates wouldn’t be confused during our discussion boards. Thankfully this professor was awesome and was like, “No, that’s not okay. We need to change that now because it’s important that your real name be displayed. Your identity is important and it matters. It should be Emma, not Robert. I’ll email them right now and ask them to change it.”

Within 24 hours that professor and our program director had the IT people change my name in blackboard to Emma. When I apologized for being a pain and for them having to go to extra lengths to accommodate me they said:

You are not a pain, your identity is significant and important, we are here to make this process LESS painful if possible, and I really appreciate you taking on these kinds of questions and burdens so that you can show up authentically.  Not only will it pave the way for other students after we've done this a few times, it'll serve your clients well to have a therapist who knows who they are

Which, of course, made my day. The victory, however, was not without additional consequences as this change in my name created confusion for another party involved with my participation in blackboard. Not 2 hours after the name was changed did I get an email from a confused eBrairian (electronic librarian who does part of the grading for one of my courses) asking me about the change. I had submitted an assignment the day before and she had graded it, but now my name was different so she wanted to know which name she was supposed to use. This was a person I have never, and may never meet in real life, so heaven knows what she is thinking about this change.

The point I’m trying to make is that changing your name is much more complicated than just getting a new driver’s license. It’s part of almost every level of your life, which brings me to my next subject, the hidden pressures of social visibility as a transgender person. More specifically, social networking.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Facebook is my social network of choice. I know it isn’t for everyone and it has its limitations and issues, but it’s my drug of choice, as it were. I’ve dabbled some in twitter (especially in recent months), Instagram, Pinterest, and tumblr, but in the end I always go back to Facebook. It’s the place I first came out to the world as trans, it’s the place I keep most of my pictures, it’s the place I visit the most, and it’s been in my life since shortly after its launch (back in 2004 when you had to have a university email to use it and only college students were allowed on it).

So, as it goes, my Facebook account has a lot of my personal history on it. Pictures of me from the ages of probably 11 all the way to last month, my coming out posts, all the trans activism things I share on there, and a shameful number snark-eCards. As such, it is a bit of an intimate place for me (I know, the contradiction of a public profile being an intimate place is just lol-worthy) and honestly isn’t necessarily always a great place to network with new people, especially when they don’t know I’m trans*.

I actually ran into this issue this past week or two. I might have mentioned this in a previous post but a few of the people I’ve been playing World of Warcraft with created a Facebook group for our guild in order to help facilitate in-game event planning and a better sense of community. I know, some of you are judging me but alas, I am unashamed about my WoW addiction.

This news was rather stressful for me because these people know me as Emma/she/her, and if I joined this group with my rather intimate FB profile with the pictures of Robert growing up, then all of that could change. I don’t want to hide who I am per se, because I’m not ashamed of my past as Robert, but I kind of wanted to continue with their assumption that I was female. It was comfortable, it was nice, it was almost relieving to not be out and proud in that circle. Even this transwoman extraordinaire grows weary from the activism from time to time and just wants to be a lady out in the world sometimes.

I stressed about this issue all day and all night after receiving the news, unsure of how to proceed. These people liked me, and I liked them. These people wanted to include me in their social network, and I wanted to be included, but would the whole/real/true me be? I didn’t know, and I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t be given the same respect and kindness that I had been before once they found out I was trans*. The internet is rather mean, after all.

WoW was my escape from life, my little vacation into the realm of fantasy to help reduce stress and bolster confidence. Passing as a girl in the game and over voice chat accomplished that. Not only was I getting excellent practice at using a female ranged voice on a regular, consistent basis, but I was even getting positive (unbeknownst to them) feedback from the people I interacted with. They will never know how much confidence I developed because of my conversations with them and their believing me when I said I was female. Did I really want to jeopardize that? Did I really want to risk losing that?

So, for perhaps the first time since starting full time as Emma, I caved to the cisgender social pressures and decided that perhaps the time had come to create a new Facebook account that only included my pictures and info since my gender transition. For the first time, I didn’t want someone I liked to know about my true history, and I still feel torn about that. On some level I feel shame, or like I’m hiding my true self like I did for all those years I spent in the closet, but at the same time I also feel grief at the loss of my past as Robert.

I created the new account with the name I will be using once I do legally change my name and only included pictures since going full time. I didn’t even link the account to my wife under “married to” section because I didn’t want people to link me with the wedding pictures she has posted of her and I (as Robert). I’m not ashamed of those pictures but wouldn’t that be a dead give-away? This profile was literally a smoke screen from my trans* history and I haven’t decided how I feel about it.

Is this something that was inevitable? Would I have ultimately decided to do this in the natural course of my transition in say, a year or two? At what point do I let go of my past and move ahead with my future? Everyone in my family now knows that I’ve transitioned; even my grandmother who I’d been waiting to tell knows (my mother told her. Yes, there will be a post about that later because OMG). The longer I live as Emma, the further away from Robert I grow, but when am I supposed to put those chapters of my life up on the shelf and move on from them?

Will I always want to be the out and proud transwoman extraordinaire, Emma… or will a day come when I don’t want people to know my past anymore? I struggle with these questions because as I’ve embraced this new FB profile, expunged of my history as Robert, I’ve been debating what to do with the old intimately revealing profile. I decided that it was time to make that profile less publicly visible by changing the privacy settings to hide all of my info, pictures and posts from anyone who wasn’t a friend.

Going through the pictures of Robert, and especially of Robert and his wife before their wedding was rather difficult. I felt so strange, almost as though I was looking through someone else’s pictures. More than just strange, I felt sad. I wasn’t that person anymore. My wife and I weren’t those people anymore. These pictures, while they were of me, weren’t of me at all, not anymore. They didn’t feel like they belonged on my profile anymore, but could I really just erase them? By creating a new profile, a public profile expunged of this history, was I already doing that?

So just like with changing my name, this social media thing is turning out to be more complicated than expected. In some ways being just Emma has its advantages, both in the professional world and the less-than-intimate social world. Sometimes the importance of visibility can be overruled by the advantages of invisibility. Regardless of my decisions about Facebook, I will continue to share my stories and thoughts here until either I have no more to share, or no one cares to read them. I will never sacrifice my visibility here for conformity to a binary or social pressures to appear cis.

I am still who I am. I guess, though. that I’m becoming more discreet with who I share that with and who I don’t.

Well, that’s all for this entry. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the read. As always, stay fabulous!


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