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(Not much) fun at the passport office - the funcrunch files


Aug. 6th, 2014 01:22 pm (Not much) fun at the passport office

(Cross-posted, group-locked, to ftm.)



Today was the first time since undergoing my legal and medical transition that I felt somewhat hassled by gatekeepers. It was mild compared to what many other trans people have to go through, but still uncomfortable.

Following last week's DMV visit, I decided to try to get an expedited passport in case my new state ID isn't ready in time for my mid-September trip. I found a nearby office that took photos; despite being a photographer and taking a selfie every day this year, I didn't want to deal with their very specific requirements. I'd read in the Transgender Law Center guide that if I was changing both name and gender I needed to fill out a different form than if I was just renewing (which I needed to do anyway as my passport was about to expire), and needed to apply in person.

So I went to the passport center (which was inside a post office) this morning, not bothering to dress up this time, just my usual jeans, T-shirt, and denim jacket. Fortunately only one couple (a mother and son) was ahead of me in line, but they were taking awhile, so a clerk came through the line to answer questions and check paperwork. I explained to her that I was renewing but also changing my name and gender. She said that I could fill out the renewal form if I could answer "yes" to all five questions on it. I reviewed the questions while she helped someone else, then explained to her that I could, but I believed I needed to fill out a different form as I was also changing gender. She admitted I might be right, and confirmed it with the clerk that was still helping the first couple. That clerk referred to me with both male and female pronouns, seeming confused, but got the message across that I needed to fill out the form that I already had completed.

Meanwhile the other clerk took my photo. She asked me to "smile more" (i.e. showing teeth); I politely declined. She showed me the photo on the camera, asking me to pick which of the two I preferred. They were nearly identical but I picked one. She then said something about women wanting to see the photo that made them look best. I was annoyed but ignored this. She processed my photo and made a photocopy of my current passport.

When the first couple was finally finished I approached with my paperwork, which included my court order and the doctor's note I submitted to the court, affirming that I was undergoing clinically appropriate treatment for transition. I'd also brought along my new Social Security card just in case. The clerk asked a few questions and had me make a couple of corrections (I'd left out my middle initial, I didn't put the apartment number on the right line, etc.). I explained to her more than once that I was changing both my name and gender, and didn't have any updated documents showing both yet, just the court order. She seemed somewhat flustered that I didn't have anything with my new name and signature on it, but accepted the court order and doctor's note. She also let me pay the $110 passport fee with a personal check in my former name, writing my new name and date of birth on the top, and the $25 store fee with a credit card (also in my former name).

She insisted on keeping the certified copy of the court order. I still have one left, but if I need any more they cost $25 each, which is annoying. Hopefully when I update my bank, credit card, and other records I won't need this anymore, as by then I'll have my new photo ID, but I want to always have a certified copy of my own just in case.

So finally when all the paperwork was done, I had sworn (reluctantly, being an atheist) that I am who I say I am, and I was all paid up, the clerk said, quietly, "That must have been expensive, huh?" I thought she was talking about the court costs, so I said "Yeah, $500." She said "Only $500?" I said "Plus $25 each time I need to get a certified copy of the court order." Then she clarified that she was talking about surgery. I thought this was an invasive and inappropriate question, but I wanted to get out of there and not hold up the growing line any longer, so I brushed it off saying "Oh, that's just the court costs, I wasn't even talking about the medical costs, that's another whole issue" or something to that effect.

The clerk then said that she was confused; I was there to change my name, correct? I explained again that I was changing both my name and gender (hoping now that she'd processed the paperwork correctly), and that I'd brought the court order to show that I was legally male. She then said "But not really." This was infuriating, but I kept my cool and said that I'd undergone clinical treatment for my transition, as indicated in the doctor's letter. She shrugged it off and said "This is how we do this" or something to that effect, and said (for the second or third time) that if the passport office had any questions they would call me directly. She seemed eager to absolve herself of any responsibility for screw-ups.

So assuming this paperwork does get processed correctly, I should have my new passport before my trip. I didn't bother to pay the expedited fee as both clerks said it should arrive before then. Hopefully I'll have my new state ID even sooner so I won't have to bother with the passport, but as it was just about to expire the timing was good to renew it, even though I'm not planning to travel abroad any time soon.

I'm hoping I don't encounter too many more insensitive officials as I continue my transition, but I expect it's inevitable. Even here in the bubble of the ultra-liberal San Francisco Bay Area, there are a lot of people who really don't understand what it means to be transgender. I was similarly ignorant myself not so long ago, so I recognize the need to have patience. More visibility and trans-inclusive activism will help smooth the way in this world that is so fixated on binary gender.

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