Living While Trans — Snapshots of Daily Corrosion

Not too long ago, Autumn Sandeen wrote about an experience she had trying to get a consumer discount she qualified for.  Sandeen is a career Navy veteran.  She’s the real deal, when it comes to standing up for herself and others like her.  For instance, to protest Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, She handcuffed herself to the White House fence, alongside Dan Choi and others, knowing that she would likely be arrested and booked as though she were a man — a terrifying prospect for any trans woman — and then she wrote about how the arresting officers and custodial personnel treated her.

This was a much smaller matter.  She learned that her phone company had a discount program for veterans, and she applied for it.  Her DD214 (the official documentation of her discharge) has her old name on it, but she also has a copy of the court order for her name change.  So she sent both. Her DD214 with her old name, and a copy of the court order changing her old name to her new name, the new name being the name on her account with the phone company.

The phone company couldn’t figure it out.

Suppose that you serve in the military and get discharged, and then get married and take the last name of your spouse.  In such a circumstance, to get your veteran’s discount from the phone company with an unchanged DD214, you’d have to do exactly what Sandeen did.1

I received a post card back stating the discount was denied. The reason was because the name on my DD214 didn’t match my name.

She called them.

I talked to a very nice customer service agent, explaining my confusion of being denied the discount. She put me on hold and talked offline to their discounts office, and they reaffirmed that I was denied the benefit because the name on my DD214 didn’t match my current name. She, in a tone which indicated, “I don’t understand how this person with a male name could somehow be you” was clearly confused.

Sandeen outed herself. She explained, explicitly, that she was trans.  The rep called a supervisor onto the line.

I explained why my billing name didn’t match my DD214 name. After putting me on hold, he came back on the line to tell me for processing I needed to send in a copy of my change document.

That would be the copy of the court order which she included, originally, with the DD214.  She explained that she had already submitted it.

He again put me on hold, and came back on the line and said, they did have my change of name document on file as I’d sent it in with my DD214.

He apologized.

The process took Sandeen about 40 minutes.

It wasn’t the end of the world.  Sandeen worked through it.  It just took 40 minutes more of her life that it took out of most other people’s.

It seemed familiar to me.

Recently, I paid off a car which I bought a few years ago, before I transitioned.  The bank which loaned me the money sent me the title… in my old name, despite the fact that I had, in the interim, changed my name with the bank.  They explained that they “had to” do it that way, because that was the name on the loan.

So, I took the signed-over title to my friendly and helpful town clerk (who is, in fact, friendly and helpful) and asked her how to get the title in my new name.  Her first thought was that I could sign my old name and sign it over to myself in my new name, but then she pointed out that I’d have to pay the retitling fee, and that didn’t seem fair. Also, I pointed out, part of the process of my changing my name was that the court had ordered me not to use the old name on legal documents, and so it didn’t seem like a good idea to sign my old name to a document with a current date on it.  She agreed.  She called the state DMV, and they said it should not be a problem, and directed her to the appropriate form.  There would be no charge.  I filled it out and sent it in.

Awhile later I got a letter from the state:  they could not process my title request, because I needed to get the old owner to sign it over to the new owner.

A few days later, when I had time during business hours, I drove over to town hall again.  I showed the letter to the town clerk.  She sighed. She called the DMV.  She explained the situation.  They said they would have to get a supervisor.  She explained it to the supervisor, who put her on hold.  We chatted while she was on hold.

“This should not take so long,” she said, “they work in the same room.”

As a police officer, I have access on duty to the state motor vehicle files.  I sometimes run my own name and DOB or my own license plate in order to check that the connection is working.  I know perfectly well that under my vitals a list of previous names comes up.  I’m not happy about it, but there it is.  It’s one reason I fear being pulled over.

“I can tell you what happened,” I offered.  She waited expectantly. “They ran my name, and looked at the previous name, and then they looked at my gender marker, which I have not changed because in order to change it the state requires me to answer questions about what is between my legs, which I think is none of the state’s business, and then they had to have a discussion about it.”  (“Discussion” was the word I chose in an effort to be polite.  I’ve listened to office workers discuss a trans person’s entry, and there’s usually some laughter involved.  Not the light-hearted kind.)

Her mouth twisted. We resigned ourselves to a wait.

Fortunately, there was a practical limit; the DMV offices were due to close.  After a few minutes they came back on the line and told her that it would be fine, and there would be no need for further paperwork.

Now, we provided them with no more information than they already had in front of them, available in my own records, which pop up when you run my name.  It was theoretically within their power to save me, and the town clerk, and ultimately their clerk, this trouble.

But, apparently, a male name and a female name could only be a title transfer, and it was less trouble to stuff an envelope with a form letter than it was to run my name and DOB and read the screen.

Total time and trouble:  for me, about an hour, and for the town and state employees, about half an hour.  Fortunately, there was no other impact.  I wasn’t, for instance, prevented from selling my car because I did not have a title I could sign over to the buyer.  I was “lucky,” if you squint hard and tilt your head sideways.

When I transitioned, I had to change my name with various financial institutions.  The procedure varied.  Most wanted me to send them a copy of the court order, which I did, and then they changed my name.  One simply changed it after I answered the security questions.  One, my actual bricks-and-mortar bank, told me that they could not change the name on my account even though I was standing in front of the manager, showing her the original court order with the fancy crimped seal over the judge’s actual signature, together with the new driver’s license which my state had issued in my name on the strength of exact same copy of the original court order.  No, she told me, I would have to go to the Social Security Administration and get them to change my name in their system, and then I would have to bring that paperwork back, and then they would change my name on my account.

I had a better idea.  I checked with my wife, re-routed the automatic paycheck deposit… and we closed the account.

Then we opened a new account with a different local credit union… using my state-issued driver’s license and nothing else.  They didn’t need to see the fancy court order, because they didn’t know that I had once had a different name.  It would show up in a credit check, but they didn’t need to do a credit check, because they weren’t extending me credit, I was giving them money.  They didn’t need to know that I had once had a different name, apparently, to take my money and store it for me and make more money with it in the meantime.  And the other bank, the one where we closed our account… they didn’t need to know about the name change, either, in order to give us our money back.

What did it cost us?  Measurably, not much; a few hours of time.  Less tangibly, the knowledge that we don’t fit, that procedures are not designed for us, that when we need to do something in our lives which involves our IDs, we should budget more time, and carry more proof of who we are, and be prepared to answer invasive questions about our genitals.

Later, I took the court order to the Social Security Administration. They changed my name.  I also showed them a letter from my doctor certifying that I had undergone irreversible medical treatment, and they changed my gender marker.

At the end of her story, Sandeen advocated and asked a rhetorical question:

I told him their intake process felt both discriminatorily sexist – as more women than men change their names at marriage – and transphobic.
Intentional sexism or transphobia? Probably not. But a process or policy doesn’t have to be intentional to be discriminatory, does it?

The bank manager who told me I had to go through the Social Security Administration was expressive and thoughtful and sincere and helpful and looked up the nearest SSA office and printed out directions and hours for me.  I don’t think her bank’s policy was intentionally discriminatory.

But the result was.


  1. Since drafting this, I have been told that married people can actually get their DD214 changed.  The Department of Defense refuses to change the DD214 for trans people because it is an “historical document”… but the DoD changes the DD214 for people who change their names through marriage. Go figure. []
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9 Responses to Living While Trans — Snapshots of Daily Corrosion

  1. 1
    Myca says:

    This is just maddening – dealing with the omnipresent government/corporate bureaucracy is oppressive enough without adding this additional layer of, in some cases, invented goddamn obstacles. Yeesh.

    In situations like this, I keep wanting to ask, “You know, you’re making it awfully difficult for me to give you my money, right? Is that your business plan? To make it hard for customers to give you their money?”


  2. 2
    Grace Annam says:

    In situations like this, I keep wanting to ask, “You know, you’re making it awfully difficult for me to give you my money, right? Is that your business plan? To make it hard for customers to give you their money?”


    Yeah, if I thought there were any particular value in that business, or if, like Autumn Sandeen, I could save money, I might have the time and energy to make that argument (or if it were a government monopoly like the DMV, I might have to find the time and energy, as with my car registration). But, in the case of my bank, there was no savings to be had, and, y’know, that’s the free market in operation. They do business their way, and I decide whether to give them my business. In theory, their aggregate decisions over time determine whether they succeed or not.

    I vote vigorously with my feet. Kmart once pissed me off by putting the wrong SKU on an item which my wife bought and overcharging us by a factor of ten, and, when I discovered it in the receipt and brought it to their attention, essentially calling my wife a liar. Okay. About $60. Not worth a lawsuit. But prior to that we shopped there pretty routinely, and for over fifteen years, now, we’ve shopped elsewhere. And we tell the story. I have little doubt that it has cost them more in profit than it would have cost them to issue the refund.

    But, yeah, the thing with the bank was weirdly self-destructive. But hey, maybe they like not having to deal with icky trans people. As long as there’s a alternative at least as good which doesn’t mind doing business with trans people, this is not a difficult problem.


  3. 3
    Kate says:

    I hear you. This is how microagressions work. “Little things” add up over time into days, weeks, months in the lives of marginalized people.

  4. 4
    Susan says:

    Here’s the deal. Part of it anyway.

    Bank employees, store clerks, DMV employees – they’re not exactly at the top of the food chain. They want mostly not to get blamed for….whatever. Whatever happens. They don’t really care whether a bad thing happens or not, they just don’t want to be blamed. If a name gets changed on some record and it turns out that for some arcane reason (remember, these people have only a very vague idea of what is going on, and of how the enterprise they are a tiny part of actually works) it was the wrong thing to do to change the name, fix the price tag, whatever we’re talking about….they’re going to get blamed. Whereas if you do nothing at all you are almost certainly in the clear.

    This, rather than malice, is the force that brings these transactions to a complete halt.

    I have a grandson who has a relatively common name, and someone else with that name was once on the no-fly list. So we (his parents and his grandparents) took the kid, who was then six years old, to the airport to fly to Disneyland, and here pops up the name on the no-fly list. What to do.

    The clerk behind the counter, whose job description did not go above stamping stuff on boarding passes, refused to allow him to fly. So then they called on the TSA. But, more of the same. The TSA guy came out and looked at the child, and clearly perceived that he was a six-year-old and almost certainly NOT a bomb-carrying terrorist. But it’s the same thing. If the TSA guy let him fly and he suddenly transformed on the airplane into a bomb-carrying terrorist, the TSA guy was going to get blamed, a fact of which he was vividly aware. Whereas if he refused the kid, no bad thing could possibly happen to him (except that maybe I would stab him with a letter-opener). So he just stood there.

    It took maybe three levels of bureaucrats until we got to a level where the individual involved had the teeny tiny bit of discretion which would allow him to let the kid on the plane, and then we went to Disneyland.

    I’m not so much trying to excuse these people as to explain how and why organizations work this way, which, as you-all point out, is actually against the real interest of the store or bank or whatever.

  5. 5
    Grace Annam says:


    I agree that the dynamic you describe is often in play. I’ve kicked things up the chain myself, for similar reasons; some decisions are above my rank. I’ve also used my discretion and been praised for it, and used my discretion and been censured for it.

    In the particular case of my account at the bank, I spoke with the manager of the bank. Maybe she didn’t have the authority to change my name. But I doubt it. And, regardless, as you point out, the result did not benefit the organization.


  6. 6
    Pete Patriot says:

    None of you seem to have really considered the importance of banks maintaining accurate records of who they owe money to, you seem blind to any motivation other than bureaucratic assholery. Any half sensible policy is inevitably going to seriously inconvienience people who want to change identity.

  7. 7
    closetpuritan says:

    Pete Patriot: You don’t seem to have really considered that women change their names for marriage all the time without it causing so many problems for these banks. (Shouldn’t a last name change be a lot more worrying?)

  8. 8
    Grace Annam says:

    Pete Patriot:

    you seem blind to any motivation other than bureaucratic assholery

    With all due respect, you seem not to have read the part of my account where two other banks managed to protect their interests without complicating my life unduly, or where Autumn Sandeen provided gold-standard documentation — official US Navy discharge document and court order — and still had to go through complications.

    I suggest that you re-read the original post. When you have done that, I’d be interested to hear you articulate what you think the thesis of the post is, because after one reading, you give the impression that you don’t know.


  9. 9
    Grace Annam says:

    Pete Patriot,

    Also, it seems weird to me that when I write…

    The bank manager who told me I had to go through the Social Security Administration was expressive and thoughtful and sincere and helpful and looked up the nearest SSA office and printed out directions and hours for me.

    …you see an accusation of “assholery” of any kind, bureaucratic or no.