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.
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.
- 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. [↩]