The Bureaucracy of Being Trans / by Sydney Baloue

Yesterday was an interesting day of running around. I am sure if I told my friend Liv, they would gag that I covered so many miles in one day. It’s amazing to me that I even was able to end in the spot where I did, which is in the end, a good thing. Yesterday, I finally got my gender marker changed on my driver’s license. It wasn’t an easy process, but I am glad that it is finally finished. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for the damn thing in the mail.

Throughout this process I was constantly reminded of the tedious bureaucracy of being trans. Transitioning and being trans is tied up in a ridiculously complex and bullshit web of bureaucracy. Cisgender people do not realize how much their lives are embedded in gender. It is the invisible thread that people cannot see if they are not aware that it even exists. It’s the emperor’s clothes of our everyday lives.

For me, I have been meaning to do this gender marker change for some time, but have been putting it off mainly because I feel like I have more important things to worry about (like finding a job). But I figured since elections are coming up and my address has changed, this thing that has been sitting in my to-do list, should finally get done. So, last Thursday I went down to the DMV to see what I could do. I had an application filled out as well as a letter from my former general practitioner as a Penn student with the wording and everything that I originally had for the gender marker change on a Pennsylvania driver’s license when I thought I would do it in Philadelphia. Sadly, I totally forgot to bring my passport and social security card, so the lady at the front desk kindly told me to return with that as well as a bank statement or gas/electric bill. I then, head to the local public library (thank goodness for them!) to print out all these things. I was reminded of when I lived in Paris and Germany as I had to do the same thing in order to get things like visa extensions or do the extra steps of establishing residency in those countries. Bureaucracy is something I am well acquainted with after living in European welfare state countries.

Living in Europe, in a nutshell.

Nonetheless, I return the next day (Friday) to the DMV in Brooklyn armed with all of my official documents. I get past the first line, then it’s on to the photo. Now, here the woman at the front desk is befuddled with my application that seeks to change my gender and my state (I had a California license before). I guess it was too much for her to handle. She takes a look at the letter from my doctor in Philadelphia, and even though it clearly states that I am changing my gender from female to male, she calls her colleague over, they debate the paper, and then she says that it doesn’t have enough information on it in order for me to get a gender change on my driver’s license. Imagine that! An official statement from your doctor, with proper letter heading, and the doctor’s license number, certification, etc. wasn’t enough. She tells me a hodge podge answer that it needed to say something like, “one gender predominates over the other.” I asked her where this was stated, as this was not on the DMV’s website, nor did they have any kind of written form that explained this. She can’t come up with anything and continues to state this muddled answer of hers whilst denying me my license. It amazed me that she was so determined to deny me my driver’s license change even though I knew she was full of shit. I was trying to contain how livid I was after I had gone through so much trouble to get all of these documents together, including the letter from my doctor and I asked her why this wasn’t enough. In full bureaucrat mode, she kept defending her bullshit answer. I knew she knew she was wrong and actually didn’t know what she was talking about. This moment often happens in these situations, so I asked her to write down exactly what it was that my GP needed to write in her letter as she herself had no proof of what she was saying. Quite odd in a setting like the DMV considering that all of their work is clearly stated in writing SOMEWHERE. Nevertheless, she wrote down her mangled language on a green sheet of paper and gave it to me. There is no handbook for this. These people are clearly not trained in what to do. Again, pretty odd since there are a ton of trans people in New York City. I was so pissed I wanted to cry. Like an idiot, this woman asked me what I wanted to do, as if I would want to go through the trouble of having to get an ID twice. The moment was a very transphobic one. And I will name that. I don’t think I was treated with dignity and I know I wasn’t treated with respect. I know for certain had I had another bureaucrat, this would not have been a problem. I approached that kiosk with respect and of course, this was not reciprocated. What can you do in these situations? Everyone knows the DMV is like being caught in some horrible vortex of paperwork purgatory. This was mine, apparently.

I took all of my documents and headed for the door. At first, I was deeply pissed, but then I decided to keep moving. There is something about the energy in New York City that always does that for me. I grieve for a moment, and then I get to strategizing about the next step. So, immediately I emailed my old GP in Philly to see if they could help me out. I also called my former GP’s offices in Manhattan, Callen-Lorde. I explained my situation and they said I could see a case manager, but I would have to wait until 1:00pm. It was 11:45am. I took a small pizza break and then headed up to 18th Street in Manhattan from Bed Stuy. I got to the offices at 12:15pm and decided to do work on my laptop while I waited. When I finally had a meeting with a case manager, I was given another delightful set of fuckery. According to this case manager, my former GP at Callen-Lorde had left (I lived in Brooklyn last year before moving to Philly), so in order for them to write me a letter, I would need to see a new GP and the next available appointment was on Oct. 29. But you know, I could call “everyday to see if there is an opening.” Eye roll. I decided to show this case manager the letter I had from my Philly care provider and I asked what Callen-Lorde puts on their letters in this case, just to compare. The case manager was very quick to tell me that I couldn’t actually see their letter (god forbid!), but she could read it out to me. Double eye roll.

All the things.

All the things.

The letter she read out to me said nothing about gender “predominating over the other” and was just another nonsensical statement from a doctor about gender. All of these letters are nonsensical and silly statements. It’s literally insane that you have to have a “medical professional” write about how their patient “feels and acts” and lives their lives in one gender or another. The way the world treats gender is just so insane. But I guess this is for the really lost souls who are convinced of the emperor’s clothes. These idiot people. FFS. Again, trying to contain my frustration at the situation, I just decided to take this silly Oct. 29 appointment and accept the fact that a good chunk of my Friday was lost on ridiculous bureaucracy.

That day, I made sure to write to my top surgery surgeon at NYU whom I saw last December to see if at least they could write a letter perhaps. The case manager at Callen-Lorde said that surgeons usually don’t write letters. Luckily for me, this case manager was wrong (triple eye roll) as my surgeon’s office got back to me yesterday and told me that they could mail the letter or I could pick it up. I decided that I might as well just get this silly thing done and over with, so I don’t have to deal with it again. So, yesterday, I trekked out from Bed Stuy to NYU Langone Center in Murray Hill, picked up the letter and headed cross town to the DMV at 34th Street. I got there just in time at 4:30pm as they close the doors at 6pm. After some waiting and watching silly New Yorker shouting matches break out between pushy DMV “customers” and DMV staff (it’s like watching two pitbulls snarl at each other) I finally got my picture, waited another hour and a half and finally got to the final booth. This time I got another pushy DMV worker, who was actually quite respectful, albeit still very New York-sassy. She was somewhat confused about how to process my application. She had to bring her colleague round to sort out what to do. There were a bunch of questions back and forth and then the most obvious answer (just change the letter from F to M in the computer – go figure!) came about. They were being very whisper-y and super discreet, which was somewhat odd to me. I realized perhaps it was more out of respect for me, that I might not want the rest of the DMV to know that I am changing my gender marker. I realized every time I said this, people would give me a funny stare there. Honestly, why the fuck would I care what some randos at the DMV think about my gender? However, for safety and security purposes, perhaps for others (especially transwomen?) this might be an issue of some sort. Nonetheless, the damn thing got done. I registered to vote, I got more sass, paid my $60 and went on my merry way with my temporary license.

I wish there was more explanation of the difficulty in dealing with bureaucracy when it comes to being trans. This is something that rarely if ever gets discussed. The ridiculous web of changes that has to occur. The begging doctors for letters. The begging bureaucrats to be recognized as human. The paperwork. Oh, the paperwork! I used to look at trans people before transitioning and think, “Wow, they’re so angry. I don’t want to transition because I don’t want to be like them.” Now, it makes sense why we’re angry. We have to deal with so much shit that cis people just never have to deal with much less even THINK about. This is something that people take for granted. I am applying for jobs and you know what? It’s nice to have a legal form of identification that actually affirms who I am, so I don’t have to answer dumb questions from people. I didn’t even get in to how idiotic these letters are and how much they intrinsically linked to having to undergo medical treatments (hormone replacement therapy and/or gender affirming surgeries). I wonder what the experience of a non-binary person or someone who has undergone neither would be like. I’m just glad that I don’t need to change my name. At least my parents got one thing right when I was a kid.