It’s been a bit thanks to finals and broken laptop, but there is a bright side. First, all of my finals save one are done, which I will be taking on Monday. Second, the part to fix my laptop should be arriving today or tomorrow, so I should be able to fix it (I hope). That said, I plan on getting in three posts this week: one today, one tomorrow, and one Friday. We’ll see if I manage to pull it off.
Anyways, today after my final, I stopped at the local tax commissioner’s office to change my vehicle title and registration over from Georgia to Texas. While there, the woman helping me started out by calling me Ma’am, recognizing my presentation as female. However, during the course of asking how my being a vet affected the fees (it dropped the plate fee and let me get a custom veteran plate), I had to show her my DD-214, otherwise known as my separation paperwork. After she saw this and my name change paperwork, she changed to calling me Sir, though she did apologize for it when I corrected her. I bring this story up for a reason.
You see, for my activism class this semester, we were allowed to expand on our midterm papers for our final papers, which I did. One of the issues the professor raised with my midterm was that I should go into more detail about how the oppressions that trans people face can be addressed via legal means (as my topic is legal issues faced by trans people). I didn’t include much in the way of an answer in my midterm for a reason, which I discussed in my final paper. Specifically, as Dean Spade points out in his book Normal Life, pushing for laws like ENDA and hate crime laws won’t accomplish anything. Look at all the non-discrimination laws in place for women, people with disabilities, and people of color (just to name a few groups). How well do they work? We still have systemic sexism, ableism, racism, etc. because people just find new ways to get around the laws. For example, while applying for a job as an emergency operator for the county that my roommate works with, I ended up receiving a letter of rejection which not only told me that I had not received the job, but that I could not apply again. In Georgia, it is not illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and furthermore, the state is a so-called “right to work” state, which essentially means that an employer can choose to not hire or fire someone without giving a reason. That being said, the letter I received did not come outright and state that I was being denied work because I’m transgender, as that could potentially lead to a lawsuit. No, instead, the stated reason was “inconsistencies with my background check.”
Which leads to what I eventually listed as the one legal issue I would most address to fix much of the discrimination we face: the issue of identity and privacy. It is so difficult for us to get all of our paperwork to align with our actual gender and real (i.e. chosen) names. So difficult, in fact, that many of us end up having conflicting documentation. When Dori was preparing to go to Thailand last year for her bottom surgery, she ran into issues with getting her passport because she had some documents declaring her male and others declaring her female. I faced the same issue upon coming to Georgia and trying to get my driver’s license, with my existing license from Texas declaring me female, but my birth certificate declaring me as male, despite having my name updated. This is an even more difficult issue for those who identify outside the male/female binary, such as genderqueer and agender individuals. Some nations have the option of allowing for an X or some other marker for a gender-neutral marker for such people, but that is not the case here in the states.
If existing laws and policies could be addressed to make it easier for our identities to be recognized, it would help remove so much of the oppression we face. For example, if I were able to get my DD-214 updated to reflect my real name and gender, rather than those I pretended to be during my time in the military, I would not face the micro-aggression today that I did. Additionally, if the need to disclose previous names was not a requirement for employment background checks, I would be more likely to be hired, and less likely to have issues like the one faced with the department of public service last year. These are issues that we can address legally, issues which will be much harder for people to find loopholes to oppress us with. It will not make everything better, but it is a beginning point.