So as part of my transition I’ll be changing my name, as trans people generally do when we transition. The timing is a bit particular, so I’m filling out the paperwork now, even though I won’t mail it to the probate court for awhile yet. The plan is to mail it the day my transition becomes public. About a month later, in theory, I appear before a judge, who grants the name change.
I’m not mailing this application until Avalanche Day (as I have come to think of it). I appear routinely in local courts as part of my job, and I don’t want a court clerk to read the application and say to someone who knows me, “Hey, why is [insert my current name here] changing his name to ‘Grace’?” I’m mailing the application no later than Avalanche Day because I want that name change as soon as possible; every time I testify I have to swear or affirm that I am telling the truth, and then the first part of my testimony is to give my name.
I know my name is Grace. You know my name is Grace. Many of my friends know my name is Grace. My wife knows my name is Grace – she’s the one who gave me my name, and has called me by it for years. But the legal world thinks my name is something else, and even though I am telling the truth in saying that my name is Grace, if I use anything but my legal moniker on the stand, there’s an excellent chance that someone will weaponize that act of integrity and try to use it against me, or against my agency.
I do NOT want to be in the position of presenting as female and having to give, on the stand, a name my society codes as male – which, unfortunately, is true of my legal name. But the timing is tight. I want that name change to go through without a hitch. I emphatically DO NOT WANT to have to appeal a denial, and have the process drag out. Other aspects of my transition hinge on a smooth change of legal name. Until I have the legal change, I cannot change my name in most other places, including my driver’s license and my medical records.
This shouldn’t be a problem, right? People change their names all the time. Some people change them to some pretty strange things. They give various reasons, among which: their current name is mispronounced too much; there is a dispute with the family which shares their name; they dislike their current name; they feel that the new name represents them better. What could be simpler?
On the application form in my state of residence, after you confirm that you are not a felon or changing your name for a fraudulent reason, there is a space for you to explain your reason: two little lines. They can’t be expecting me to be terribly elaborate in two little lines. What to write?
Clearly, and foremost, I must be truthful. Integrity is the bedrock of my profession, and a personal value whatever I do for work.
(What’s the power in a name? I had to search hard for two news sources which referred to the women in question as women, because I wasn’t going to link to a source which did it wrong. The Oklahoma media have almost universally referred to them as “transsexual men”, in ignorance or defiance of accepted journalistic standards – which tweaks me every time I see it, and I’m sure it’s salt in their wounds for the women involved.)
I don’t think that this is likely; I live in New England, not Oklahoma. But it’s possible, and I worry about it.
I can easily give a truthful answer which does not mention that I am transsexual:
The new name is more consonant with my sense of identity than the old one.
I like the new name better.
The new name reflects and represents a personal milestone.
My wife gave me this nickname and after over twenty years of marriage we want to celebrate our continued union by making it my legal name.
These are all true. They are accurate. They don’t tell it all, but probably no reason which anyone gives ever tells it all; they are all summaries. They have to be.
And if something which amounts to “because I want to” is good enough for anyone else, it should be good enough for me, right?
Maybe. Opinions vary.
I put this question to some friends of mine who are also trans cops. Universally, they have told me to disclose that I am transsexual. “You don’t want the court to suspect you of misrepresenting yourself.” They offer concise examples (some phrasing mixed and matched so that I am not directly quoting any one person):
I am transitioning from male to female gender, as part of treatment in accordance with medical standards of care. I would like my name to be consistent with my gender identity.
I am changing my gender from M to F and respectfully request that the court change my name to match my gender.
Name change to match new gender and new appearance.
I am transitioning from male to female. Therefore, I am seeking to change my name from (this) to (that) to better reflect my identity, privately and publicly.
Okay, that’s fine, except that it gives the judge the opportunity to vapor-lock over something they find weird and possibly offensive.
I balk at the different standard: Any Tom, Dick or Harry can write “Because I want to”, or words which mean the same thing, on those lines and a judge will sign off on it. But because I am transsexual, I may be held to a different standard and must expose myself to greater scrutiny and a possible legal battle. And, well-intentioned, experienced people tell me there is enough chance that I will be held to a different standard that I should just do it myself, in advance. It’s galling. This is probably one of those “work twice as hard to be thought half as good” things which women have endured for millenia and which trans people therefore and also endure. And I’ll probably follow the advice of the people who have blazed the trail before me, so that no judge and no attorney can accuse me of impropriety, or hint at it.
But it sticks in my craw.