From government issued IDs, medical facilities, employers, housing, and much more. The way our gender and names are stored in databases can greatly change the way a lot of trans people experience the world. Most people take for granted having equal access to their basic needs due to the fact that for most people there are no prerequisites to obtain them. But for a trans person these things come at high costs and absurd protocols which puts us at risk monetarily, physically, mentally, and socially. In a world where equality is such a prevalent topic and cause, why is it that we are denied even some of the most basic human rights like self-authority and consent. Year after year this remains true with little to no change people. Society continues to allow these transgressions towards a whole group of the population. The following are some of the realities, struggles, violations and dangers trans people are put through due to virtually unlimited forces and systems seeking to invalidate and erase.
This year for Trans Day of Visibility we have asked trans members of Hypatia to reflect on the intersection of the trans experience and technology. Below you will find a series of reflections from trans members of our community. We hope that as you read the reflections below and remember that Trans Day of Visibility is not just about physical visibility, but the visibility of our struggle, experiences, and lives.
Part the existence issue is that our legal/deadnames are used in so many places. Until you stop going by that, you don’t really notice how pervasive and indicative it is of your identity to others. It’s literally everywhere, acting like some kind of unseen barrier that the cigender world never even notices.
It’s not only on credit cards, but banking information, workplace systems, rental agreements, car notes, medical records, school records, previous job histories, and the list goes on. Trying to change these to reflect your chosen name which reflects who you really are and identify as can be seemingly impossible, costly, and potentially out someone that is trans in some situations without court orders. Even if “nicknames” on some accounts can be used it still often causes confusion and incidents of being put in situations where someone else misgenders and possibly puts you in harms way due to others around you. Even if they don’t mean such. It still can be overheard if called by a pharmacist, a doctor, etc
Not to mention the issues that arise between how someone can look on their driver’s license vs their appearance while in transition as well. I’ve personally had people refuse me service due to mismatching ID where my picture and appearance did not match up. Even now, producing it causes conflict due my legal name and gender conflicting on my driver’s license, sometimes causing people to claim it’s a fake ID. This is complicated further by the process to get a legal name change. In many states it’s a costly, totaling $250-$400 without a lawyer. It can be a time consuming process that lasts for 1-3 months+ and sometimes not even attainable due to judges who try to block it. While rare, it’s still something that does happen from time to time. In contrast, compare it to those who get married have almost no issues to change their name other than a small fee, members of the transgender community have to jump through all kinds of hoops with notes from doctors, affidavits, lawyers, and then the actual court process itself.
This also extends into the work place. Even for me, someone who works in an entirely virtual environment almost, the system logins, display names, etc all reflect my deadname. This causes some serious issues personally, and for others as it brings up the weight of such and the emotional issues that come with seeing/hearing or even having to type out those names. While certain databases and situations are understandable (Payroll, Benefits, etc), it’s a nuisance when you don’t want everyone to know or are going “stealth” as it were to avoid discrimination in a general work place environment and not have those other than in HR know. Changing these without a legal name change is something that’s often not easy. In my own situation, I haven’t exactly figured out who I even contact about such within my company to remedy the situation. Because of that, the stress and anxiety of being outed on nearly a daily basis is hard to deal with and a few times it was perilously close to occurring and sometimes derails an entire day of work due to the stress of such.
Not only can this be distressing, but can open the door to discrimination, unintentional outing of Trans people, and other issues that surround daily life that others take for granted.
The lack of ability for systems to acknowledge trans people is something that goes a lot deeper than most people think. It’s not just about trying to get through the pathologizing system of hoops to get legal recognition followed by the struggle of trying to update your records everywhere. Before that can even happen we go through a period where we simply have no belieable means to identify ourselves, which can be problematic and traumatizing and its something that we have virtually no control over to fix. Other people, particularly the psych industry are given ownership of our identities and bodies. In this period of trying to live our lives without matching ID reflecting who we are. We have to constantly out ourselves no matter if we do. Even just picking up your medication from the pharmacy can become suspected identity theft/fraud because people wont believe your ID is actually yours.
In a world where trans people are continuously discriminated and harassed, even by people who are supposed to be there to protect; like cops, thats not just nerve wrecking. It can become an outright threat to our lives and well-being. The casual disregard or outright refusal to account for our existence within critical systems is not just an assault on our identities, but a method of oppression.
I believe its time for us to stop asking nicely and hoping our allies will help restore our rights to identity and consent, and time to *demand* what is *rightfully* ours. We exist and we endure undue humiliation and abuse just to be ourselves all because people don’t find us important enough to implement actual change for. We *deserve* IDs that reflect who are and we *deserve* to have it without needing to beg strangers in the psych industry for consent to our identity. We *deserve* to be treated as real people. Equals. Not like property of others. All because seemingly people feel someones genitals does, and should define who they are and can be, as a human being. A sickingly concept that I wish the world would open their eyes and see. This should be an outrage… and yet for all our allies, for all our fighting, for all acknowledgement that being trans is not a mental illness then our consent and rights are still handed over to the psych industry by default.
For the cis-gendered people reading, I ask this: How would you feel if your authority over your own body and identity was *legally* taken away from you because someone didn’t feel it fit your genitals? How would you feel if you had to go through a humiliating and violating process thats potentially several years long, and having to spend a small fortune in the hope that you’ll meet the right stranger, the one that’ll finally accept accept you begging to be who you are is enough? Would you accept it happening to you? If so why aren’t you outraged that others are forced to go through it? How many of us have to die because of broken and abusive systems before you care enough to be outraged?
We are one people, and its my firm belief that if anything is going to get better we need to learn to acknowledge that no matter how different someones life, identity or skin colour is,then we are still one singular people. When we forget to care and stand up for each other, to insist fair treatment and equality not just for ourselves — but for all, we become less for it. Personally, and as a people. So we should remember the value of unity. To stand, and walk as one. To fight all the battles together, rather than for all to succumb to the crippling and ubiquitous lateral aggression that follows the dissolution of unity. It may be hard, but I believe we all have it in us, I believe in a day we treat each other with kindness and compassion, with respect — but the day will only come if we all choose unity and love over hate and indifference. It starts with you, and me. So wont you join the fight for a better future for all?
Having social anxiety and PTSD makes it very hard for me to go outside to buy basic things i need in my daily life. This often forces me to buy things online, but even that is not without complications when being trans. I had my credit card locked to my deadname on paypal for almost 6 months and they refused to change it even after i supplied the required documentation as proof of my existence. It was only when i broke into tears and told them i was trans that they finally agreed to look into the issue. It is very hard not feeling defeated when having to beg them to help with issues that cis people will have no problems getting fixed. But it doesn’t end here. Once the parcel finally arrives, there is also the constant fear of new delivery people who might not want to let me sign for the things I bought and paid for unless i pass to them. Being misgendered by delivery people is not uncommon and sometimes they even go out of their way not to look at me while i sign, which only makes my social issues worse.
It has always amazed me that my dignity as a human being, and respect from my peers can be tied to something as trivial as an entry in a database. While the examples of this are many in my life, I’d like to focus on just one example in one of the more important aspects of my life: employment and housing. During my transition on the job, I never would have thought that our companies computer system for the name badges could be tied to our payroll records. Further more, this name was tied to our companies single sign on system. In simple terms this meant that my work ID, email address, and employee records would all have my old name on them until my months long name change process in probate court could be heard.
At first, I didn’t think this would be a big deal. But soon I realized that it was beyond non-trivial. When I would swipe my employee ID at the door, the men at the security desk would literally freak out when they saw my name came up. Often I’d hear them comment about how glad they were that the computers warned them about my existence as I walked down the hallway. Daily work started to become near impossible as after talking to coworkers in remote offices, and sending them an email. They would instantly report it as a “scam” or some type of “fraud”. Again, I thought this would pass, but it only got worse. This pretty much made it impossible for me to carry out the responsibilities of my job, with everyone always questioning me if I really am who I say I am. At one point they issued a security alert in one of the offices because the name I gave on the phone didn’t match my employee ID, they even worked up all the fancy VPs and business men — Only to find out it was just me trying to help someone fix their problem. I soon realized that my fate and future in the company depended on a database entry I was powerless to update.
As if being unemployed isn’t enough, I’ve always struggled with housing, it has always been the same story. They require my legal name for credit reasons, and end up passing my legal name up to the people who do the interviews. They look at the name, they look at me, they look at the name, and then they ask me baiting questions like, “Do you bring a lot of boys back to your place?” – “Do you do hard drugs?” – “Do you hang out with people who do hard drugs?” – “I see you checked non-smoker, but is that really true?” – And so on, do I get a callback? No. Should I report things like this? I wish, but then I’d have no time left in my life for anything else. Its always degrading having other people instantly assume that you are into hard drugs and sex work, just because of a name on a screen.
These days, my name and gender marker are up to date on all my IDs — It makes a world of difference — But its far from the end of my struggles…
As a trans women, making the choice to get help through hospitalization was an extremely terrifying choice to make. I had been very resistant to getting help at first knowing that it would be hard to get the help I needed. It was a struggle I finally concurred and finally sought help, but sadly it was even more rough then I had anticipated. My attempts to advocate for myself fell on deaf ears at each turn. Finally scrambling and getting my GF to help advocate for me is what was needed in the end for the hospital staff to finally help with my situation.
Throughout the nightmare-ish 20 hours in the hole in the ER and the 72 hours I spent in the hospital, getting misgendered was common and painful as ever. Especially with my anxiety being as bad as it was at the time. I often got misgenderd by the food staff reading my deadname off the their chart when handing out food, which made getting food uncomfortable. Fortunately the other patients in the hospital didn’t use my dead name when referring to me.
While I was in there, I wasn’t able to get all the medication I need as a trans women. They stopped my testosterone blocker while I was in there and typically shorted me 2 mg of estrogen a day. The third day in the hospital, trying to get out of there before the weekend was difficult to say the least. I wouldn’t put it past the nurses to have not wanted to help get an appointment setup with the psych before the end of the day due to my trans status. I felt lied to pretty often when trying to get that ball rolling. During the meeting with the psych that my GF’s insistence helped bring about, the psych came across as looking down on my trans status. Only with the insistence of how trapped being in there made me feel was finally enough for the psych to sign the release papers. I wouldn’t put it past them to have used me being a trans women as an excuse to deny my voluntary 72 hour confinement form.
Nearly every day during the two week waiting period for my picture license was upsetting to me. Buying alcoholic beverages is annoying because i have to hand over an id of someone who doesn’t exist anymore whether I’m at a store, restaurant or bar. I got pulled over last week and that was terrible because i look nothing like a boy named Joel but my automobile insurance is in my legal name of Joella. Not having my picture id match all my other papers makes me feel like I have to explain myself everytime which “outs” myself and is unfair to have to put myself in that vulnerable of a position just because nothing matches fully on identifications. The hospital I worked at can print a photo ID in five minutes but the DMV can’t print a license on site!?
Having to pay fifty bucks for a reissued diploma is pricey to me. Haven’t i paid enough for the degree? It’s MY diploma. Health insurance was a mess since my hrt was still being billed for a male named Joel not a girl named Joella. So I needed prior authorization and had to use my old diy stash for 2 days because i ran out. My job is super cool with my identity but I’m angry that despite identifying myself on the phone as “Ella” people within my company still call me dude or sir. I wish that a memo could go out saying a woman named Ella works for store 188. The cost of name change, license, Birth Certificate and passport are pricey all because of what? to be who I am? I find it exciting and I giggle when I get to pick “female” for things like medical forms but there needs to be more options sometimes. My main gripe is not that the listed suggestions don’t allow name and gender change (it’s easy when you do it in order) it’s just how long and how much effort it takes to do. It’s 2017 and the process of name change took a freaking month in itself and during that month of time I basically had no identity. I actually spiraled and binge drank one night because I felt so lost. I existed in my heart as Joella, my coworkers, wife and friends called me Joella. But I had a car, marriage certificate, mortgage, paychecks, diploma, and medications from this Joel dude. I felt that I didn’t exist in the world.
As both a trans woman and someone with chronic health problems I’ve had to spend way more time than I’d like in doctor offices, labs, and hospitals. They systematically erase the truth of our existence. Sometimes I’ll get asked if my insurance is correct because my employer never did their job and corrected their records for me after I gave them government ID with my actual sex of female on it. Some medical offices will change the sex indicator in their records from F to M once they find out that you’re trans. Of all places that one would expect to know of the recent science saying that trans women are in fact female. This sometimes results in things like getting things in the mail from them that aren’t actually addressed to you, “Mr <last name>”, and such. Once when I was in the hospital for three days, as soon as they found out I’m trans they moved me to another (private) room without any consent from me. I think they may have charged me for both rooms too (and at the extreme US healthcare costs even), but of course when one has been so sick that an ER doctor admits her for three days she doesn’t really have the ability to thoroughly audit and dispute three pages of medical bills. I wasn’t even allowed the dignity of being clean shaven in all that time. Despite me telling the doctor what medications I was on (the usual spironolcatone and estradiol), I wasn’t given either of those the entire time I was there. And I have to pay thousands a year and 14 hours of labor and commute every business day for this? It’s terrible.
I have also seen sites attempting to be inclusive of LGBT people such as an LGBT cancer risk survey site I once saw. They massively screw up things relating to trans people that simply consulting a few trans people on could have fixed. They will make the common mistake of giving gender options as “male, female, transgender or other”, or something very similar to that. They completely ignore that many trans people are not a third gender and these kinds of things often overlook the diversity of those who are. So you, being a woman who just happened to be assigned male at birth due to some atypical anatomy, put female and then you are asked questions that assume you’re cis. Some of them won’t be answerable and others won’t be asked in ways that have any significant helpful effect for your health and well-being. This is merely one example that comes to mind of the way the medical industry systemically overlooks trans people and especially chronically ill trans women, even when attempting to be inclusive. We’ve all seen their claims of trans-specific care and surgery being “cosmetic” or “experimental” when the best data and experience of those who actually work with trans people say that it is indeed medically necessary for some of us. So I get denied my human right to healthcare for more than a decade and counting because of this nonsense.
Being trans has also given me a look at how one’s name is stored, processed, and used by various government and corporate systems. As part of the abuse I suffered as a child and young adult I was not allowed to choose a new name for myself when I first came out as a trans. I had to either accept my mother renaming me or continue to be called a male name. Obviously that’s not really a choice. To this day I am often faced with multiple identifiers that aren’t me but I have to pretend like they are, or once were to simply exist in the world. Some documents list me as something, some another. Work calls me one thing, the government something else. The people closest to me call me my actual name Signý. This name and one of the others, are uncommon names at least in the US. So, I’ve been through all manner of misspellings, mispronunciations, and other such things resulting in yet another way I don’t get to be called who I am. Anyone who has gone through a legal name change process knows what a massive pain it is along with significant financial and time cost. So it is not something that one can just go do. The fact that trans people are disproportionately poor just makes things like this even less accessible to us.
You may have noticed the ‘ý’ in my name too. Which I’m not too picky about because Signy or Signe are fine alternate spellings for me, but it’s an opportunity to point out another instance of technology ignoring and/or erasing people. Those with non-Anglo names can have a hard time getting their name to show up correctly in all manner of different fields, forms, documents, etc because those working the software behind it never considered the existence of names that contain characters beyond the “standard” A-Z.
And when you are barely holding onto life as it is, struggling through each day with no in-person support at all despite your disabilities, little things like seeing your actual name on a package, website, paper coffee cup, or actual gender on an ID or data sheet at the doctor office are all you have to remind yourself that you even have a self.
In a world where people feel constantly profile and constantly expose their information to others in exchange for goods, nothing is more sacred to people than the idea of privacy. For trans people in an unsafe environment that means becoming good at hiding, even from yourself. In an environment where your deadname is a curse you can’t break free of without hundreds of dollars and the hope that the people who control your records will grant you that request that continues your ability to survive.
These, and many more are the issues faced by virtually all trans people across the world. The painful struggles of invalidation, erasure and abuse a whole segment of the population must face on top of, and because of their bodies not matching society’s expectations for who they are as people. Can we as a people truly claim equality is a thing we care about when broken systems are allowed continue to exist, enabling abusive people to harass, discriminate and put a whole segment of the population at risk in such a major and pervasive way for something so inane? To treat trans people with respect and dignity it is imperative that trans people be accounted for in the systems that run the world we live in!