Friday, December 20, 2013

(Legal) Changes

Transition is all about change.  Among other things that includes changes in your body, your mind and your life.  Part of the life changes are legal and a big part of that is the name change.  Even though I went full time almost a year ago, it was this May before I began the arduous process of legally changing my name.  It takes longer to change your name in North Carolina than it does in many places, at least a couple of months, and apparently even longer in my home county.  My name change ran into several road blocks with some poor planning on my part and at one point the whole thing seemed to become a comedy of errors.  So I ended up hiring the attorney who is handling my divorce to also handle my name change.  On November 15, 2013 I legally became Tammy Ann Matthews.  :)

Instead of filing for my name change at the beginning of February, which was my original goal, I waited until almost the end of May.  For some reason I really wanted the approval of my estranged spouse before officially changing my name.  During the first few months of my transition she began to accept me being me full time and began to call me Tammy with increasing regularity.  I kept asking her about the name change and she seemed to have some reservations.  She wanted me to wait on changing my name until after we divorced, but that would have delayed me another 10-12 months or more. 

Finally, I got Joan to agree to accept me legally changing my name.  Of course I could have done it sooner anyway, but we were developing a friendship and level of respect that we never had before and I didn't want to ruin it.  Plus, little 'ol me just wanted everyone's approval anyway.  So in May I sent out criminal background checks to the FBI and SBI.  I had to get fingerprinted at the city police department and send some money along with the applications.  The SBI check came back within a couple of weeks but the FBI check took a full 2 months.  Both came back clean.

The next step was going to the county courthouse, filling out a name change letter of intent and posting it on the courthouse bulletin board for a minimum of 10 days.  I guess this gives anyone who might object, or any creditors, a chance to be notified and state their objections with the county.  Like anyone would really come into the courthouse and find it on this hodgepodge of a bulletin board.  Plus I think I had taken care of any potential objections before I even started the process.

Next, I had to get two witnesses to vouch for me in written affidavits and this presented a small problem.  You see, the 2 witnesses had to live in my home county, Nash, and not be related to me.  I have only one friend who I am sure would have done it.  He is a supporter of mine now but wasn't from the beginning, as it took awhile to understand what I am going through.  My Mom said not to worry about it, that she had 2 friends who also knew me that would be willing to be my witnesses. 

It is sad that after living in this town on and of for most of my life I didn't have 2 friends here that could vouch for me.  Almost everyone who I consider my friend lives somewhere else.  The few friends I had here have faded away over the years for various reasons, but the truth is I kept myself pretty isolated my whole life because I have always been so uncomfortable with myself prior to transition.  Thank goodness I have kept one friend that I have known since childhood, and maybe one day I will make some new friends here, but except for that one exception the people I used to hang out with were bad influences and those relationships are best left in the past.

So, now I had  my two clean background checks and I had my two witnesses.  I called the Nash County Clerk of Court's office to see what was next.  They informed me that my two witnesses also had to have full criminal background checks.  I was flabbergasted as this meant that my mother's friends would have to be fingerprinted and submit to the same background checks that I had to, plus it would take at least another 2 months to get that done.  I asked other trans friends across the state of North Carolina and none of them had to do this in their counties or had ever heard of anything like this.

The secretary at the county Clerk's office kept asking me if I had a lawyer, every time I called.  I decided that in order to get this done I needed to hire one so I ended up paying my divorce attorney to also handle my name change.  Looking back, he did help me with all the paperwork but things still moved very slowly.  He wasn't able to get around having the background checks on my witnesses as that seems to be the policy here.  However, I found that my parents actually know the Clerk of Court.  She has been around a long time and knew my father from his days serving as a judge in the local court system.  She told my attorney that I could submit the witness affidavits without the background checks and it shouldn't be a problem.  She also is a good friend of one of my witnesses, so that didn't hurt either.  It turned out that the county's policy is also unclear and probably challengeable in court, but it didn't look like I would need to go through  all that.

Now my lawyer had to interview the witnesses by phone and prepare the paperwork.  The witnesses were close friends of my mother's but they had also known me a long time and could honestly vouch for me. It turns out that, when interviewed, one of my Mom's friends said she didn't know me well enough and backed out of helping me, oh well.  So we found another of her friends who was out of state for a couple of weeks.  Eventually he got back to town and after a couple more weeks we got the affidavits in hand.  My attorney seemed to drag his feet at every step and each thing he did cost me more money.  It was late September before I had what I thought was everything I needed to file the actual petition.

It turns out that I was still missing one document I needed as an exhibit for the court, my social security card.  I know my number but apparently I had lost my actual social security card so I called the local SSA office to get a replacement.  The day was October first and the entire US government had just shut down due to protests in congress over the new health care law, or something to that effect.  At least the customer service end of the government was closed.  It would be several weeks before the office was back open and I could apply for another card.

When the card finally came in I took all the paperwork, complete with nine "exhibits", to the Clerk of Court's office, paid the $140 fee and waited to hear back from them.  I went on a couple of back to trips out of town and when I got home I called the Clerk's office to see what I needed to do next.  My lawyer was playing hard to get on the telephone at that time.  I was told that my name had been changed, that I had been official on November 15th, a few days earlier.  It turns out he had mailed me the official document but I hadn't checked my mail for awhile.

For all the hassle and all the money I spent changing my name, the last step was all too easy.  I never had to face a judge in a courtroom as they do in some places or have a hearing with the Clerk, as is the custom here.  Finally, after a lot of waiting and a lot of hassle, I was officially Tammy Ann Matthews!

If you are not in transition, or haven't done it already, I can't describe what a great feeling it is to finally have your legal name match who you really are.  In my case I was full time for many months and managed to get by without an ID card.  There were some awkward moments when I had to show my ID, although I avoided as many of them as I could.   Now I had to take the court document everywhere my name is registered and change my name at those myriad places.  I wanted to start with the Social Security Administration then the NC Division of Motor Vehicles for my driver's license.  Now that my name is officially changed, I need a matching ID card so I can avoid any more embarrassing moments.

On November 27th, I had a routine doctor's appointment for blood work and hormone prescription refills.  I got the doctor to write a letter for me to take to the Social Security Administration and a slightly modified one for the DMV.  I found the experience of changing both my name and gender with SSA to be a breeze.  It took a little while for the clerk to figure out the proper procedure (apparently they don't do these in my city every day), but when she did it went smoothly.  She was extremely nice and even congratulated me when we were done. 

People have always been able to change their name on their social security records if they had proof of legal name change.  In June of this year a new policy was instituted that allows transgender people receiving medical treatment to also change their gender on SSA records.  When I posted about my experiences on Facebook I discovered that many do not know of the new changes or how to go about updating their social security information to reflect the correct gender, so I am including a link below that thoroughly  explains the policy and procedure.

Link to name and gender change policy with the US Social Security Administration


While I knew it would be easy to change everything with social security, I was a little concerned about whether or not I could get a female gender marker on my driver's license.  Traditionally, in this state people could not change the gender marker on their license without a letter from a doctor stating that they had received irreversible  surgery.

With the new federal policy it is now possible to change the sex on your license in North Carolina with a doctor's letter that does not have to specify any surgery has occurred.  I believe the state rules are still somewhat ambiguous and I am not sure that the wording of the policy has changed yet, but the state records need to match federal records with regards to name And gender.  I had no problem changing all of my information and once again, the DMV examiner was extremely courteous when he completed all of my paperwork.  It's an unusual experience for anyone to have a good customer service experience at the NC DMV, but I was treated nicely and got what I came in for.  I am extremely happy to finally have a license that matches who I really am...:)



Last Tuesday was the day I went to the DMV and Saturday my new licence came in the mail.  I am very proud of this card and I realize that, in the past, trans people could not get them in this state without proof of surgery.  I believe that is still the policy in some states, although hopefully now that the federal rules have changed all the states will catch up and change their rules as well.  I wasn't going to worry about it too much if I couldn't get the gender changed, as I am planning GRS fairly soon anyway, but having it now provides a real boost of confidence whenever I have to show my identification.

*****

Saturday evening I got a chance to show my new license and see how having it would literally open new doors for me.  I am in the process of looking for a car, as my van's transmission is broken and replacing it would cost more than the value of the van.  In the meantime I am driving my dad's old Lincoln Continental or my mom's van if I am going out of town. 

It was rainy and dark late Saturday afternoon when Mitchell met me in Raleigh after working most of the day in Virginia, then driving down.  It was about 5 o'clock when we left the hair salon after my regular color appointment.  We wanted to go to Car Max so that I could test drive several cars and maybe narrow down my list to help me figure out what I want.  There was a Nissan dealership nearby, closer than Car Max, so we decided to go there first as one of the models I am interested in is a Nissan.

Mitchell held the door open for me at the dealership, like he always does, then he took my wet umbrella and we walked in.  Shopping for cars is usually intimidating, especially for women.  I know it has always been intimidating for me even before transition, and it is something I have not had to do very often and not done in a very long time.  So of course one of the salesman approached us as we walked in the showroom, as everyone was inside anyway due to the rain.

We talked to the salesman about one of the models in the showroom, a Rogue that I was interested in, and then sat down at his desk to look at more cars on the computer.  I tried to exhibit my best presentation and voice and never got a feeling that he sensed anything different about me.  That is not an unusual experience foe me these days but one thing that made me feel really good was that he called Mitchell my husband on at least a couple of occasions.

Another thing that made me feel very god was showing him my (shiny, new) driver's license when it came time to take a test drive.  I have been declining to show ID all year, when asked.  Also having that F on the card besides just my real name is a huge plus.  We took the Rogue for a night time test drive in a light rain and I did not like how it handled, so its back to the drawing board as far as what kind of car I want.  We spent too long in that dealership so it was too late to go anywhere else to look that night, but we will going to more places over the holidays and maybe I will find something I like before too long. 

It may seem strange, but I can't wait to go test drive more cars so that I can show my licence.  I am sure that soon the novelty will wear off and it will become commonplace, like other aspects of being full time as myself have.  But for now I can take a little bit of pride in finally getting my legal ID to match my everyday presentation and identity.  The changes continue.....