Sunday, June 28, 2009

The “New” NJ Trans Drivers License Regs, Part 2: Buying My Identity

The first part of this story can be found here.

Shortly after my first unsuccessful attempt to take advantage of the new, less stringent regulations regarding changing gender markers on drivers licenses in New Jersey, I met with a gender specialist to get the form signed, certifying that though born biologically male, my gender identity is in fact female.

While certainly an easing of the previous regulations, which required proof of genital surgery, these new regulations eliminate that requirement but still require the signature of a licensed gender specialist.

Of course, having lived fulltime as a woman for over 12 years, the doctor knew just after a few minutes of talking to me that I was for real and not only signed the form for me, but also gave me something I’ve never had (or really thought I needed before), a “carry letter”, a letter from the gender pro on official stationary which you show to cops/officials to prove that you’re a bona fide transsexual.

All together including gas, just getting this form signed cost me just over $500, almost two entire week’s worth of unemployment payments. I was damn lucky the doctor was willing to take payments over 3 months (apparently this is a common issue in her practice) or I don’t know how I’d have survived until my next unemployment check.

Then, a week later (after my next unemployment check arrived because I was nearly flat broke after seeing the doc), signed form and reams of ID in hand, I went to my local Motor Vehicle agency. Two hours of waiting was broken up by odd looks and questions, scratching of heads, and waiting, waiting, waiting, for someone who had a clue about the new regulations. Then after still some more waiting, I paid an $11 fee for my new license (which I had just renewed two weeks previously for about twice that much) to top it all off.

Finally, after all that, I am now (at least as far as New Jersey is concerned) legally female.

Now, with my new identification safely in my purse, I can’t help but think about all the transpeople in New Jersey who, like me, live hand-to-mouth, often barely squeaking by, especially in today’s economy. I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have to pay rent where I live, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have expenses. As rough as this was for me to pull off financially, I can only imagine what it would be like for someone else in the same situation but in even more desperate financial straits than I am.

The reality is that a lot of us just don’t have half a grand to shell out for something like this, no matter how much we may dream of being legally recognized in our chosen genders. When the choice is getting the right gender marker on your driver’s license or eating that week and paying the rent, there’s only one possible realistic choice, the one that keeps you alive and a roof over your head. The problem is that it’s also the choice that forces you to continue to present identification in your daily life that will help to ensure your continued second-class citizenship and potentially invite even more bigotry and discrimination into your life every time you have to present it.

That’s really the worst part of all this: For many of us, it’s a Catch-22: You can’t get a job with a livable income unless you can successfully pass in your gender of choice. You can’t successfully pass in your gender of choice unless you can present legal ID that confirms that gender. Without a livable income, you can’t afford the cost of obtaining legal ID that confirms your chosen gender.

I was able to break that cycle because I was in a position to come up with the money by cutting my normal expenses to the bone for a couple of weeks, and I’ll have to do it again twice more when I make my next payments to the doctor. Not easy, not fun, but doable. A lot of people aren’t so lucky. If I were paying rent where I am, there’s no way I’d have been able to pull this off.

That’s the real problem with this, and frankly, a big problem with New Jersey politics and politicians in general. Politicians in New Jersey don’t seem to realize that there’s a significant lower class in this state and that we have needs too. These people seem to think that everyone who lives in Jersey is upper-middle-class, living in a nice two-story colonial with a BMW in the garage, a white picket fence, and 2.3 children.

Our Governor, Jon Corzine, while a good guy and very progressive (when it’s to his political advantage to be), is also a Wall Street multi-gazillionaire, so I guess it’s not surprising that he’s apparently just as out-of-touch with the needs of average working-class New Jerseyans as the rest of our state elected officials.

I remember during the last gubernatorial election I got a call from the Corzine for Governor campaign asking for my vote and financial support. The woman on the phone told me that Jon Corzine supported efforts to improve schools and increase benefits for senior citizens. I responded that I was 45 and had no kids (nothing about being transsexual), and asked what did then-Senator Corzine have on his agenda as Governor that would benefit single working-class folks like me? Dead silence was my response.

The woman had no answer for me, none at all. It was quite obvious that the only issues she knew enough about to promote were those concerning the very young or the very old. Those of us who are not seniors and don’t have children were apparently just not considered important enough by the Corzine campaign to bother coming up with a supportive agenda for. I hope they’ll do a better job this time around, but given my experience with these new license regulations, it doesn’t seem very likely that anything’s changed much in that regard.

I say all this not to attack Governor Corzine or our elected state representatives, but rather because I believe it’s long past time that politicians in this state finally realized that not everyone who lives here shares their privileged lifestyles. It’s time our state officials started taking into account the actual real-world needs of those of us in a lower tax bracket than their own, not their own obviously uninformed imaginings of what they might be.

Wishful thinking perhaps, but personally I think it’s the very least we should be able to expect from those elected to govern our entire state, not just the wealthier parts of it.


Samantha said...

Actually the problem isn't with Jersey. It's with the APA. They make money off us, and this battleground we live (or lived in) and as long as they keep making it a stinky, horrific battle and REQUIRING a gender specialist, we are all victims.

Legal policy is set by jackass lawyers who read crap like the DSM and WPATH RULES about who is, and who isn't, and they go from there. Sad but true. Plus it is so variable from state to state it's not even funny. It's also the horrors of RealID compliance and idiotic notions of a binary that never really existed.

Yes, you are correct, it is wrong on so many levels. However, it's much improved and shows progress no? How many folks who never had, or cannot have surgery were left out in the old policy?

I know it's late, but last I heard there are still folks from the Rainbow group who are in touch with Aviva. You should still be able to get records from her, though there was some talk that NV didn't exactly work out for her and she's now in Israel. I could check if you'd like.

Rebecca Juro said...


I've confirmed that Aviva's back in Israel. Hopefully I'll be able to contact her soon, but since I've now got the magic F on my license the main thing I needed her help with is done.

I agree with you in part about the APA. The form says that a social worker, therapist, or medical doctor is ok, but it does mandate that the signee be a gender specialist. By requiring that, the number of people who could legally sign the document drops dramatically. I mean, how many social workers are gender specialists? Medical doctors? Even the therapists who are gender specialists are in short supply.

Certainly, dropping the SRS requirement is a very, very, good thing. It's because of that that I was able to change my gender marker. I just don't see why if the goal was to make this easier and not require surgery they couldn't do it in a way that's not only respectful, but also avoids forcing transpeople of limited means to shell out for expensive doctors to certify something that in reality only the transperson themselves can certify with any real credibility anyway.