At some point last night, huddled between 500,000 other people in the Tiergarten in the rain—despite, even, one unpleasant man who thought it appropriate to stroke me inappropriately—I smiled to myself, happy to have made it to Berlin in time to see Germany win first their World Cup as a unified nation (West Germany having won three times previously).
All this, of course, with limited assistance from your existing policies.
I first want to thank you for the legislative advances you made in 2010 concerning the U.S. Passport and in 2013 concerning the Social Security Card, granting U.S. citizens the opportunity to legally change their sex without the necessity of genital reassignment surgery. This step is an unequivocally helpful one, but allow me to parse apart some of the remaining issues with the law and offer some suggestions for improvement.
Gender ≠ sex. The trans* umbrella, as it is commonly known, encompasses a great multitude of self-identified people that do not live with the traditional binary of masculine male man and feminine female woman. Sex refers to biology and physiology; gender refers to a socially constructed quality of self-expression. Most females (a sex term) identify as women (a gender term). But these categories do not always coincide. Many times, the people in which they rupture have uncommon combinations of gender/sex groupings. I, for example, find the absolute distinctions of man vs. woman and male vs. female to be counterproductive, and thus identify as a translady: I am male-bodied and feel no need to change it (I was not “born in the wrong body,” as the myth often goes), and as I am naturally feminine, I use feminine (note: not “female”) pronouns and I present myself as feminine.
I am not a crossdresser.
I am not a drag queen.
I am not a fetish.
I am a translady deserving equal respect and dignity as everyone else.
Therefore, when my university awarded me a grant to conduct research abroad, I was faced with the formidable task of changing the sex on my passport. Although I have not “changed sexes,” the governmental conflation of gender and sex forced me to change my M to an F for my own safety’s sake. My gender presentation often causes people to believe I am female, because they, like you, do not understand the difference between gender and sex, and so I legally changed my sex so that my external appearance would match people’s biological/physiological expectations and I would hopefully encounter less adversity and violence.
Furthermore, it is this conflation, I assume, that led you to craft the requirement of a letter from the attending physician of the human being who wishes to legally change their sex. In my case, however, my doctor played no part in my gender transition. It was a burden borne by myself, by God, by my friends, and by my family.
Consequently, the process by which I acquired the letter from my doctor persisted the better part of a month. This happened for several reasons: (1) she had never cared for a transgender patient before, and thus lacked experience in the legal and personal spheres; (2) she had never been given instructions on the advent of the changes made to SSA and Passport protocol; and (3) she had trouble understanding how I could want to legally change my sex without any hormones or surgery, and felt uncomfortable signing off on something that said I had had “appropriate clinical treatment,” which for me was nothing.
As a result, I wasted many long and maddening hours on hold with her office and sitting in her waiting room; I debated with her as I re-explained (yet again) how the legal proceedings most closely applied to my specific identity; I was turned away at the Chicago Passport Agency because the photocopy of my certified judgment order proving my name change had to be re-certified (I would have given them the original had I not needed so many copies to change my name on every document separately), and then again because my doctor’s letter was insufficient; I tried my best not to devolve into tears; I had my therapist fax a letter to my doctor hoping that it would make my doctor understand the situation, which it only sort of did; I finally got her to write a bastardized form of the travel.state.gov’s sample letter that the legal department of the medical group who runs her office would approve (which is not much, I can assure you) and for her to notarize this copy as she had the last, insufficient one; I tried my best not to devolve into tears; I returned to the Chicago Passport Agency and pleaded with them until they accepted my revised application, paying a hefty fee to be able to pick it up only several hours later, less than a day before using it at O’Hare International Airport to come here to Berlin, from where I now write you this letter; I tried my best not devolve into tears.
Due to the enormity of such adversity, and feeling more devalued on an unconquerably administrative level in the last few weeks than I have felt almost ever, and for the sake of future generations of trans people so that they will not have to endure the emotional distress that I did, I respectfully demand the following:
- You will remove the sex category from all legal documents, as it is an unhelpful category that does not reflect the essence of a person, which an identifying document should do. From now on, sex will only be used in strictly medical contexts (e.g. gynecological needs). This removes, as well, the incredible monetary and time costs that the process of changing the sex category currently entails (which is that much more impossible for the innumerable trans people more socioeconomically challenged than I).
- You will instate gender categories instead, or better yet, no categories whatsoever. The identifying photo should be enough. If you really feel the need to keep some sort of categorization, allow it to be fill-in-the-blank. I neither identify as man nor woman (neither, too, as female nor male), and I find the requirement to place myself in one such category insulting to my dignity. This will have vast repercussions in the organization of the prison system.
- You will adequately inform all government employees and medical professionals of legal proceedings regarding trans people; I see no reasons why we should be the experts instead of our doctors and United States officials.
(So much so, in fact, that when the passport official assigned to my application saw that I was changing my sex, he asked if I was having genital reassignment surgery. Rather than telling him it was a private matter, and that as a perfect stranger he had no right to inquire the status of my genitalia, I answered him, because I was scared he would dismiss my application if I said anything else. I then corrected his misunderstanding that the surgery was, in fact, still required for the legal change. He briefly left to double check this fact, returned, and apologized. The powerlessness I experienced in this encounter is typical of trans people navigating the present bureaucratic systems.)
- You will implement a law that mandates a comprehensive, progressive gender/sex/sexuality education from a young age, so that the pervasive ignorance that generates the majority of our community’s hardships will lessen and eventually vanish.
- You will do all these things willingly and in good spirits, as befits a government that advocates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Bea Cordelia Sullivan-Knoff
P.S. Berlin erupted when Germany won.
I'm really glad I got to see that.