Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bigotry or Stupidity? You Decide.

I bet you thought this was another post about my Pennsylvania driver's license, right? Well, not exactly.

I originally began the process of updating my New York City birth certificate in order to make it easier to get my Pennsylvania driver's license, but I managed to accomplish that goal without it. Still, it would make life easier all around if my birth certificate has an F on it, and even if I never use it for anything I believe it's appropriate to have it done.

 It was while I was still trying to get the driver's license done that I took my manila envelope with all my identity documents to a huge old office building on Worth Street in downtown Manhattan. It wasn't an easy trip for me. Not only did I have to spend the better part of three hours getting there, I had to go into an area of the city I hadn't been in since before the towers fell.

When I was a teenage punk rocker living in Manhattan, I worked as a messenger for an insurance brokerage. It was 1980 and of course, unlike today there was no such thing as an electronic signature then so all legal documents, such as the insurance binders my brokerage produced for its clients, had to be signed by hand. My job was to take these binders downtown from the brokerage in midtown on Madison Avenue and have them signed by the representatives of the insurance companies headquartered downtown in the Wall Street area.

My first stop of the day was always the World Trade Center. I knew those buildings like the back of my hand, and I knew the people who worked in them. I was there every weekday morning for at least a couple of hours getting binders signed on various floors of both towers before moving on to other brokerages in the area.

When the towers fell 21 years later, it felt to me like part of my youth had been stolen from me. Even after all these years, I still haven't worked up the courage to visit ground zero.

As the cab approached the area, all I could focus on was the Freedom Tower as it loomed higher above the other buildings ahead. As I'd expected, it was an unsettling feeling, like I'd returned to a familiar place that at the same time was completely different. I wasn't at all disappointed when I got out of the cab at my destination and other buildings blocked it from view.

Upon entering 125 Worth Street, I was directed to a line for those wishing to change their birth certificates to have my documents checked before joining yet another line to actually have it done. I waited on this line for the better part of an hour, and then the clerk checking papers told me that I needed to have a copy of my name change petition as well as a copy of the actual judgment in order for it to be processed.

As I left the building, I looked south and briefly considered walking the several blocks in that direction to visit Ground Zero and finally pay my respects to people and a place that were an integral part of my life for a while. In the end, I walked up to the corner, flagged down a cab, and headed back to Penn Station to catch a train back to central New Jersey, where my car was parked. I just wasn't ready.

A few days later, I decided that even though I'd already gotten my Pennsylvania license, it was still a good idea to change my birth certificate. I called the organization that had published the instructions I'd followed to complete the process, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) and see if that clerk was right or, as had been the case with Philly, he had given me bad information due to either ignorance or bigotry.

I spoke to one of the lawyers there, and she told me that I shouldn't have even bothered to go to Worth Street but rather I should do it by mail. She also told me that the clerk was wrong, I didn't need a copy of the petition, but I did need to get a certified copy of the judgment because they'd keep it and I didn't want to give up the original.

So here we go again.

This is turning out to be a fairly expensive proposition. Between fees paid to various agencies and travel expenses to update my driver's license, passport, and birth certificate, I estimate that this will end up costing me somewhere in the neighborhood of about $400...and with the exception of changing my license from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, this is just to update already existing documents to reflect current information. Renewing my passport, because I asked for expedited service when I thought I'd need it as ID to get the license done, cost me $170 plus postage and photo fees all by itself. Nice little racket they got going there. At least I know that check has already been cashed so I expect my passport soon.

So now the next step is to order, and of course pay for, a certified copy of my name change judgment and send that off to NYC with yet another check.

One down, two to go.

I can't imagine what I'd do if, like so many other trans folks, I didn't have the resources to finance this little operation. Something's just not right about this whole process.