I went to the Social Security Administration office in downtown Oakland, CA today. The reason I went was to get my gender marker corrected from male to female now that I’ve had appropriate treatment and am eligible.
It ended in heartache.
Background Stuff to Know
There’s a few things you should know.
- I am terrified of downtown Oakland. :( I get harassed almost every time I go there. I’ve gotten the worse harassment I’ve ever received there. I get nervous and scared every time I even think about going there. This is why I’d held off getting this done for so long… I just didn’t wanna go to Oakland.
- This was not my first visit to the SSA (or even this office!). I was last here in March of 2014 after I legally changed my name. I knew the drill ’cause I’d done it before.
- I didn’t change my gender marker during the first visit because I hadn’t yet qualified for it. (I didn’t have surgery until March of 2015.)
- My first and middle names are very feminine. There’s no male version of ’em, and there is little doubt I am a lady when you hear my name.
- My last name is one of the most common last names in the United States. It’s not Mickley, but that’s what I’m gonna pretend it is for this story.
- The only purpose of this visit was to get my gender marker switched to female.
That should do it!
You may not realize it, but while it doesn’t list your gender on your Social Security card, the SSA does keep track of it, and it’s used as a source of truth for some things. When you go through transition from one gender to another, you learn that there’s two places you have to have update your records – the DMV (this is what shows up on your ID), and the SSA.
I’d been putting off getting my gender marker changed with the SSA, because, ick, it’s not a fun thing to do. I had today off of work, however, and I decided to use that time to be productive and finally get it done.
I got there this morning and checked in. I was given a number, A178, and told to go sit in the waiting room for my number to be called. I didn’t have an appointment, but that was okay. I have an iPhone, and Twitter, and lots of other stuff to do while I wait. I was prepared for a long wait, and it was just fine. I ended up waiting about 90 minutes, which is less than I figured it’d take. (I was counting on two hours!)
While I waited they were calling off numbers slowly. I think they were in the A150’s when I got there, so I was pretty excited when they got to the A170s. Things were going pretty well at this point!
Eventually I hear them say on the PA “Mr. Mickley to window four.” I ignore this because “Mr.,” and because the last name was Mickley. My last name is so common that I just figured there was someone else there with it. It was also kinda weird that they said a name, because up till then, they were calling numbers.
They repeat this a few times. People start looking around the room trying to figure out who Mr. Mickley is, in case he’d fallen asleep or something.
Finally I hear “Last call for Mr. Mickley, number A178, to window four.” I instantly turn white as a sheet and my eyes fill up with tears, since A178 is my number.
I get up and take the walk of shame to the window. Everyone is looking at me at this point, because I’m a chick that got up when they called for “Mr. Mickley,” and I’m really upset and super embarrassed.
I get to the window unable to speak because I was so choked up and was fighting back tears. I give the clerk the letter from my Doctor certifying that I’ve completed my gender transition and the paperwork needed on the SSA’s side to have it changed. (I came prepared – I filled it out ahead of time on my computer and just printed it out and took it with me.)
The clerk asks for my ID, which I hand to him. My ID says that my gender is female, as it should. I still haven’t said a word because I’m so choked up. I finally bring myself to sit down while he’s working, and he calls me “Mr. Mickley” a few times while asking a few basic questions. (This was after I’d handed him my paperwork and my ID, all of which state female, and it was clear that I was there to get their database corrected at this point.) I merely responded by shaking my head.
He asks me “do you have a court order for ‘the change‘?” and I weakly get out “I don’t need one,” because I don’t. (This was the first thing I’d managed to say.) He starts doing something on the computer – looking up the correct procedure I assume – and learns that I’m correct. You don’t need a court order to get your gender changed if you have an affidavit from a licensed Physician.
The clerk keeps working on the computer for a while, and then gets up to talk to someone. I have no idea what he said… getting my name changed was a breeze, so I expected this would be too.
Finally he comes back and makes a photocopy of my doctor’s letter. He returns with the usual stamped letter stating that I’d applied for a new card and that it will be mailed to me in a few weeks. He did manage to call me “Miss Mickley” at this point, but the damage was done. I was a total wreck.
I collect the stamped letter, file it away in my folder, and slip out quietly to the bathroom to cry. :(
Now that I’ve had time to calm down and collect myself, I am pretty sure the clerk did not mean to be mean to me. I am guessing he thought he was providing really good service by reading a name rather than some stupid number.
The problem is that, like it or not, the SSA and the DMV are the gateways to our identities in the real world. Assumptions like “Mr.” or “Miss” based on a character in a database may not be good there because that’s where we have to go to get it changed, and we need their help to do it.
My first and middle names are very feminine. If he’d just bothered to read the screen, he’d seen that “Mr. Mickley” was completely the wrong thing to call me, but he never did, I guess.
I do intend to contact the SSA office on Monday and let them know what happened. I’m done with them – I won’t need to go back for a long time to come – but I want to make sure that the person that comes after me doesn’t have to deal with what I dealt with today.
I don’t wanna get anyone in trouble, but I want to point out a gap in their training. I want to remind them that to some of us, these things reallllly matter, and we need their help.
I really wish he’d just called out “A178.” :(