08 October 2013

Name Changes Made Easier In California

Sometimes it's hard to believe that four years have already passed since my gender reassignment surgery.  It's even more difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I began to live and work full-time as a woman ten years ago last month.

Two months before embarking on my current life, I changed my name.  Actually, I applied in June, and the process took almost a month.  It actually wasn't as difficult as I expected, in part because of the help I received from Lambda Legal. Still, there was at least one anxious moment for me.

Here in New York, as in most places, the law requires that the name change be published in the legal notices section of a newspaper.  In New York, that newspaper must have a circulation of 100,000 or more.  I'd heard that some judges allowed publication in the Irish Echo or other ethnic newspapers.  I hoped that I could do the same:  Somehow I didn't think readers of such newspapers looked at the legal notices.  Besides, few if any readers of those papers would know me.  

Also:  It's less expensive to publish in those papers than in, say, the New York Times.

I didn't get to publish in the Echo or the Il Gazzetto or any of those papers.  But I got what was probably the next-best thing:  I was ordered to publish my announcement in the Village Voice.  Not as many people read the its legal notices as those of the Times  or even the Daily News, and it's less expensive to publish in the Voice than in either of those. 

Even though I experienced no negative repercussions of publishing my name change, I know that other trans people have.  Essentially, they're "outed" to all sorts of people who are, shall we say, not very understanding.  Also, being so "outed" can make it more difficult to gain--and easier to lose-- employment and housing.

So, I applaud California Governor Jerry Brown for signing a bill that would allow a trans person to change the name on his or her birth certificate without getting a hearing in open court or publishing the request in a newspaper.  Only a doctor's note indicating that the person has undergone a gender transition is necessary.  

This law helps trans people in California in another way:  Court-ordered name changes are necessary in order to change a person's name on a drivers' license and other legal documents.  Also, a trans person needs only a doctor's note indicating that a gender transition has occurred in order to change the gender marker on his or her birth certificate.

Now, I hope the Governors of New York and other states will sign similar bills into law so that law-abiding trans people (the vast majority of us) do not need to fear for our safety and well-being when we undertake the changes we need in order to live with integrity and dignity.


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