Updated: Jun 6
Early on, one of the most awkward things I had to deal with was showing my old ID. Some people gave me funny looks and others would say it wasn't me. One night a couple years ago I was pulled over by one of St George's finest. After looking at my license he said, "I take it you don't go by 'James' anymore!" I was nervous because thirty years earlier, I could have faced jail for such an incident, but in this case, the officer said I was the first transgender person he had met and asked if I would mind sharing what it was like. (Which is the PERFECT response, by the way - If you are ever not sure, it's totally okay to ask.)
As my 50th birthday approached, I felt the time was right to legally change my name to Jamee. Fortunately the State of Utah allows birth certificates to be amended but it's NOT an easy task!!! There is a fair bit of "gatekeeping" and the process requires letters from two different therapists to prove that you aren't crazy (which, of course, I AM!) I had one from a friend who works down the hall but the second was a challenge. Every therapist I called was hesitant to meet with me. They would ask what the problem was and I would say, "I'm happier than I've ever been, I just need you to write a letter..." Even those who were supposedly "LGBT friendly" were hesitant. Who can blame them for not wanting to assume that much liability on behalf of a client they've just met.
My salvation came from an unlikely source in the form of a retired LDS therapist. He is the very religious father of one of my dearest friends who, as he put it, "does not support sex change surgeries". He wrote me an awkward but touching letter that read, in part:
"I was most impressed with her mental and emotional state, because she has had to endure constant negativity, harassment, and lack of compassion from many people in her life. Yet she demonstrates an amazing sympathetic and understanding attitude towards those who question her desire to be female. She has come a long way over her fifty years of fighting for acceptance as a woman. She has been successful in her career as an accountant and is known as a gracious, talented and capable woman."
The remainder of the letter was a bit "politically incorrect" but it got the job done and those were words I would be happy to have on my epitaph.
For the next step, I had to put a lot of thought into my middle name. It felt strange not to have one so I searched my family tree for a woman who inspired me and to whom I could relate. The answer was closer than I imagined in my paternal grandmother Arlene. We were VERY close when she was alive and none of her decedents carried her name. I was previously named after her husband Steven, so it felt very natural to make that change. In a previous blog I talked about how my first name pays o-mage to my mother. I promise myself daily to strive to bring honor to both of them.
The next hurdle was the courts. A name change is considered a probate case and has a $500 filing fee! YouTube University taught me how to prepare the documents but did not prepare me for a homophobic judge. After waiting six months for a hearing, he dismissed the case on a technicality. I had signed the form with my new name instead of my "dead name". I'll never forget where I was when the clerk called to tell me. I had to pull my car over and cried on the side of the road for nearly half an hour! It must have been the hormones because even though he may have been technically correct, it felt like a huge slap in the face.
Fortunately, an attorney friend helped me file a "Motion to Set Aside Judgement" and I was back in court with corrected documents just a month later. When the court order was signed, I felt incredibly free! I could finally change my birth certificate, my bank accounts, my Social Security Card, and Passport. But the biggest victory was my new Driver License. I got it on my 50th birthday!!! Susan bought me a new outfit for the occasion but unfortunately, it doesn't show up in the picture.
Since then, trips to the bank are much less eventful. I've even been been pulled over and received no special treatment. In some ways, it feels a little underwhelming to have that hurdle behind me. I'm no longer special, I'm just another woman, and I have to remind myself that's what I've wanted for my entire life! Here's to another 50 years as Jamee so that I can get my money's worth out of that $500 filing fee.