Guest Blogger

Jury Duty

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 18, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Transgender & Intersex
Tags: jury duty, paula keiser, transgender

paula_keiser.jpgPaula Keiser transitioned in 1987 and is President of TransYouth of Kansas. She also maintains the imatyfa.org website. She lives in Topeka with her partner of 13 years, their cat and their two cocker spaniels.

Last week I received a form from the local Federal District Court office. It was designed to determine my qualifications for jury duty. I have no problems with serving on a jury. I consider it my civic duty, and I would be proud to serve. I did have a problem with one of the questions asked on the form, though.

Question 11:

Sex:

* Male
* Female

Hmmm!

Sex? As long as the word, "gender," coexists with the word, "sex," in the English dictionary, that question can't be possibly be answered accurately using the choices provided.

But being transgender, I am neither - and I am both. If I chose "Female," which most closely matches my self-identity, and the government defines me as "male" because of my birth certificate, and then I sign the certification "under penalty of perjury," I am lying, according to them.

If I choose "Male," then I am denying my own self-identity and I will be supplying an answer that I, myself, know to be dishonest. I will be lying, according to ME.

I suppose they ask that question so they can select juries that are balanced according to gender. If so, would placing me on a jury to achieve a certain proportion of male jurors achieve their objective? Could an attorney object to my presence as a male based upon my appearance? Could they assume that I will "think like a man" because of something a doctor said almost 66 years ago?

And, by the way, just what are the common attributes of a woman (or man) that the court is trying to balance? Couldn't I fit into either category?

I completed the form, leaving that question blank. I am neither. I am both. I'll leave it to them to figure it out.


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We need to get used to WRITING IN who we are and how we WANT to be treated. Remember the adage?:

......."You Teach People How To Treat You"

I have refused to do Jury Duty here in WA state 2-3 times (Kirkland, Bellingham), because I consider it the government's DUTY to ME to offer equal protection under the law. When government does ITS duty, I will do mine. Until then, I will continue treating government exactly how it treats me - LIKE SH*T.

It's a really interesting question. I'm in much the same position as you, Paula. Until New Jersey's new regulation allowing transpeople to get proper ID without having to have SRS first goes into effect, I'm still legally male as well. I get notices for jury duty, but because of the indiscretions of my youth (I was an NYC punk rocker in my late teens-early 20's) I can't serve on a jury, so I've never had to actually confront the gender issue head-on.

I don't know how other states do it, but I believe here they use the motor vehicle records to choose jury candidates. That means anyone with an NJ driver's license can be called. I've been called at least four or five times despite the fact that each time I send the form back saying that I can't serve because I'm a convicted felon.

My suggestion, if you feel comfortable trying it, is to force the issue. Call the court and ask them what you should do, or better yet, go there in person. This is definitely one situation where being face-to-face rather than just a voice on the phone could make a difference.

The reality is that we live in a world where the gender binary is still commonly assumed to be all-encompassing. Perhaps some day that will change, but right now the best we can do is make a few dents and hope that over time we'll get those more accurate choices.

Your comment about the ID documents rules changing in NJ is very interesting, Becky! I was born in NJ and retired from NJN Public TV in 2006. My birth certificate still says, "Male." Will this new law allow me to change that?

Kathy Padilla | April 18, 2009 5:20 PM

More years ago than I care to admit I was called for jury service. It was under my birth name as I didn't have the funds to do a legal name change for quite a few years after I transitioned. It made life interesting. In that City they called your name out in front of an auditorium of about 200 people and have you walk down to the front in line in front of all the prospective jurors.

Needless to say, I was concerned about my safety being outed in front of a few hundred strangers. I confused the defence & the DA when they called out my name to be questioned during voir dire. The DA used one of their peremptory challenges to remove me from the jury pool. Which I imagine they do to many transgender citizens.

If a jury is suppossed to be representative of ones local community - that should include us - regardless of which box one feels comfortable checking.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | April 18, 2009 8:51 PM

I have problems with that question too, and I think the exact same things you mentioned when I encounter it on a form. I've had my legal name change, but it'll be awhile before I'm able to get my gender change. I'm perceived as male consistently now, but I'm still saving up for my surgeries. So my driver's license has my male name, with my gender marked as "female."

I've been approaching the gender question differently on different types of forms. Shortly before I got my name change, I got a jury form, and like you, I left the gender boxes blank. Fortunately, I never got called for jury duty.

On medical forms, I usually create a second question--If it says "gender," I mark it Male, then add "sex" and mark it Female. I still have female parts after all, and I want my doctors know exactly what kind of a body their dealing with. If there isn't enough room for that, I leave both boxes blank and write in FTM transsexual.

But, on most forms, legal and otherwise, if it says "gender," I check Male. If it says "sex," I leave it blank. I haven't had any problems--yet. I'm not sure what could happen with that.

I love a form that doesn't ask for either though.

Tricky.

My UK Birth Certificate says "boy"
Mu UK Passport says "F"
And my Australian Immigration record says "female".

In Australia, the Immigration record is the cardinal document for those born overseas, so I'm female. Should I go back to the UK, my legal sex would depend on the context.

Ah, the joys of Intersex. Not.

"I completed the form, leaving that question blank. I am neither. I am both. I'll leave it to them to figure it out."

Great response, Paula!

In The Runaway Jury a blind man presented himself for jury duty. When the judge tried to dismiss him, the man balked. He made the case that he could not lawfully excluded from the jury owing solely to his blindness. I wonder how a similar case made by a transgender person would be received in a real courtroom.

I've always marked female on every box since my transition, they don't have the time or desire to research this info and 95% of people just take it on face value. I got my social security sex marker changed this way. I just marked the F box when I got a new card and when the lady was entering it she just said, "looks like someone made a mistake on your previous record, I'll correct it."

Its cool for you, but being "neither, both" is a creepy feeling for me.

Paula,
Seems you touched on two of my articles that have been posted here on Bilerico, "Stuck in Binary," which was just recently at: http://www.bilerico.com/2009/04/stuck_in_binary.php and "Can we really define Man and women," at: http://www.bilerico.com/2008/06/can_we_really_define_man_and_woman.php

It has always been an interesting subject. I'm sure you will decided for yourself which way to go on this issue. Good article.

Lee Iacuzzi | June 21, 2010 11:37 PM

Hi, I just won a motion in the court of Appeals to file a supplemental brief based on the prosecution asking the potential jury pool if anyone changed their names? Of course, the DA struck the only trans person on the jury. DOes anyone have any legal citations or briefs of a trans winning in jury allocation in appeals?

Lee