Rebecca Juro

The "New" NJ Trans Drivers License Regs, Part 2: Buying My Identity

Filed By Rebecca Juro | June 26, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender, identification, New Jersey, politics, transgender, transsexual

The first part of this story can be found here.

Shortly after my first unsuccessful attempt to take advantage of the new, less stringent regulations regarding changing gender markers on drivers licenses in New Jersey, I met with a gender specialist to get the form signed, certifying that though born biologically male, my gender identity is in fact female.

While certainly an easing of the previous regulations, which required proof of genital surgery, these new regulations eliminate that requirement but still require the signature of a licensed gender specialist.

Of course, having lived fulltime as a woman for over 12 years, the doctor knew just after a few minutes of talking to me that I was for real and not only signed the form for me, but also gave me something I've never had (or really thought I needed before), a "carry letter," a letter from the gender pro on official stationary which you show to cops/officials to prove that you're a bona fide transsexual.

All together including gas, just getting this form signed cost me just over $500, almost two entire week's worth of unemployment payments. I was damn lucky the doctor was willing to take payments over 3 months (apparently this is a common issue in her practice) or I don't know how I'd have survived until my next unemployment check.

Then, a week later (after my next unemployment check arrived because I was nearly flat broke after seeing the doc), signed form and reams of ID in hand, I went to my local Motor Vehicle agency. Two hours of waiting was broken up by odd looks and questions, scratching of heads, and waiting, waiting, waiting, for someone who had a clue about the new regulations. Then after still some more waiting, I paid an $11 fee for my new license (which I had just renewed two weeks previously for about twice that much) to top it all off.

Finally, after all that, I am now (at least as far as New Jersey is concerned) legally female.

Now, with my new identification safely in my purse, I can't help but think about all the transpeople in New Jersey who, like me, live hand-to-mouth, often barely squeaking by, especially in today's economy. I'm very fortunate in that I don't have to pay rent where I live, but that doesn't mean I don't have expenses. As rough as this was for me to pull off financially, I can only imagine what it would be like for someone else in the same situation but in even more desperate financial straits than I am.

The reality is that a lot of us just don't have half a grand to shell out for something like this, no matter how much we may dream of being legally recognized in our chosen genders. When the choice is getting the right gender marker on your driver's license or eating that week and paying the rent, there's only one possible realistic choice, the one that keeps you alive and a roof over your head. The problem is that it's also the choice that forces you to continue to present identification in your daily life that will help to ensure your continued second-class citizenship and potentially invite even more bigotry and discrimination into your life every time you have to present it.

That's really the worst part of all this: For many of us, it's a Catch-22: You can't get a job with a livable income unless you can successfully pass in your gender of choice. You can't successfully pass in your gender of choice unless you can present legal ID that confirms that gender. Without a livable income, you can't afford the cost of obtaining legal ID that confirms your chosen gender.

I was able to break that cycle because I was in a position to come up with the money by cutting my normal expenses to the bone for a couple of weeks, and I'll have to do it again twice more when I make my next payments to the doctor. Not easy, not fun, but doable. A lot of people aren't so lucky. If I were paying rent where I am, there's no way I'd have been able to pull this off.

That's the real problem with this, and frankly, a big problem with New Jersey politics and politicians in general. Politicians in New Jersey don't seem to realize that there's a significant lower class in this state and that we have needs too. These people seem to think that everyone who lives in Jersey is upper-middle-class, living in a nice two-story colonial with a BMW in the garage, a white picket fence, and 2.3 children.

Our Governor, Jon Corzine, while a good guy and very progressive (when it's to his political advantage to be), is also a Wall Street multi-gazillionaire, so I guess it's not surprising that he's apparently just as out-of-touch with the needs of average working-class New Jerseyans as the rest of our state elected officials.

I remember during the last gubernatorial election I got a call from the Corzine for Governor campaign asking for my vote and financial support. The woman on the phone told me that Jon Corzine supported efforts to improve schools and increase benefits for senior citizens. I responded that I was 45 and had no kids (nothing about being transsexual), and asked what did then-Senator Corzine have on his agenda as Governor that would benefit single working-class folks like me? Dead silence was my response.

The woman had no answer for me, none at all. It was quite obvious that the only issues she knew enough about to promote were those concerning the very young or the very old. Those of us who are not seniors and don't have children were apparently just not considered important enough by the Corzine campaign to bother coming up with a supportive agenda for. I hope they'll do a better job this time around, but given my experience with these new license regulations, it doesn't seem very likely that anything's changed much in that regard.

I say all this not to attack Governor Corzine or our elected state representatives, but rather because I believe it's long past time that politicians in this state finally realized that not everyone who lives here shares their privileged lifestyles. It's time our state officials started taking into account the actual real-world needs of those of us in a lower tax bracket than their own, not their own obviously uninformed imaginings of what they might be.

Wishful thinking perhaps, but personally I think it's the very least we should be able to expect from those elected to govern our entire state, not just the wealthier parts of it.


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I also don't like how politicians speak only to the interests of the middle class when they're campaigning, as if there isn't anybody below the middle class in this country. Still, in a system where you have to raise a bunch of money to even run for office, the fact that that poor and working-class people's interests are never addressed isn't very surprising, either.

Honestly, the problem isn't so much New Jersey or state regulations. They're just going by what the so called experts say. The problem is the entire trans-industrial complex designed to control transpeople and bleed us for as much money as humanly possible. I've honestly come to the conclusion that we need to entirely separate ourselves from the psychological establishment. Transition entirely outside of the system not for convenience, but as a statement of resistance.

This is a huge problem. Given the increased incidents of identity theft and other such scams, I can appreciate the fact the state wanst some sort of assurance this person has a legitimate request and is not trying to lure the state into giving them what amounts to false identification. However, I can also understand not everyone who really IS legit (i.e., has a Gender Identity conflict) can afford to go through such bureaucratic hoops. (Disclosure: I've been unemployed since 1 Feb. 2008, so I understand all too well.) Complicating this is the fact far too many medical professionals (especially those in mental health) are totally clueless on Gender Identity issues, which almost totally eliminates the use of "free" resources.

Yes, it is a "catch-22" for us. What the answer is, I don't know, just that there has got to be a way without creating such obstacles.

Jenny, in my opinion the right thing to do would be to permit transsexuals to testify to our own gender ID's on an official form that would impose criminal penalties for fraudulent use (much like the current NJ form but without the required gender pro sign-off).

If my legal signature is good enough to vote with, enlist in the military, testify in legal proceedings in court, serve on a jury, and enter into a legally-binding business contract, it should certainly be good enough to legally testify to my own gender identity.

Rebecca, congratulations on overcoming the hurdles and getting a license that respects who you are. Do I understand correctly that you were charged nearly $500 for a single office visit of a few minutes with a therapist? Was this Tony Soprano's shrink? That seems horribly unconscionable and exploitive. I'm so sorry you were treated that way.

I just looked at the New Jersey form, and it looks similar to those in California and Colorado. It doesn't refer to "gender specialist" (an informal self-defined term, not recognized by states or used in the current standards of care) but includes licensed physicians as well as mental health practitioners. For transitioned folks fortunate enough to have a primary care physician or clinic, they already know you and may likely sign this for you without hassle and inappropriate expense. Personally, I think there is an advantage in an M.D. signature; it carries a clearer message that transition is not indicative of mental illness.

I also notice that the New Jersey form, unlike those in some states, does not require that the provider be licensed in New Jersey. It appears that an out of state provider who knows and supports the applicant might be able to sign as well.

Again, congratulations!

Kelley,

Yes, I spent about half an hour or so with the doc, and for that, signing the form, and the carry letter, I'm paying a total of $495, plus the ten bucks for gas there and back.

I knew this was going to be expensive. This doc is good and has a pretty good rep in the local community but it's also well-known that she charges top dollar.

The problem here in NJ is that now that Dr. Nubel is back in Isreal (yes, I finally tracked her down), this doctor is the only licensed gender pro I know of currently in our state.

I'm in central New Jersey, just about an hour either way between New York City and Philadelphia. I did attempt to check out a place in Philly that Kathy Padilla suggested in the comments of the first part of this piece, but everything on their website seems completely geared to services exclusively for Philly residents.

New York, forget it. I'm sure there's some gender pros in NYC but shrinks charge top dollar there too, not to mention that travel costs would be about double with no guarantee that I'd get my form signed on the first trip.

The one advantage to going to this particular doctor is that yes, I had to pay more than I probably should have, but I also left her office that day with everything I needed to get my gender marker changed, and most importantly, once I pay off this bill I'm done. It's very possible that other docs would have insisted on multiple therapy sessions before signing the form, making the actual cost much higher.

mixedqueer mixedqueer | June 27, 2009 1:10 PM

rebecca, thanks for sharing your experiences. i know it's a bit late for you since you've already accomplished the task, but i thought other readers could still benefit from this bit of information:

i have a friend from new jersey that has been getting great transitioning services from the mazzoni center ( http://www.mazzonicenter.org/ ) in philadelphia for a few years now. he's gotten all of the gatekeeper stuff accomplished there and still goes through them for hormone prescriptions. plus they are sliding scale.

That's the place I checked out online at Kathy's suggestion. The reason I didn't investigate further was that I knew the doc I used would do what I needed her to do in one session as opposed to having no idea how many sessions (and $25 fare trips to Philly) I'd have to do in order to get the form signed through Mazzoni or another provider.

If and when I need other services, though, I'll likely be checking them out now that I know they serve out-of-state clients. From reading their website, you'd never know they offered anything for transfolks outside of Philadelphia.

This situation is a perfect example of how the lack of inclusion in health insurance plans hurts trans people. Of course it's also a perfect illustration why a public health option is vital to our community.

With a public health option that includes trans care this issue disappears. For those fortunate enough to have private health insurance a law forcing the insurance companies to cover trans health care would do the same thing.

I think this story is about the lack of coverage for a recognized medical condition whose exclusion, based on prejudice and ignorance, needs to be remedied.