Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

Name Changes and Official Documents: A Kafkaesque Story

Filed By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer | January 13, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Austin, life in a box, names, official documents, social security card, Texas

Today I set about recreating my identity from scratch. Or, I should say (knowing full well there's no such thing as any sort of fixed identity), my official identity.

kafkaesque-1.jpgSomewhere, somehow, in my move from Austin to New York last fall, I lost a small file case containing every one of my "important papers": birth certificate, passport, Social Security card, and the title to my car, among others.

I should say, hoping not to sound too defensive, that, in spite of the instability that has characterized my adult life (or maybe because of it), I am not one to lose these sorts of things. I can't remember ever losing my wallet, or keys, or credit cards, or plane tickets (back when there were plane tickets). I haven't kept much stuff over the years, but the important stuff I don't lose. And by "important" I don't mean significant in any real sense. I just mean those things that are a pain in the ass to replace. So I'm baffled. I had the file case when I was packing in Austin, and I don't have it now.

I left a few boxes in Austin, boxes of unsold Y'all and Life in a Box Soundtrack CDs. (Don't ask me why I didn't just throw them in a dumpster on the way out of town, except that they cost a lot of money to have made, a fact which, unfortunately, doesn't make them valuable. It just makes me laughably optimistic.) But J looked in M & J's house for the file case. It's not there.

I left a few boxes with my parents in Indiana, to be shipped to me when I got settled, which is, more or less, now. Mom looked through those boxes. No file case.

I left the "Y'all Archive" with a friend in Austin to store. He was a Y'all fan before he was a friend. He's also an American Studies scholar, and I think a bit of an amateur archivist. When I told him how for years I've dragged around all this Y'all memorabilia (posters, letters, master tapes of our recordings, videotapes, etc.) in and out of less than optimal conditions for preservation, he was visibly worried. When I couldn't fit everything in my car in September, I called him, frantic, and he offered to take care of the boxes. He's in Cambridge for the year on a fellowship, but he had a friend go to his house in Austin and look through those boxes. Not there, either.

So, having turned over every rock I can think of, this morning I submitted an application to the Lake County, Illinois, clerk's office for a certified copy of my birth certificate, which I will need to start the process of obtaining a Social Security card, which I will need to apply for a passport. Next I need to contact the Texas DMV to get a duplicate title for my car. So I can sell it.

The legwork is annoying, but not difficult. Just lots of phone calls, web sites, lines to wait in. The only possible hitch I anticipate is the issue of my last name.

In my twenties, I started using my father and mother's names hyphenated, at first only professionally but then I decided I wanted to use that name for everything. I didn't change it by court order -- a lawyer friend told me that New York is what they call a "common law state," which means that one can change one's name simply by stating that one has changed one's name.

So, he prepared an affidavit stating my new name, which I took to the Social Security office and got a new card with the name "Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer" instead of "Steven Jack Cheslik." With the new Social Security card, it was easy to get other documents in that name: passport, driver's license, etc. But my birth certificate will still have the old name -- that is, provided they don't give me a hard time about even getting a new birth certificate, since they require proof of identity in the form of a driver's license, which has my new name on it. Because, of course, I need proof of identity to obtain proof of identity. I will postpone worrying about this little Kafka scenario until it actually happens.

So, who the fuck knows who I even am anymore? Or who I will be once I have gone through this very surreal process? I sure as hell don't. Essentially what this is all about is proving that I am still the same person that I was when I was born, that I was when I was 14 and got my first Social Security card, that I was when I got my first passport at 25. A lot of effort to prove something that I know is not true.


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Alberto went through a name-change out here recently since the nurse refused to put the "o" in his first name on the birth certificate because that's an Italian name and French people are douchey like that sometimes. He just sort of changed his name when he was an adult until he had to renew his ID card....

But yea, it was an ordeal for that "o."

Welcome to OUR world! With Transgender people, you have to explain everything a dozen times. Get hung upon by really obnoxious people who do not want to hear your explanation. ...and you are so lucky to be able to have done a common law name change. A lot of my friends wish they could do that.

But, yeah....Kafka would laugh his a$$ off at some of the stories I've heard from people transitioning.

Thanks for commenting. I wrote this post for my personal blog, but, as I was writing it, it occurred to me that it would probably have resonance for people who've transitioned, so I posted it here, too. :)

Your story brought back horrible memories of Kafka-Land.

Just curious how much it all cost or was it mostly lost time?

To get a legal name change in California was (if I remember) $275 plus you had to pay another $75 to have it printed as a legal notice in 6pt print in a local newspaper (I think I used a Chinese language one). Such a scam. You have to pay the City of SF $18/ea for any legal copies. They then charged another $275 when I did a legal change of gender 18 mos. later. Then you had to shell out another $50 for a new birth certificate (which took 20 mos. to receive) and to get a diploma with my current name on it, I had to pay the University of California system $75. Then I had to pay for a new passport... maybe $70-80. It adds up! Not to mention the 20+ phone calls I had to make to my then mortgage holder WaMu to change the name on my mortage. *shivers*

For over thirty years I, too, never knew who I really am. Then I was hired by a government agency (City of Los Angeles) and they insisted I go down to the LAPD building and get fingerprinted. Later that same year, I got arrested when protesting in front of the US Supreme Court Building, and the Washington DC police fingerprinted me again. And since then, the law enforcement government-industrial complex has somehow established a computer network, so that every police department in the US (and maybe many outside the US) can see everyone else's fingerprint database.

I now know exactly who I am: I am the person with those fingerprints.

I hear that the Chinese supposedly have a surgical technique for forging "new" fingerprints, convincingly, right onto the end of a living person's fingers. And here in the nearby city of Louisville (KY), the doctors are now doing hand transplants. Presumably, if I cut all my fingers off, my identity would reside in my dead fingertips and my torso would be once again without any identifying features.

The government bureaucrats have their system all nailed down, and if you dare to do something that messes it up, then you must be a criminal.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Kerri Ellen | January 14, 2011 8:27 AM

Okay, I can so identify with the whole fingerprint thing. I was denied a job because supposedly my "identifies" matched those of someone whose fingerprints were on file with the FBI with a criminal record. So I paid $18 and submitted my fingerprints thru the PA. State Police to the FBI to try to find out what was in my dossier. We submitted my fingerprints three times, and each time the PA. State Police told me I didn't have any fingerprints - and three times the FBI said the resolution of my fingerprints was too low for them to determine my identity. So because of that they can't match my fingerprints to the supposed criminal record, so I can't find out what's in my dossier, so I can't get a job. Talk about a Kafkaesque situation!

My friend here at the University of Wisconsin is dealing with all of this as well as he transitions. He's had to schedule several meetings and make dozens of phone calls just to get his birth name off class rosters, so his TA doesn't call out the wrong name when taking attendance. There isn't enough infrastructure for this.