Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How I Changed the Law in California

Okay, I didn't do it myself.  Transgender Law Center and others in the LGBT legal community made it happen.  But I did play a part in it.  A few months after the court date I ran into Kristen Wertz of TLC.  She told me that they had presented my case at a national legal conference in New York.  The way we pursued it was being used as a template for gaining a change of legal status for other transgendered persons with serious illness by attorneys throughout the country.  That really felt good.  While my lawyers deserve the credit for the strategy, I was the one that persuaded 3 doctors, including 2 Professors of Medicine at UCSF, to write letters in support of my petition.

I do volunteer work at the American Liver Foundation which is in the Flood Building downtown, the same building as TLC.  One day a short time ago I had a question about Medicare and HRT for transgender people, so I popped in to see if they might know the answer.  It's been years but I was warmly greeted by the staff and Kristen Pulled me aside to tell me that the law in California had been changed.  It no longer required "appropriate surgeries", it now asked for "appropriate procedures".  My case was part of the successful lobbying effort to persuade legislators of the need to change the law.  Now it is not only enabling for trans people with disabilities but for all transgender people.  When you consider that 80% of us will never have SRS, that change of one word in the law will have a positive impact on many lives.

I am by no means an activist.  I was involved early in my transition but at some point I decided to mainstream and that has worked well for me.  I'm happy to be just one of the girls.  Still, I can't help but have a sense of pride that I played a role in something so important to so many people.

Making it legal.

Date of events: May through October 2007.

Changing a drivers license to one's new name and gender is simple. The California DMV even has a form for it.  All you need is a doctor's signature and it's done.  Doing it so that one can enter into contracts, marry get a passport requires a court order.  The name part is a slam dunk.  Just complete the petition, pay the filing fee and run an ad in the paper.  Gender is a bit trickier.

The state law in 2007 required the petitioner to have completed "appropriate surgery".  What exactly does that mean "appropriate surgery" ?  Is that sex reassignment surgery?  Or are breast implants good enough?  Orchiectomy?  Judges had great deal of discretion in deciding each case.  As previously mentioned the only surgeries I could have were of the life saving variety.  The above surgeries are elective and cosmetic.  I met with lawyers at The Transgender Law Center and they saw in my case an opportunity to challenge the surgery requirements.

My case included statements from my gynecologist, my hepatoligist and my primary care physician supporting my petition.  My hepatolagist went as far to say the only surgery I was eligible for was a liver transplant.  It was a long wait for a court date.  The lawyers wanted time to develop strategy.  While the petition was filed in July, the actual court date wasn't until October.
The day finally arrived.  I wore my best job inerview clothes.  A black wool suit with a pink knit top.  A string of pearls with matching earrings competed the ensemble.  I met my attorneys outside and together we entered the court room, sat and waited for my name to be called.  This was the last time I would answer to the name Jonathan Wagner.  There were a number of people before us including another transgender woman.  Finally I heard my name called.  I approached the podium flanked by my attorneys.  I should mention that my lawyers did a great job on the pleading.  They argued that "Ms. Wagner is gravely ill.  Granting this petition would at least allow her to be buried in her true gender" all of which is true, just presented in a rather stark manner.

The judge looked through our petition quickly then read the purpose of the document.  She paused, looked up and said "I'm inclined to grant this petition.  Is there something else counsel would like to add?"  Somehow we contained ourselves!  Kristina Wertz, one of my attorneys, replied "No, your Honor".  Her Honor said "Petition granted, see the clerk".  Once outside the courtroom there were hugs and high fives all around!

For all intents and purposes I was now Joanna.  Even my birth certificate was changed.  A major step toward transition was complete.  This should be the end of the legal story but there's more,  which I'll tell you about in my next post.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

And so it begins.. .27 April 2006

Originally composed 27 April 2006

I came out to my boss today! I bought some nice new outfits over the weekend and really wanted to wear them to the office. So I approached her about my choice of clothing (my gender presentation is currently ambiguous). I said I'm TG and would like to dress in a more feminine manner. She was a little surprised, but said she'd need to talk to her boss and she brought up a few issues I hadn't considered. Like if I wanted to present myself as female I need to be consistent in other things. Like restroom facilities and did I want to continue being called Jonathan? So I picked the ladies room and Joanna!
Peggy said she'd run it by Melissa, the director, and announce it at the Monday staff meeting. She asked me to hold off on any changes until then.
She then told me about 2 other t-girls she had worked with that came out at work, and she'd become close friends with one of them. I showed her a picture of me dressed and she told me how pretty I was! Then she thanked me for trusting her enough to tell her about it.
So, for the first time, Joanna will appear in the workplace!

It's true that I didn't think things through completely. I did know that there was little risk in approaching my supervisor. I work for the City of San Francisco in a mental health clinic. Among our units is a transition program, TS people seeking SRS. It began 30 years ago. What I didn't consider was the impact of my coming out on other staff members and how to deal with it. It's a done deal. We need to work out some details, but I'll be a working girl next week!

Originally composed 29 April 2006

Girls, you are not going to believe what happened to me yesterday. It all started on Thursday when I took a different route home from work to do some shopping. I take the Muni train home and this landed me at the end of the downtown corridor instead of the beginning, where I usually board. That meant I’d be packed like a sardine for 30 minutes riding out to where I live. The trains outbound were delayed,. it was rush hour and I knew it would be really uncomfortable so I grabbed an inbound train to catch my train at the beginning of the line and get a seat.
When I got to the station my train was boarding and I ran across the platform but was seconds late and the driver wouldn’t open the door for me. In anger and frustration, i went to hit the side of the train with the outside of my hand. Mean time, the train started to pull away and instead of hitting the aluminum side, I hit the big plate of safety glass, which immediately turned into a big spider web.
I was stunned! I had no intention of doing that!
I faded into the crowd and decided it would be wise to get my tranny ass out of there, post haste. The next train that came, I slipped in quickly and took a seat across from the door. Then I noticed that the train was delayed. Seconds later two large men enter, one a Muni employee, the other a transit cop. I hear the Muni guy say ‘That’s him. He hit the glass on the last train’ as they approached. I jumped up, said “Sorry gotta run!” and dashed out the door up the stairs, through the turnstile up an escalator to the street where I jumped into a taxi and got away!

My transition at work hasn’t happened yet. It will be the week of May 1 or the following week at the latest. We need to have a meeting to discuss details (I’m a participant) and all the concerned parties are very supportive. So when I go to work, I’m still wearing boy clothes. In reality a blend of men’s and women’s apparel. On Friday it occurs to me that my accident is recorded on video and there are people at the station that might remember me. What to do???
I decide a disguise is in order so I stop by a thrift shop and find a nice coral colour top for $3. I step into the dressing room, put on the top, which fits, and go into my purse. I take out a scrunchie and pull back my hair into a high pony tail. I put on some dangly earrings, a plum lipstick and dark glasses. Voila! Instant Girl!
It took less than 5 minutes. I stepped out of the dressing room and asked the woman behind me waiting to use what she thought. She didn’t know I was the same person!
Needless to say, I had no problem at the train station

Everyday, a New Adventure

Originally composed 2 May 2006 
Tired of wrecking trains and running from Muni cops, I decided to take it easy over the weekend. I have a friend, Michael, whom I have breakfast with on Saturday mornings. I’d told him about transition and Joanna in the past but he’d never actually met her. I thought it was time they were introduced. I wore black slacks, a white cami and a 3/4 sleeve red shirt, open to my tummy. Finished up with black, ankle high boots with a chunky heel. I was a woman out for Saturday errands. I did my instant girl make up trick from the previous day because I was pressed for time. When I arrived I found my friend talking with an acquaintance. I walked toward him and he made no sign of recognition. When I got to the corner where he was standing I stopped and waited a second. Still, no response. I touched his sleeve and said in a low, throaty voice “ Hi, sailor, wanna have a good time?” He nearly fell over. After getting over his shock we decided on a cafe, a joint called Darla’s. I’d been there many times before but I was dressed boi. Besides with Michael, I’d been with my partner, a g-girl named Mary. She had told me on previous occasions the Darla hates women. She’s friendly, even flirtatious with men but barely acknowledged other women. I’d always thought she was exaggerating but today I would experience this myself. Darla came over and said hi, asked if we wanted coffee and gave us menus. While she spoke she directed it toward Michael. I was not included. Throughout the meal she completely ignored me. She directed all her attention to Michael and generally kept her back to me. Meanwhile she flirted and talked to my companion at every opportunity. She exchanged about 2 words with me. When we left I couldn’t wait to call Mary and tell her about my experience and apologize for doubting her. I’d learned it’s a completely new world out there.

The Meeting

Originally composed 6 May 2006Well, I did it. I am out at work and in full transition! The meeting yesterday went great. The program director, office manager and my supervisors were there. They told me I had their complete support. While TG people had worked at the centre in the past, I will be the first to transition there. We had some small talk and I said something I had noticed when out en femme was men talked down to me. The women burst into laughter, and Melissa the director said 'Welcome to the real world, sister' !
I'm making the announcement at the Monday staff meeting. Henceforth, I am Joanna W. I need to check with my bank about a name change on my account and pay checks will be made out to Joanna. My debit/credit card can also be reissued under my new name.
Today I'm going out for girl stuff. A haircut/colour and manicure. I already know what I'm going to wear so I'll be spending the rest of the weekend trying to relax.

Monday, Monday....

Originally composed 8 May 2006, 8:00 AM PDT

Today's the day. In 5 hours I'll be standing in front of 40 people announcing that I'm a TG woman in transition. Kind of a scary thought, My heart rate is increasing just writing this.
I'll be dressed en femme requesting that that everyone call me Joanna and in the future I'll be using the ladies room. The restroom thing is the scariest part!
I'll post on how it all goes this evening.

Originally composed 8 May 2006, 6:00 PM PDTWell girls, it's done! I'm now a woman named Joanna at my place of employment.
First, what did I wear?
A lavender cami with a half way buttoned white shirt (when I leaned forward I showed a little bosom) and black slacks. My nails are a pale lavender, hair freshly trimmed and dyed Dark Auburn. Black boots and a red blazer finished the ensemble. My make up was exquisite and tasteful.
I arrived just before the meeting started and I was one of the last people to sit. I could feel all eyes upon me as I grabbed a chair. I walked toward the back and my co-workers Steve and Bobbie called out 'Hi Joanna!'. I sat next to them. Just before I went in, Bobbie had given me a big hug and said 'I wondered when you'd do this!'.
Melissa called the meeting to order and began with Jonathan has an announcement to make. I stood up and thanked everyone for their time and went on to say that 'I am a male to female transgender. I began the process of transition about 8 months ago.' I went on to say that I had other issues to deal with when I started this job which is why I didn't come out earlier or before I started. 'With those things behind, I'm ready to take the next step and transition here at work'. I said "my name is Joanna Warner and I'd like you to call me Joanna and think of me as a woman in the future. To be consistent with my gender identity I'll be using the women's room from now on.'
I did a bit of flattery saying how the Centre had a long history of support for the TG community. And that if I couldn't come out here, where could I?
I asked if anyone had any questions. There were comments about 'don't be upset if I get your name wrong in the beginning' but mostly expressions of support One clinician commented how brave I was to stand up in a room full of people and make such a personal announcement.
When Q&A ended, I said 'Thank you for your time. I need to get your files for tomorrow ready.' and left the room. Lots of people came up to me afterwords and expressed their support. I was hugged a few times and the director of the TG Program came up and told me that when she first met me and I was introduced as Jonathan, she thought 'That's strange, but If that's what she wants to be called'
All and all it went very well! I hardly did any work because everyone wanted to talk to me! I feel a sense of empowerment for having done it! The only problem is, what shall I do for an encore?