February 16, 2008

A Day in Paris, but no Good Food? (Almost!)

Posted in Identification, Paris, transgender, travel at 4:00 pm by Michael

After we arrived at our hotel this morning, we went out for a walk because a) it was only 10:30am, and too early to check in b) we didn’t want to fall asleep yet.

We are staying in the 6th arrondisement (neighborhood), near the Luxemburg Gardens, so we decided to go check that out, and get some food.

First off – wow – colder here than forecast. It was only in the mid-30’s, with crisp skies, and a brisk wind. The Weather Channel forecast was for the high 40’s to low 50’s. Uh, not the same! So, after a short time hanging around in the garden (which is a big park w/kid jungle gym stuff, large gardens, broad walkways, etc), we decided to look for someplace good for lunch. We had a guidebook from my co-worker Erin (thanks!), and we quickly discovered that L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon was only a 10 minute walk away. Score! Open for lunch at 11:30am too… double score!

Before we walked over there, we stopped to get some water at a little kiosk – we were all pretty dehydrated from the flight, and just not drinking enough. I was pleased that the three years of high-school French that I took enabled me to order two Evian waters in French, understand how much it was, and be polite in thanking the attendant. Here we had interesting trans/cultural moment #1 – he also called Anh and I “Mesdames” (“Ladies”) as he thanked us.

We walked over to our lunch spot, guided by the ever-present Garmin Nuvi 270. The Nuvi is *awesome* when driving. However, when walking, it has a hard time w/direction of travel, especially when the road gets narrow and the buildings more than three to four stories – this unfortunately is common in Paris. Oh well, we got there. We walk in, and we think SCORE! Its empty, we are definitely going to get a table. The maitre’d asks (in French) if we have a reservation, we say no, and then he says, no tables till 4pm. We say, sorry, but we can’t wait that long for lunch, so we say we’ll find something else, and thank him. Again, we get “Mesdames”’ed.

At this point, Anh and I, in our tiredness, broke one of our rules – always eat good food. We settled for a crappy café, and while edible, was not great. Oh well.

Walking back to the hotel, we found a kid’s clothes store that looked cool, so we went in, and found hats big enough for us both, and some knit gloves too. We were both super frosty at this point, but at least Anh had brought a hat and mittens for Samwich, or else he would have been a cold little dude.

We went back to the hotel, rested a while, and weren’t initially in the mood to go far for dinner, so we asked the concierge – he recommended a 3 Michelin Star place, that he said was good for kids. Huh. But, they didn’t serve for another hour, and we were hungry. We asked him for the next best bet, and he sent us to a place down the block that again, wasn’t great. It was ok – a bottle of wine helped – but not at all great.

Kind of discouraged, we went back to the hotel, and were deciding between going for a long walk, and going to bed. We decided to go for the long walk, which was one of the best decisions we made all day. We walked out to the Siene, and on the way saw all of these amazing furniture and kitchen stores. Most of the stuff was ultra-modern (or 60’s) designed stuff. I said to Anh: “I’d love to visit that furniture, but I’m not sure I could own it.” Too cold for our tastes…

The other interesting thing in many of the model kitchens was that next to the built-in microwave, there was often a built in espresso maker. I had not seen this before – but super cool!

We must have walked through kitchen world, because we came upon this amazing oven store called “Aga”. It was closed, but we took this picture through the window (sorry for the glare).

Cool Stove

They had lots of these old school looking stoves, and they were just beautiful. They also had an amazing collection of cast iron pots and cookery. We are definitely going back when it’s open! We may need some cast iron (cheap to ship I hear!)

As we came up to the river, and near the Musee D’Orsay (going there soon – my favorite art museum on the planet), we got a full view of the Eiffel Tower. Then, it started “strobing” with all of the small strobe lights.

Blinky Eiffel Tower

It lasted for about 15 minutes, I have no idea what was going on, but it was gorgeous.

We walked a little more, then headed back. On the way, Anh said she was on the lookout for a creperie, and sure enough, right before we got back to the hotel, we found one.

Best food of the day – Nutella, banana and coconut shavings. Yum! We all enjoyed.

It’s now just about 1am here, Samwich just fell asleep (he slept a lot on our walk – then got up just before we got back and was up for a couple of hours), Anh’s sleeping too – but I’m wide awake, I’m jet lagged, so the result are the last two blog entries.

Reflecting on the day’s whole sir/ma’am “French Edition” stuff, it makes me thing (and lots of folks have commented on this), that Sir’ing in the US is super common, but “Miss’ing” or “Ma’am”’ing isn’t. Here, that’s not the case. The language is more polite and far more “gendered” (e.g., even every noun has a gender) – so, its not possible to not be as “gendered” in France. It forces people, even when you are in the “whitespace” (like me) to choose. Today, I was at least 90% of the time, for the people who interacted with me, seen as female. I was honestly surprised about that (how high it was).

Anyway… as predicted, its an adventure, and always something new to experience.

Paris – Getting Here

Posted in Air France, family, Identification, Paris, Samwich, transgender, travel at 2:48 pm by Michael

One of the things that we have come to learn from traveling in general, but traveling with kids specifically is that direct flights are your friend. Sometimes you pay a little more, but its absolutely worth it.

Air France just started direct service from Seattle to Paris last year, so we decided that Paris would be a great destination for us.

This would also be our first “post transition” trip, and we are doing this with just Samwich, as Peri and John are with their mom this week.

We both had a little trepidation around if this would be harder than a domestic trip with the TSA, airlines, and also walking around in a new city.

Fundamentally, all of those concerns have been non-issues to date. So far, if anything, Paris has been even easier than other places we have gone.

First off, with Air France – you aren’t allowed to checkin electronically if you are going with a child under two – either on lap, or in a seat. So we had to check in at the counter. We all have passports (obviously), but I was wondering if the ticket agent would ask who Samwich’s dad was, and if he had consented to the trip. (We’ve had this question before when going both domestic and international with Peri and John.) We checked in, no questions.

On to TSA – three passports, three tickets, no problems.

When we went to Italy last year with all three kids (Samwich was five months then), we went with SAS through Copenhagen then to Rome. SAS is a very kid friendly airline. Rome as an airport (and their infrastructure in general) isn’t great – the baggage handlers had a work “slowdown” and intentionally didn’t give us one out of four of our total bags – we had to wait two days. But, the airline – top rate – best kid experience ever. I was curious to see how Air France did.

Like most airlines, they do early board for families with kids, and we did that. We have this super cool “convertible” stroller/car seat for Samwich that does this Transformers deal that allows it to go from stroller to car seat and back. It’s called a “Sit N Stroll” (I couldn’t find an active link for it right now… odd). Its FAA approved, we’ve used it a ton. The coolest thing is that (on some planes) you can stroll it right down the aisle (it fits in general), and then “convert” it at your seat. It is a little hard to convert it w/the kid strapped in, but my arms are long enough to do it. Anh has a harder time w/it – it’s not a strength thing – it’s a leverage and reach thing. Anyway, we get to the seat (I had to convert it early because the aisle was too narrow), and we have bulkhead seats – three in the middle (of four – it’s a 2/4/2 configuration – an Airbus A330-200), but in the bulkhead the armrests are permanently down (to allow for video screens to come out of the armrests), and the seat is too narrow for the car seat. Dammit! Turns out that we tried it the row back, and it was ok – there was just enough space to get it in.  There were two flight attendants (female) in the cabin right there, and they were super helpful. We ended up swapping seats w/some folks three rows back, and it worked out just fine. The flight was uneventful, and they even had baby food (apple sauce and some other veggie/chicken thing) that usually Samwich won’t touch, but he did eat the apple sauce and was great. I’ve never seen an airline automatically carry jar baby food before. Super impressive. They also gave away little toys to the kids (age appropriate), but didn’t give out infant life vests, which SAS and Northwest both do. I kind of think this is no biggie, as quite honestly, when was the last time that *anyone* was saved by an airline life vest, or there was a survivable ditching of an airliner in the ocean – the 50’s?

Getting Samwich up at 2:30am the night before helped him to time-adjust, and he slept for half the trip. We got in at just about 9am (left at 2pm Seattle time – 9 hour flight, 9 hour time difference), and on to the next test – customs.

Again, a total non-issue (remember, my passport says “Megan Jenna Wallent”, but has an M for gender). The customs agent, who spoke English (thank you!), even greeted and said goodbye to us using the plural feminine French term (Mesdames).

We had a car service arranged, that worked flawlessly too, and we got to the hotel, even with customs, checking bags, and a thirty minute drive by 10:30am. Not bad!

February 15, 2008

On to Paris

Posted in Identification, transgender, travel at 5:56 am by Michael

Paris!

Later today, Anh, Samwich and I are going to Paris for the week.

Our plan, which is not as much of a plan as a non-plan is to “hang out”. Walk around, eat, go to museums, etc. Take pictures of Samwich in front of all they key landmarks. Maybe he needs a beret?

We are all super excited for this, and this was one of our things to look forward through as we got through my transition. This is our first international trip since, and I’m honestly fascinated to see how it goes.

This will be Samwich’s second international trip – we did go to Italy last summer for our big vacation – but with Peri and John as well… that was incredibly interesting and fun, but he was barely beyond the protoplasm phase at that point (5 months) – he ate some local food, but that was about it. This should be different with him now, as he’s a mini-gourmand, and he’s walking.

I did get my new permanent “Megan Jenna Wallent – F” license in the mail on my birthday, as well as my new Amex card with my name on it.

I had applied for a new passport back in mid-December, paid the expedited fee, and got it in less than two weeks, which was awesome. However, due to State Department rules about gender specification on passports, I’m still “M” on that.

I expect security at SeaTac to be the same as the other times that we’ve traveled – no biggie.

However, what will the passport control be like in France?

Will I get “read” more or less there?

Will we be treated differently on the street, in restaurants, in shops?

We are planning on going to some pretty high-end restaurants with a local while we are there (sister of a local friend is a Parisienne – SCORE!) – what will that be like?

My expectation: no biggie – same as here.

Smile and Wave, Paris edition….

February 14, 2008

Seattle Valentine

Posted in seattle, valentine's day at 7:19 am by Michael

Seattle Valentine

Coming home from my run this morning, this was the view…. It was a like a Valentine from normally rainy and gloomy Seattle.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, but especially to my Valentine, Anh-O, and also Jr. Valentines, Peri, John and Samwich!

February 12, 2008

Anonymous Again

Posted in coworkers, work at 10:54 pm by Michael

 Who?

I’m used to not being anonymous. For quite some time at work, no matter what hall I walk down, I end up seeing someone that I know, and say hi to. Its kind of fun! Its like being in a big community – personal, close, comforting.

This is even the case w/the “execs” at Microsoft. I’ve been involved in enough stuff so that I know by name/face the majority of VPs at Microsoft, as well as most of the “Partner” level folks (think of the most senior 500+ people in the company).

My office at work is near some of the big conference rooms that we have. In order for me to walk between the two buildings that my Redmond-based team is in, I generally walk past these rooms. All sorts of meetings happen in these rooms – New Employee Orientation (NEO in MS Parlance), team meetings, customer meetings, you name it.

This morning, just before 8, I heard SteveB’s and his voice (its loud, and distinct) down the hall. I knew that something was up.

(Basically, lots of folks at MS are known by their email names – BillG, SteveB, etc. When people refer to others, they “say out” their email name if they are pronounceable. E.g. ‘Steve Bee”. Best MS email name ever – lakaplan – “Lack A Plan” – she was a Program Manager.)

Later in the morning, on my way to a meeting in the other building, I walked past the conference rooms at about 5 before the hour (meeting break time). There in the hall were quite a large number of VPs and other senior folks, the vast majority who I know by name, and who know me my name.

Not any more.

I walked through the crowd, anonymous. People looked at me – people who I’ve worked with for more than ten years in some cases. Nothing. One person who I knew only a bit- I saw this look of half-recognition, and then utter confusion.

I was walking next to someone who works on my team, and we were chatting.

As we walked past the rooms, I remarked to her:

“They didn’t know who I was! Wow, I know *all* those people.”

We went to the meeting, then walked back.

Same deal, right through the crowd – anonymous.

Now, this is in no way a commentary about anything except the fact that I look different. A lot different. But I don’t see it.

I look I the mirror, I see me. I don’t see anyone but me. I see the same face that I saw for 39 years.

I don’t think other people do, and that’s just interesting.

39

Posted in birthday at 7:56 am by Michael

Yup, I’m 39 today. I walked into my office this morning (a little earlier than usual), and it was decorated – balloons, confetti, banners, the whole deal.

Birthday Girl!

Today will be just another day in the office — I’ve got a full calendar, a lot of email to catch up on, and lots of stuff to get done.

Tonight we have the big kiddos, and we’ll go out to dinner like we do virtually every Tuesday night (Peri has art until 6pm, so its the best choice).

I dressed up a little bit for work today… heels and all! (no makeup though…) It is *my* birthday after all.

Lots of changes since 38 – Samwich, my job, my gender, but hey! Its all good!

February 10, 2008

Hope for the Future

Posted in family, food, transgender at 7:22 am by Michael

Last night, Peri, John, Anh and I went to Blue Ginger in Bellevue for Korean BBQ. (The make-it-yourself kind). It’s my birthday next week, and this was a pseudo-birthday dinner.

The food was pretty good – the best thing that we had was the diced beef Bulgogi style – cooked a little crispy (not like me in the hotel last week!).

Anyway, yesterday was the caucus in Washington State, and we were talking about the election with the kids.

John said “I would vote for the person who would cut taxes!”.

I said: “Well John, I think thats an important issue too, but you know there are some candidates that don’t believe that we should be allowed to be a family. I think that’s probably the most important issue for me this time.”

Peri virtually jumped out of her skin:

“YOU ARE KIDDING ME! NO WAY!”

If she knew how to say “Frigging” or the other less polite F word, it would have come out.

“Yes, Peri, thats true.”

“THAT IS TOTALLY REDICULOUS!”

John then pipes in, with a really angry look on his face:

“Thats stupid. Thinking that should be against the law.”

John hops to thought-police mode pretty quickly sometimes. Anh was going to get them both Animal Farm to read, but hey, he’s seven.

Peri is now totally incensed, and wants some details.

“Who would think such a thing?”

“Well, Mike Huckabee for one, and Mitt Romney too.”

(Huckabee’s own page on this point is here, which includes this little bon mot – I’m not making this up:

What’s the point of keeping the terrorists at bay in the Middle East if we can’t keep decline and decadence at bay here at home?

Dammit Anh! We are letting the terrorists win!)

(Here’s what Romney had to say to Bill O’Reilly

It’s as commonsensical as one can imagine, because you have a child that’s able to determine from each parent the attributes of that gender, and by virtue of doing so is able to determine their own sexuality and the relationship with members of the opposite sex.

Ah, so Romney believes that being Gay is a choice…. interesting. Which ties directly into use of words as well – “commonsensical”, which is defined as:

“practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like”

Hmm… so what he’s saying is that people who really haven’t researched the issues, or are not experts in the area would have this opinion. Brilliant Governor! Brilliant!) 

Peri: “Well, I hope NOBODY would vote for them, ever.”

Me too Peri, Me too.

February 9, 2008

New License, New Bank Card, Amex?

Posted in Identification, transgender at 5:49 pm by Michael

Couple of identity milestones today. I finally got to the DOL to get my new license with the “F” on it. It was amazingly uneventful. After waiting in the line for 20 minutes, my number was called, I went up to the counter, showed the woman my letter, gave her my old license and $10 (the fee), and 10 minutes later, I had my temporary license with an “F” on it. The new permanent one should come within a week or so.

I also had to get a new bank card for two reasons. First, my card got turned off Wednesday because the bank found a card reader on one of its ATMs, and I had used that ATM during the suspect time. Blammo – no ATM card. We had 12 hours notice.

Secondly, I hadn’t changed my name with the bank yet.

I just went into the branch, gave them the old bank card, my new license and my old license, and in ten minutes, I walked out with a new ATM card with my name on it, and whaddaya know, it worked!

Good times.

However, Amex has been super painful. In December, I asked them about the name change procedure, and they said I needed to change it first with the SSA. They sent me the name change form, and at that time told me that after I changed it with the SSA, then to send in the form, and about a week later I’d get a card. No problemo.

January 2nd, after changing my name with the SSA, I filled out the form and sent it in. Note, all the form asked for was my card number, mailing address, old name, new name, and signatures (old and new – which are the same for me – I scribble anyway!).

Three weeks later, I get a lovely letter from Amex saying that my name change request has been rejected due to lack of documentation, such as a copy of my new SSA card or license with my new name on it.

I called customer service last Friday and asked what they actually needed, as this documentation requirement isn’t on any of the forms, their website, or what any of their agents tell you when you call to talk to them about this.

The person I talked to said that they require documents when their “database” (more on this later) of SS numbers and names doesn’t yet have your new name. As a result, they needed the documentation. However, I could just fax it in, and I got the number to use.

I sent in all the required stuff last Friday (license, legal name change order, their letter, and a cover letter).

I was expecting to come home this week from my business trip to find a new Amex card in the mail.

Denied!

I called today to find out what the problem was this time. I called the “Name Change Department” at Amex, and asked what the deal was. The rep said, and this was mind boggling (or Bottling):

“We changed your name on the account, but we didn’t send you out a new card because you need to ask for that separately.”

“Wha? Why on earth would I ask you to change my name if I didn’t want a card issued with that new name?”

It didn’t help with my attitude with this dude that he kept “sir’ing” me even after I corrected him four times. I just said “It’s not Sir or Ma’am just Megan, ok?”

He said that he would send out a new card via overnight so I’d get it by Tuesday. I was still kind of pissed because this was literally the fourth time I’ve talked to them about this, and gotten four different answers. I asked to talk to a supervisor.

I told the supervisor the whole story, including the dumbass “We didn’t give you a new card because you didn’t ask for one” line, and he was more apologetic, and at least recognized that their process is fundamentally broken.

He told me something very interesting about the whole “database” issue though. It turns out that its just a credit inquiry. Since I’ve not yet applied for credit with my new name under my SS number, no one has it. This was the root cause of all the crazy doc requests.

I said to him: “Why would that method ever work? Wouldn’t anyone changing their name have this exact problem – that when they ask to change their name, that they probably have no other credit yet under that new name?”

“Yeah, that doesn’t make sense does it?”

I haven’t gotten this frustrated with a company in a while. At this point, I felt like he needed to understand why I was so insistent about this.

“Look, I’m a transgendered person. I don’t look like Michael anymore, I look like Megan. Every time I pull out my Amex card, I out myself. I’m not really happy about that. Can you please help me, and make sure that this gets taken care of this time?”

Anh and I are going on vacation later this week (Friday), and we like to use our Amex card to pay for stuff. Its a win-win for us and Amex. I’m a big fan of float.

“Later this week, we are going out of the country. I’m really looking forward to using my new Amex card to pay for everything, right?”

“Yes Ms. Wallent, I want to make that possible too.”

We’ll see…

February 8, 2008

Gay Marriage

Posted in transgender at 11:06 pm by Michael

Over the past few weeks this has started to be in the news again.

I’ve really tried so far to avoid “controversial” issues in this space, other than the clear fact that I’m a transgendered person who lives a very “out” life. I thought that would be enough, but I need to speak up.

Let me start with a few premises:
– The United States Constitution clearly dictates that a clear separation of church and state is not just a good idea, not just the law, it’s a constitutional issue. It’s bedrock. What this means to me is that we don’t/shouldn’t have laws based on what any religion might find proper or not.
– The essence of marriage is that two people have decided to be together, and be dependent on each other. This is pro-society. Society benefits when groups of people can depend on each other, support each other, and be there for each other through thick and thin.
– Being gay or being transgendered is not a choice. Its biology.

I completely support the freedom of religion (or from religion). What this means to me at least is that people should be free to chose to practice any religion that they see fit. What this also means is that people should be as free as possible from rules imposed based not on core moral issues, but based on religious ideology.

For example, there are some religions that call for the death of a woman who commits adultery or pre-marital sex (but those same religions don’t call for the death of men who do the same things). I do not think that this should be allowed. Clearly, the Constitution guarantees the freedom of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

From my POV, personal behavior that doesn’t impact others isn’t in the domain of issues that should be regulated. I’m a libertarian.

For example, does anyone care if I have an F or an M on my license? Who is impacted by this? Anyone but me? I don’t think so.

Any two people can live together. In fact, any number of people can live together.

If those people then say to each other “I am with you forever”, is that then all of a sudden wrong?

Why?

Who does that effect, except for the people in that relationship?

Note that Anh and I are still legally married. Is this a gay marriage? Is this a “regular” marriage? Who cares?

I love Anh. She loves me. We’ve got Samwich, and we love him dearly. He’s an amazing kid. Anh is an awesome stepmom to Peri and John. They are awesome.

My favorite bumper sticker recently says the following:

“If you aren’t in favor of Gay Marriage, don’t have one!”

The Name Thing

Posted in Identification, transgender at 11:05 pm by Michael

Ok, it’s starting to bug me. I haven’t accidentally referred to myself as Michael in about a month. I love my new name. It used to feel a little odd – but now when I answer the phone or sign me email, it comes out naturally. When somebody calls ‘Megan?”, I immediately turn around – its my name.

When people call me Mike or Michael, and aren’t making a mistake, but they just aren’t there yet, it’s beginning to bug me. I am starting to get a little more tenacious about correcting people when they call me “He” or “Sir”.

I don’t want to be crazy about it, or make people feel uncomfortable, but Hi, I’m Megan, and I really prefer to be referred to as “She” or “Her” or Megan – since that’s my name.

I was talking to one of my friends about this, and she sent me the following quote from Dr. Seuss… I loved it, and it really touched me as I think about how people move from thinking about how I transition from Michael to Megan:

They’re afraid to stay THERE.  They’re afraid to stay HERE.
They think THERE is too Far.  They think HERE is too NEAR.

Just as an aside, I am getting “Sir’ed” far less often, but interestingly, I don’t get “Ma’am’ed”. I have talked to a few women about this and they say “Yeah, that’s true – I don’t really get Ma’am’ed either!” It would be fascinating to do a study in a hotel lobby to see what the men/sir to women/ma’am ratio is. I’m willing to bet that the women/ma’am ratio is far lower.

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