April 17, 2009

The Case of the Curious Customs Agent

Posted in Identification, transgender, travel at 4:31 am by Michael

We (Me, Anh, Samwich) went to France for a couple of weeks (more on that to come). We have travelled internationally a bunch since I’ve transitioned, and never previously had any challenges getting into other countries, or back to the states. (We’ve been to France, Italy and Spain (Canada too!), and I’ve been to Israel as well)

I was initially concerned that because my passport still (and will) says: Gender M; that it would raise questions or we’d be stopped for additional questioning. In fact, the only time we ever got stopped was coming back from Spain – and that was at customs, not passport control – as it seems like they additionally screen everyone coming back from Spain because of the prevalence of Ham Smuggling (I kid you not, and this is NOT a euphemism). We had no ham, just some gummi bears in that international smuggler Samwich’s backpack that under x-ray appear ham-like.

Now, I also do something a little trouble-maker-like (I know you are shocked) – I fill out only one customs form for the three of us, as we are a family, and it asks “Number of People in Your Family Travelling with You”. We are legally married, and I see no reason to do anything different.

Anyway, we got back Wednesday, glad to have gone, glad to be back. We flew direct on Air France from Paris (nice airline…. order the kids meal for your kids). When we got to passport control, I gave the passports and the customs slip to the agent, who was a late 30’s, early 40’s Latina woman. (The agent who I’ve gotten many times before, who is a big, bald, white guy was in the next booth, but we didn’t pull him. The most I’ve gotten from him before is “Where do you work?” and then a hearty “Welcome Home!”. It was not to be that simple…)

She starts….

“Where are you going?”

Me: “Home? We live in Seattle.”

“Are you carrying any food items?”

Me: “Yes, chocolate.” (And declared on the form).

She flipped the form over a couple of times, looked at me, Anh, Samwich….. paused.

“How are you all related?”

Me: (Slowly, and looking right into her eyes, leaning forward slightly) “We are legally married.”

“Is this your son?” (Looking at all three passports again)

Me: “Yes, we are his parents.”

Here’s where it went totally off the tracks. She’s now holding my passport, looking at it intently, and she clearly sees the “Gender: M” thing.

“I have to ask, because of your appearance…. Can you explain?”

Me:  “I am transgendered. I transitioned from male to female, because of the passport rules, I am still ‘Male’. However, we were legally married before, and we still are.”

“And you like it better, being a girl?”

I had no idea how to even answer that.

Me: “I am who I am.”

“And you are still married?”(To Anh) “What, are you just like best friends or something? Not really ‘married’?”

Anh: “No, we are married. Married.”

“How does that work?”

Anh: “It just does. We are married.”

“And you are ok with that?”

Anh: “Yes.”

“And this is your son?”

Anh: “Yes, this is our biological son.”

“And you just like live together now, like friends.”

Me and Anh: “No, we are married.”

“Were you like best friends or something before?”

Anh: “No, I didn’t know about this before we got married.”

She shook her head, and kind of gave us that look like “Well, Whatever”

“I have to ask.”

I’m not sure she did.

“Huh…. I’ve never seen *this* before.”

What like, heffalumps and woozles?

“Ok, thanks for telling me your story.”

Like I had a choice?

“You can go.”

Anh and I looked at each other, kind of shocked as we walked to get our bags. It felt not great, and certainly not within the bounds of normal customs practice. I’m sure the fifty people in line behind us really appreciated her intensive questioning of the trans-family.

Don’t you feel safer knowing that Homeland Security is on the job?


March 15, 2009

Mistaken Identity

Posted in Identification, life at 4:35 am by Michael

Last weekend I brought Peri to American Girl Place in Los Angeles as a birthday present for her.  She had been asking to go to one for the last three years at least, and honestly now at 11, it’s not clear how many more years she’d love to go at all (least of all with a parental unit).

“Filled with awesome-full-ness!” is how she described it.

While Peri and I were waiting in line at one point, one of the salesladies behind the counter said to us:

“Let me guess….. Mother and Daughter! I never get this wrong!”


Peri shoots me this smirky look like, “Oh lordy…”

If only the saleslady knew *why* she was smirking.
\The saleslady continues:

“I bet you both get this all the time – you look like peas in a pod.”

Peri is on smirkfactor 9.

“Cut from the same cloth.”

Me (in my inside voice): Its Dr. O’s best work!

Me (Outside Voice): “Thanks so much!”

Saleslady: “Have a nice day ladies!”

Peri, even though she calls me “Daddy” all the time, is aware enough to not correct someone in that circumstance. I wonder if that will be one of the memories that she has of that place.

February 7, 2009

The Half-Life of Names

Posted in Identification, life at 11:53 am by Michael

A few weeks ago we got what has become a commonplace, but ultra annoying notification from our bank – one of their credit card processor’s systems had been broken into, and our credit card data may have been compromised.

So, a week later, our debit/credit card was going to be deactivated, and they would send us new ones.

As promised, a new card for me (but not Anh… odd) came in the mail. I opened up the card, and went to activate it, but noticed that the name on the card was “Michael J. Wallent”. Odd, it was addressed to “Megan Wallent”, but the card said otherwise.

Oh well, another trip to the bank…

Before I had a chance to go get a new card at the bank (they can print them right there!), we were out at a restaurant that didn’t take Amex, and I had to use the new (Michael) card.

When the bill came back, the name on the receipt was “Megan J Wallent”…

Super odd… the envelope was addressed right, the card was printed wrong, but the magstripe was right.

I went to the bank (finally) yesterday to get a new card, and they thought this was odd too. The person who I ended up talking to was the same woman who processed my name change last year, and she remembered me… Surprise! She said that they likely had three systems, all of which needed to get updated, and there was a problem somewhere.

This isn’t the only time I’ve run into “Mismatches” – my health info at work was wonky for a while – and the internal Microsoft charity site still isn’t updated. (Many of the sites that are “extranet” – and hosted by third-parties haven’t been updated).

I went to go get a new phone yesterday too. I hadn’t ever updated my name with the wireless company. When I gave the sales guy my phone number he said

“Is this account under ‘Michael Wallent’?”


“Is Michael here?”

“I changed my name, its me.”


And we proceeded on… No biggie.

I’m glad that the mismatched name thing has never given me grief… Your “old” name has a “half-life” – like Plutonium. My guess is that the half-life of a name is about 9 months… if you have your name on 50 things, it would take more than 5 years for all of the kinks to work out of the system…

December 18, 2008

They Found Me!

Posted in Identification, life at 1:40 pm by Michael


It’s not like I’m hiding, but, WPI (My alma mater) found me.

About a month ago, the alumni mail from them started being addressed to “Ms. Megan Wallent”. I hadn’t told them of my name change (or other changes), but I was super curious how this happened.

The mysteries of life.

Then, I get the following email yesterday.

From: Steffanie C.
Sent: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 10:40 AM
To: Megan Wallent
Subject: Court Documentation..
 Hello Megan,
Hope things are well with you and your family!
Would it be possible to send me a copy from the courts in your name change. We would like to have a copy for your folder here at WPI.
Thank you…
Steffanie C.
Biographical Records Assistant
Development Operations and Research
100 Institute Road
Worcester, MA 01609

Holy moly! How did they figure it out….

I replied:

From: Megan Wallent
Sent: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 9:46 AM
To: ‘Steffanie C.’
Subject: RE: Court Documentation..

Hi Steffanie –
Sure… here it is.

I’m curious though – how did you folks find out about my name change? I noticed that my mail from WPI changed about three months ago.

– Megan

This morning, the answer came through:

From:  Steffanie C.
Sent: Thursday, December 18, 2008 5:31 AM
To: Megan Wallent
Subject: RE: Court Documentation..

Dear Megan,
We contacted you because WPI has a Northern California alumni chapter that we are trying to increase in membership.  That chapter has alumni who are employed at Microsoft.  Our department was reviewing alumni with interesting top level titles to reconnect them with WPI.
Your title as General Manager at Microsoft inspired us to find out more about you as we do with any alum who has an interesting career. When we Googled your name combined with Microsoft, we found a webpage about your transgender. Since we found this information about your new name, we needed to verify it. This is why we contacted you as well as inviting you to contact Sara F, Associate Director of Alumni Relations in our Alumni Relations Department. She will be your best source for upcoming alumni events in your area. We hope that you are interested in learning more about new developments at WPI and the exciting initiatives led by President Berkey.

Gold star for WPI on the sleuthing! I wonder how much of an “Alumni Gift” they are looking for!

September 19, 2008

Leaving Israel

Posted in Identification, travel at 1:13 am by Michael

Getting to and from Israel from Seattle is non-trivial – both in time and overall travel effort. I came in on Tuesday night, through Paris, on Air France (I left midday Monday from Seattle).

To leave I was departing from Tel Aviv at 5am, on a KLM flight to Amsterdam, then on NWA to Seattle, which should get in mid-afternoon the same day (Friday).

I had heard epic stories about security at airports in Israel. I had asked a bunch of folks in the office how long to get to the airport before the flight – the general consensus was between two and three hours. Even traveling business class – even at 5am.

There is a bit of a shortcut though – if you are “hosted” by a large company or organization, they can “vouch” for you, and security gets a little easier. Yesterday I filled out the forms, and they were sent in to the airport security office. What got sent back was this:

My Security Ticket
My Security Ticket

The key thing wasn’t the piece of paper, but it was the security authorization number, and the fact that they had all my info in their central database.

For my 5am flight, I left the hotel at 230am (love that jet lag!), and got to the airport at just about three.
The trip to the airport was fun though – at that time of the night/morning, Tel Aviv is a hopping city. Maybe we just drove through the club area, but every block seemed to have a collection of young, well dressed (very well dressed) party-goers – both inside and outside of clubs. I’ve been to a lot of cities, and I have to say, this was the *most* busy that I’ve seen a place so late at night.
Outside of the airport, there is what appears to be a tollboth – with a long line of cars. It turns out that its not. It’s a security checkpoint. The car pulls up, the guard asks the driver questions, then opened the back door to ask me questions. He started in Hebrew, and I had no idea what he was saying. After a couple tries he said in English “Is everything ok?” I said “Yes”, and he waved us through. There were guards with machine guns right on the other side of this barrier. (Sorry, no pictures, I’m not crazy!)
When you pull up to the terminal, you get into a line to go to the checkin counter – before you can go to the counter, there are very nice security people who ask *a lot* of questions. These were the people who I gave my paper to, and who then entered the data, and came back to talk to me – why were you here? where did you stay? who do you work for? whats your title? who did you meet with? And, this was *with* the card! The guy in front of me worked for some medical device company and had prototype devices that were fabbed in Israel. He was still there long after I left and checked in.
There were no fewer than four more checkpoints to go through before going to the gate. I’ve written about the Bee Watcher Watchers in Paris, where there are multiple lines to go through, each with some perfunctory check. This is not the case here – every line had some purpose, and they were checking and rechecking to make sure that you were okey dokey.
One thing I was surprised by though – at the xray machine, you do not need to pull out your small baggie of liquids or take off your shoes. They scan you, and your stuff, right there.
I will have to admit that I was a little concerned with all the extra checking of me and my passport, at some point someone would notice the “M” gender on my passport. This wasn’t the case, and it never came up.
I felt pretty safe as we were taking off from Tel Aviv that the folks on the plane were well vetted.
I’ll be happy to be home in a few hours….

August 19, 2008

Vacation Tidbits

Posted in family, Identification, life, transgender, travel at 12:13 am by Michael

We are on a beach vacation this week (not to be confused with Blogcation).

This presents an interesting challenge for me.

What. To. Wear.

Short answer – shorts and a UV top (no sunburn).

So far, in my experience, the more clothes I’ve got on, the harder it is to “pass”. Big winter stuff – not so much. The hardest group to pass with – kids and teens – without a doubt. Dirty (not crappy mind you) looks are highest per-capita in this group. The beach should be great then, right? Well, add in my outfit, and wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap (Red Sox, of course!), what should be easy becomes, well, less than that.

So, given that context, a few interesting bits so far on this trip:

(NB on the whole “Passing” thing. This is not my raison d’etre. I am who I am. However, I find the reaction to me to be just plain interesting. It doesn’t bug me not to pass (mostly)…)

– When we got here the other night, we were at Safeway getting some stuff for lunch. I was at the deli counter (no jokes please), and the very nice guy behind the counter was *overly nice* to me. This hadn’t happened to me before. It was o-d-d. I was not prepared for this. I was nice, and smiled, and got my turkey and roast beef, thank you.

– Peri broke a toenail today (kind of bad actually), and I went to the little nail hut near the beach to borrow a nail clipper to fix it. As I was sitting there, trimming her nail, a little girl (probably 6?) came up to me, and strated asking lots of questions:

“What are you doing?”

“Do you work here?”

When I said no, and I was just fixing her nail because it broke, she said:

“Oh, you are just her Mom, and you are fixing her toe then? Does it hurt?”

Peri and I just exchanged glances, she smiled, I smiled, and I said:

“That’s right… she’ll be ok!”

And that was enough for her! She smiled and was off.

As we were walking away, Peri said “Was I that nosy when I was that age? I don’t think I was.”

Oh yeah Peri, you were!

(NB. I’m not Peri’s mom. I am not confused on that point. Peri and John calling me “Daddy” all of the time generates quizzical looks, but that’s no biggie.)

(NB II. The little girl above was a sweetheart. She was genuinely concerned about Peri, which was super nice. I hope no one takes away anything remotely negative in my tone.)

– John was getting a Henna tatoo (fish skeleton) this afternoon, and when I went to pay, the tatoo lady was taking down my info.

“Last name?”


“Ok, first name Mr. Wallent”


“Oh, I’m sorry… I’m a kayak guide in the morning, and with a wetsuit on, I get sirred all the time. Isn’t it funny?”

– We were at dinner tonight, and I was up, walking around with Samwich. Our server, who was a nice middle-aged lady says to me:

“Are you the grandma?”

“No… no, I’m not.”



That’s worse than asking someone when the little bundle of joy is coming and the answer is negative six months!

Needless to say, Anh has been calling me “Granny” all night…..

May 19, 2008

Politics at Work – Probably a “Bad Idea”

Posted in Identification, life, work at 11:17 pm by Michael

Remember the SNL skit for “Bad Idea Jeans“?

I felt like I was in that skit last week.

I was at a work thing (I won’t go further…), but it was at the time “non-work”, in that people were talking about stuff that was non-work related.

The conversation, just like many conversations these days, turned to politics – the Clinton v. Obama race, McCain’s running mate, etc.

There was discussion about the polarization that was evident in the recent Democratic primaries – the high numbers of voters unwilling to vote for the other candidate:

“Barely a third of Clinton supporters say they’d vote for Obama over John McCain in a November matchup. As many claim they’d vote for Republican John McCain and a quarter said they would not vote for president. If that horse race were Clinton vs. McCain, half of Obama backers say they’d vote for Clinton, about three in 10 say they’d back McCain and the rest would stay home.”

I *really* tried to stay out of it. Really.

About half the folks in the room were Republicans, about half-Democrats.

Remember, I *really* tried to stay out of it. It’s work.

Then, someone asked me:

“Megan, who are you going to vote for?”

“Well, that’s a good question. I have to say that I can’t vote for someone that doesn’t think that my family should be a family.”

“That means either Obama or Clinton, right?”

“Well, it’s hard to tell because it’s hard to get a straight answer from any of the candiates, but Clinton and Obama are more open than McCain.”

(Here’s the chart)

On the positive side, some people who were on the McCain side actually commented that yes, this was a problem…. I honestly don’t know sometime how “activist” to be, and how much to just silently live and lead… it’s a tradeoff.

(BTW, I met Sen. McCain in 2001, while doing work on internet privacy. We had about an hour meeting, and I remember him as fiesty, but that one side of his face and one of his arms was more significantly injured than I had thought from seeing him on TV. I’ll hand it to the guy, I may disagree with his positions, but he’s honorable, and has served our country both in the service and in politics.)

Michael Who?

Posted in Identification at 10:20 pm by Michael

Over the past week or so, twice now, I feel like I’ve had to “Impersonate” Michael.

Impersonate? That’s a weird word to choose, huh? Yeah, that’s kind of what it felt like.

As I’ve written about a lot, I’m a pilot. One of the non-fun things about being a pilot is dealing with aircraft maintenance. I’ve been dealing with that for the past couple weeks, but the thing is that the last time I had a plane in for an annual inspection (its an FAA thing, and a safety thing), it was “Michael” who was the operator, not “Megan”. The folks who do my airplane maintenance (Galvin Flying, at Boeing Field in Seattle – I like them), are nice guys and all, but I really didn’t want to get into it with them.

So, when I called to make the appointment “Michael” called. When the guy called me back, I didn’t recognize the number, and I answered the phone “Hi, this is Megan.” He said “Can I speak to Michael?” (or Mike, I can’t remember, he tends to call me either). I said “Speaking!”… It must have been an odd moment for him. It was super odd for me.

I also noticed that my intonation as changed too, especially when greeting/departing… It really struck me that I’ve changed my speaking pattern.

So, we’ve been talking back and forth now for a couple weeks (I recognize the number now), and I’m “Michael” to him. It’s become incredibly odd.

Another instance: I had to call for a hotel reservation that for a long convoluted reason that I won’t get into I had to:
a) Make it under “Michael Wallent”
b) Then add Anh to the reservation

When I called, I introduced myself as “Michael Wallent”, gave the checkin/checkout dates, and they found me, and then I said “I need to add my wife, Anh to the reservation” (there was a little more too it, but it wasn’t the point). I got the immediate “No problem Sir!”, and they fixed it.

I felt like a liar. I didn’t really like that either.

While we were out for a walk the other day, I mentioned this whole thing to Anh, and especially the part about my speaking pattern changed. Her reply was, sensitive, but along the lines of “Duh!”… It was really more loving than that, but that was the essence.

I’m also really struggling with what to refer to Anh as in every day conversation with people that are acquaintances. People tell stories, you tell them stories, and I increasingly just say: “Well, when Anh and I…” But the problem is that they don’t know her, and am probably not sure about our relationship, so its probably just confusing….

Technically (see below), she’s still my wife. I’m still her husband. Maybe I need to just get over myself and just refer to her as “My Wife” because duh, she IS.

May 1, 2008

Trans-Marriage Issues in the News

Posted in family, Identification, transgender at 11:55 am by Michael

Interesting article last Saturday in the New York Times:


They also had an article in the Sunday Magazine about gay marriage.


Good for them for writing about both of these issues – in the same edition no less….

I thought I’d add our own personal experience around the whole legality of marriage for trans-people, and some thoughts on what we’ve done to try to protect ourselves.

Anh and I are legally married. In Washington State at least (unlike at least 13 other states), gay marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions are not illegal, but are also expressly not legal (Massachusetts and Hawaii being the exceptions on the marriage front).

However, we have a standard marriage license.

From all the legal advice that we have received, the state *cannot* (at least in Washington, and there is no record in the USA) void a legal marriage.

There is a super interesting question of what gender I am to the State of Washington. As I’ve said, I have an “F” driver license, but a male birth certificate (from Massachusetts). (I cannot get an F birth certificate from MA – the require SRS – same deal with my US Passport) If we were not married today, and wanted to get married, it is not legally clear if we could or could not.

Even though we are still “Legal”, we redid our wills in November, before I transitioned – with both my names (Michael and Megan), and we also had specific power of attorney, living will, and basically outlined all of the joint rights (including inheritance) that we have as a legally married couple in legal documents, so that our joint intent is clear.

Last month, we refinanced our house mortgage (lower rate) with the same bank that did our mortgage last summer. We had ZERO problems, and all they asked was if we wanted to hold the title/mortgage as a married couple, or as separate unmarried persons. We said “We are still legally married”, and that was that.

The whole silliness of the gay marriage issue (or strenuous opposition to same) is brought out by trans-marriage issues. I’d love for someone who is anti-gay marriage to explain to me how my marriage to Anh was “ok” on November 27, but  not “ok” on November 28, (Without invoking “God”) or also who I would be allowed to marry if Anh was not the light of my life….

April 18, 2008

Disney: Did anyone notice?

Posted in family, Identification, transgender at 9:30 pm by Michael

Besides being recognized a few times, nobody cared. Anh and I have talked about this one quite a bit. We think there are at least two reasons why:
– We don’t make it a big deal. E.g. when we check in to a hotel and they ask “one bed or two” (and its just us – not w/the chitlins), we smile and say “one”. Done.
– Admittedly, we have the resources to go places where people don’t give us a hard time. Yes, this is a privilege – no doubt. But, interesting to point out none the less.

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