March 14, 2008

I’m Back

Posted in Boston, family, food, Identification, Samwich, transgender at 7:38 pm by Michael

Well, not really, still in Boston.

Anh, Samwich and I went to Boston on Tuesday night on the redeye, and I worked here all week.

Honestly, after all the buzz from last week, I needed a bit of a blog-break. But, here we are, it’s Friday, it’s the weekend, and I’ve got some stuff to say. Here goes.

Commenters and Supporters – Thank You!

I sincerely appreciate the comments that people have posted, and the mails that have been sent – both with support and also questions. It’s all good, and it means a lot to me! Thank you.

JetBlue – Please don’t go out of Business!

As I’ve written about at length, we love JetBlue. Between lots of legroom, DirecTV on board, friendly crews, new planes, great website, good customer support, and reasonable and understandable pricing – by far is our favorite domestic airline.

Last couple flights though – scary – probably only 25% full. Now, for a redeye, this isn’t the worst thing in the world – for the passengers. But, you have to question in this day and age, how long empty flights can keep flying. Maybe it’s the season, or the day of week we fly (Tuesday), but I’m a little scared that the reliable redeye will go bye-bye.

Boston Cannoli Fest V2

Wednesday night we did a little cannoli-comparo. I’ve been a big fan of Bova’s for a very long time. The others in the big-three in Boston are Modern Pastry, and Mike’s.

We tried Mike’s and Bova’s again – side by side. (Large ricotta, plain (no nuts of chocolate chips). Yes, I realize that Italian cannoli are made from marscapone generally, but in the US is more likely sweet ricotta based – lots of discussion on that in this space back in early January).

I believe that we have a new winner – by far – Mike’s. The filling was lighter, and the crust thinner and crispier. The Bova’s entry was too thick – both the crust and the filling. The ratio here matters, and Mike’s was better.

Good Italian

Try Pomodoro on Hanover Street in the North End. The menu is small, but the food was in general very good. The chicken carbonara pasta and the veal with carmelized balsamic served with green onion risotto were both tasty and unique. Hallmark of a great Italian place – the simple things are fantastic. We had the fried calamari appetizer to start – it was light, crisp, hot, sweet, not chewy, and came with a (big) side of tomato sauce – which was light and perfect.

“Are you a man?”

Anh and I went to Filene’s Basement to check out jeans and some shirts, both for me and for her. There wasn’t a ton, but we picked out some stuff, and went to the dressing room. I was carrying Samwich in the baby carrier, and Anh had most of the clothes (I had a few). At the basement, you have to check in at the dressing room and get a number tag for the number of items that you bring in. As I was going through this process w/the attendant, she said to me:

“Are you a man?”

“No.”

“Are you?”

“No, do you want to see my ID?”

Pause, still not giving me the number tag.

“No, really, do you want to see my ID?”

“No, that’s ok, go ahead.”

She was not convinced. I tried on some stuff, liked some, didn’t like others, and while I was, I was thinking about how to handle it – ignore it? Talk to her? Talk to the manager?

I decided to just take by bargains and run, and not say anything. I’m not sure if I didn’t have a “F” on my license what I would have said. It would have been harder.

It brings up the fundamental question of what it means to be male or female in general, in a public situation like this. Who is being protected? For what reason?

I’m still not sure what I think about this. Maybe tomorrow I will… Maybe not. Maybe I never will.

“I saw you on Nightline”

After dinner, we were taking the T (Red Line) from South Station to Kendall Square. We love the T, and really wish that Seattle had public transport like that. It was just about 9pm, and the train wasn’t too full. Just after we had gotten on, I noticed that there was a guy, probably a little older than us, with lots of facial piercings. He was looking at us pretty closely. As the train stopped, he looked at us, and said:

“I saw you on Nightline!”

Me and Anh almost at the same time said:

“Yes you did!”

He said: “Well, good for you!”

I almost asked him “What did you think?” or “How did you recognize us?” but I was afraid in many ways to break the barrier of anonymity that seems to exist in public places like this. Yes, he did reach out to us, but I wasn’t sure what to do except for smile and say thanks….

I looked at Anh and said (quietly) “I never expected that!” Anh said “Me too!”

Neither of us were freaked out – just a little surprised…

He got off one stop before us, and said the following to us as he got off:

“I wish you both the best of luck and may god bless you.”

I’ll take it that he was supportive from both the words and the tone, and I give him a ton of credit for reaching out to us, and I think we probably could have done more to reach back.

I honestly never thought that we would get recognized on the street, especially so far away from home.

Happy Birthday Samwich

Samwich is One. Congratulations Samwich! Thank you Anh for being such an amazing mom.

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February 28, 2008

Bloggable Moments

Posted in Identification, transgender at 10:28 pm by Michael

Unfortunately, I have to report that I need to increment the Crappy Look Counter to 8.

I hesitate to even call it a “Crappy Look”, but its worth noting, but not in the normal snide tone of that particular page (remember the rule – “No Hatin’ on the Main Blog”).

Anyway, I picked up John and Peri at school (after school actually). John was at after-school art. I went in to get him, and these two little girls, probably no more than eight were looking at me, whispering in each other’s ears and giggling. As I walked to get John, they sort of “backwards followed me”, and continued the process. I smiled at them, and said “Hi”, and you would have thought that it was the funniest thing ever – they both burst out laughing.

Now, I’m not surprised. I actually expected more of this – especially from the kids. John and Peri both just call me “Daddy”, and yeah, that’s a little out of the norm. There was another Mom there, standing right next to me, watching the whole thing, but she was super cool – just smiling, and commented to me how hard it was to collect your kids from art (a bunch of K through 3 rd grade kids are pretty active!)

I will not call it an official “Crappy Look”, but a “Giggly Look” – but the counter still increments.

Later in the evening, I needed to stop to get gas. I stopped near where we live, and there was an obviously drunk, apparently homeless dude who was loudly asking anyone in the area for some money for his next dose of Mad Dog. I was ignoring him, but to no avail. He yells over to me:

“Miss!”

Pause

“Oh Miss!”

Pause

Now he’s right next to my car, just as loud as ever. He then says:

“Do you have anything for me? Just some change?”

I said: “I’m sorry no.”

He said: “Oh, I can’t even get a pretty smile?”

I looked back at him, and with more of half smile said again that I could not, and he was off, skipping drunkily into the night, singing all the way.

On my way back from dropping off Peri and John, I stopped at a mini-mart to grab a diet coke. Its one of the few remaining non-franchise mini-marts w/o a gas station. There was just one guy working in there – he was in his early 20’s (very), overweight, and heavily tattooed (arms, neck).

I got my soda, and walked over to pay. $1.84, I give him two, and get the change back. As he’s giving me my change back he says:

“That’s a nice car you are driving.”

I said “Thanks.” And turned and walked away.

Now, my car’s not that nice. Guys DO compliment each other on their cars, but it’s usually “Wow, cool car!”, or “What’s it got in it?” or “How fast have you gone?”

I was more fascinated by the tone in which he said it, which was a little Rico Suave, but also the sentence construction. Maybe I’m imagining it, but it seemed out of the male/male  gender norm and much more like a male/female interacton.

So, to sum up, at the end of my day, I got read and giggled at by two eight year old girls, told I was pretty by a drunk guy, and then well, then something w/the convenience store clerk.

February 23, 2008

“Welcome Home!”

Posted in Air France, family, Identification, transgender, travel at 9:07 pm by Michael

The rest of the flight back to Seattle was as uneventful as it was long. Ten hours plus is a long time to sit on a plane. I have to say that the Los Angeles or Newark to Singapore (on Singapore Airlines) flight of 18+ hours just seems like self-flagellation.

As documented earlier, getting into France was easy, but we were wondering how coming home would be – given how picky US Customs has become.

We landed in Seattle, again did the slow-taxi (which was made more painful by the fact that Samwich picked that time to have his one and only freak-out of the entire flight), and pulled up to the gate. We were in the third row of coach, so we were near the front of the customs line, and quickly got to a customs agent. We gave him our passports and declaration form, and he literally smiled to us and said “Welcome Home!”, and that was it.

Wow.

Anh and I have traveled a TON internationally. This was by FAR the easiest entry we’ve ever had. Maybe it was random, maybe we looked friendly, but wow…. I’ve been asked SO many questions before, literally taken ten minutes at the counter – this time – 30 seconds, tops.

We were wondering thought – when they scan in your passport – what data shows up on their screen? How integrated are the US IT systems? All your other trips? Other info? How do they deal with new passport numbers for the same person? (Passport ID #’s are unique per passport, not by the person – this was my first trip w/this passport).

Seattle greeted us upon our return with a sunny, warm (high 50’s, which is warm for Seattle at this time of year) day.

We got in the door, put Samwich down, and he walked over to the windows, and kissed them.

He was happy to get home too, as were we.

February 22, 2008

Paris Departure – Lots of Bee Watcher Watching

Posted in Air France, Identification, Paris, transgender at 5:39 pm by Michael

Up early this morning (515am) for our flight out at 1040am from Paris – Charles De Gaulle. Up and going, and by 615 or so, we were ready to roll. We let the Samwich blow off some steam, and went to check out of the hotel (which we would recommend – see the web address on the last post). No problems.

We had pre-arranged a car to pick us up and bring us to the airport (the pickup from the airport was flawless). We had asked for them to come at 7, but there was a mixup, and they ended up not coming (they wanted a confirmation, wanted only to come at 745am, etc) so we just got a cab.

When we get in the cab, the taxi driver asks us in French where we are going, and we tell him the CDG airport. Which Terminal? Terminal 2! You would have thought we were total idiots! He starts ranting (in French), basically saying “Duh Terminal 2, which one? A, B, C, D, E?”. Uh, we have no idea. He mutters in French something unintelligible, and looks it up in some book, after asking us what our destination is. We think we are heading to the right place. CDG is a huge airport though, so ending up on the wrong end would suck.

One thing that struck me getting out of Paris is that there are no freeways, highways, or even any sort of limited access roads through the city (that we saw at least). As far as I could tell, the city itself is a highway free zone. Granted, the traffic wasn’t horrible at 715am, but it took a half an hour to get from the city center, just south of the Seine to the highway outside of town. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but certainly different than any American city, and different than many cities in Europe as well (to take that long to get from the center to the highway).

Also, our cab driver was super into French talk radio – from what I picked up it sounded like political talk radio (they were talking lot about Sarcozy and also Obama). He liked it LOUD. I can just imagine what Rush Limbaugh sounds like to foreign ears. I didn’t dare ask him to turn it off after the whole Terminal-Dumbass incident.

Anyway, we roll into the airport (Terminal 2 E was our destination I guess) (it took about 30 minutes), with just less than three hours left till our flight, and look toward the ubiquitous “Big Board” to see if our flight is in this area. Bingo – AF 40 to Seattle, E 94, Area 5.

Walking in, we see pairs of guards in fatigues with machine guns. Its always spooky when I see this in airports.

The CDG airport uses the checkin method that I’ve seen before at many other airports (except the US) – where there are specific checkin bays for a flight or set of flights. Luckily, bay 5 wasn’t crowded, and after waiting for just a few minutes, we got to the first bee watcher. (See Dr. Suess’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”).

Bee Watcher #1’s job was to make sure that you went to the right bay. Now, from watching other people who went up to Mr. Bee Watcher #1, you would have thought there was some sort of advanced calculus exam going on. He spent a minute or two with each, and he turned away at least half of the people.

Our turn, and I’m ready for the Bridge Keeper at the Bridge of Death. Ok, I’m ready, ask me your questions, I’m not afraid!

“What is your destination?”

“Seattle!”

“Ok, go.’

Huh? How anti-climactic.

On to the line for Bee Watcher Watcher #2 Bee Watcher Watcher #2 wants to see passports, and asks you some security questions about your carry on bags. Are you carrying any weapons or knives? Anything sharp? Note – tweezers – ok in the US, not ok in Europe. We had to move some from carryon to checkin.

Bee Watcher Watcher #2 then sends you to the right line or your flight (each flight, different line within the gate). There are also ten electronic checkin kiosks, about half of which are unused. I asked Ms. Bee Watcher Watcher #2 if those could be used, and she said “Yes, you can use those to checkin, then get in the line to drop off your bags.”

Ok, I’m not sure what this is going to save, but whatever, I’ll try it out. Anh gets in the regular line, I go over to a kiosk and start the checkin process. The kiosk says that it works for both with checked bags, and for carryon only. I start through the process, and by using my passport it finds our record, and we are good to go. As is common with international flights, the info from your passport needs to get entered (number, expiration date, country of issue, country of residence). Northwest rocks at this – when you scan your passport, it gets the info off. However, Air France, not so good. Even though there is a passport scanner at the machine and it recognized my passport, I have to manually enter all the data.

Pang #1. I’m entering my data, and it asks if I’m a man or a woman. I pause, and try to think about why it’s asking. These days, this question requires context for me. Ah, to match my passport. On my passport I’m “M”, so I have to enter that. I know I know, I’ve said about a billion times that I don’t care. I cared. I didn’t want to hit the blue button, but I had to.

I finish up with the passport data entry, and I expect it to ask me if I want to check bags (which I do – two of em). No such luck. It spits out three boarding passes. I’m expecting to see Mr. Megan Wallent on mine, but at least they don’t print salutations.

At this point, Anh is almost first in the Bee Watcher Watcher #3 line (this person at least has a real task – to check the bags). We go up to the counter, give her the boarding passes, and say we want to checkin two bags. We have to show the passports, again, and she takes a look at each of us to make sure they match.

We get the bags tagged, and they are off. I’m super curious, but do not ask – what on earth are the kiosks for? You HAVE to stand in the line, even if you have no bags to check. Those kiosks are like Bee Watcher Watcher # 2 and a half at least.

Ok, we are off to security, or so we think. Nope, exit passport control. This is one thing I love about the US – no exit passport control. You want to leave, go for it!

Here we get to first see Bee Watcher Watcher #4, who makes sure that we have boarding passes and tickets, then lets us get in the line. She didn’t even check to make sure they matched – they just needed to exist.

Now, on to Bee Watcher Watcher #5 – again perhaps a real Bee Watcher – who is National Police, and checks our passports, checks our faces, and stamps our passports saying we left. Oddly, they never stamped our passports saying we entered. Odd.

We are not yet to security, but I can taste it. Again, there’s another Bee Watcher – #6 – again with the passports and the boarding passes, and insuring that we have same. He directs us to an appropriate line, which as soon as we get into it closes. We move next door – and it closes. Oh for Two. Line three – success! We can be security screened by the security Bee Watcher Watchers (#7 – although there were at least five of them).

With the baby, we have extra liquid, which means pulling out his bottle, plus out toiletry bags, and making sure it’s all separate.

We get through, repack, and are on to our “Gate”. Turns out that Terminal #2 E is under construction, so there are temporary structures for the gates – no jet bridges, and you get picked up by bus and brought to the plane when the flight is called.

We get there about 45 minutes before boarding, let the Samwich run around a little to burn off more energy pre-10 hours of confinement, and hang out. On time, our flight gets called, and we get to pre-board.

The boarding process required two more Bee Watcher Watchers, #8 and #9. #8 checks our passports and tickets (again!), and #9, an actual Bee Watcher, scans our tickets. Woo Hoo, we can get on the bus! After the bus is full, it waits a good 10 minutes to make sure its really full, and then goes on to the plane at 1kph. Literally. Walking would have been faster.

Anyway, we get to the plane, and there are of course boarding stairs, which need to get climbed. The complexity here is that we have our carry on stuff (backpack, my bag, Samwich’s small backpack), plus him (Mr. Wiggly at this point), plus his carseat. Stairs suck.

We get to the top of the stairs, and get on the plane. The purser asks where we are sitting, and I tell her, and then we try to get on – no such luck. She wants to see the boarding passes. Bee Watcher Watcher #10. At this point, in one arm I have Samwich, the other his carseat, and need to produce the boarding passes which are in my back pocket.

I smile and say “Sorry, I’ll get them. It may take a sec, ok?”

She smiles, and waits patiently while we get our passes, which we dutifully do, and we find our seats and stow our stuff.

As we are sitting waiting for the Bees to fly us to Seattle, I have Pang #2. In three months this hasn’t happened to me.

I miss Michael.

I start to get a little teary, but I don’t think anyone except for me noticed. I’m not saying that I wish I didn’t go through with my transition. I know it was the right thing for me. It is who I am.

Maybe it was the passport craziness. Maybe it was that instead of one of the Bee Watcher Watchers giving us two US Customs declarations forms and not one. Maybe it was the omni-present French choice of Madame v. Monsieur? Maybe it was that it’s not as “easy”.

For all of those reasons, and maybe more, I did and do.

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 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

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.

January 28, 2008

The DOL Says I Can Have an “F’ on My License!

Posted in Identification, transgender at 9:35 pm by Michael

Washington State DOL 

I got my letter from the DOL on Saturday (January 26), 22 days after I sent in the paperwork.

Here’s what it said:

Dear Ms. Wallent:

I have received your request to change the gender shown on your Washington driver license and the supporting documentation verifying your transition.

Your request to change the gender on your driver license to female has been approved. Our decision was based on your letter of intent, letter from your physician and surgeon, and copy of your current driver license. We strongly encourage you to coordinate with the Department of Health and the Social Security Administration to update their information as well to ensure your records are consistent.

Please present this letter to the office supervisor in the driver licensing office of your choice to receive your new license. You will be required to pay all necessary fees when applying for your new driver license. To locate a driver licensing office, visit our website at www.dol.wa.gov/officelocations.html or check the government pages in your local phone book.

Should you or the office supervisor have any questions, please contact my Executive Assistant, [Name] at [Phone Number].

Sincerely,
[signed]
Mykel D. Gable
Assistant Director
Driver Services Division

MG:mp

Ok, I’m glad that they did this, and that there is a procedure that can be followed. There are a couple of things on this that I think are interesting.

1. There is no published procedure from the DOL to do this. You need to call the right people to figure this out. While they give you a web address to find locations for offices, a web location for the current process would be very helpful.
2. It is positive that they list the factors that they used to approve my request. That’s very helpful.
3. The encouragement to “coordinate” with the Department of Health and the SSA – again interesting. From a Department of Health perspective, this is a non-event. I wasn’t born here – my birth certificate is from Massachusetts. From a SSA pov, I’m still male (and from a State Department perspective too – my passport has an “M” on it).
4. The “Old-School” MG:mp thing at the bottom, means that Mykel D. Gable’s admin typed this up

I feel fortunate to live in a state where it’s this easy, and I realize that many other trans-people don’t have any where near as easy as a path. So, for that, I’m thankful.

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