How to be you in five easy steps

NOTE: I live in Ontario, so am speaking of my own experiences. Depending on the jurisdiction in which you live, you may have to do more travelling.

Okay, now you have your new documents showing your new name. You sit there staring at them because the government has finally acknowledged you are who you say you are. Don’t get too comfortable, for there is still a lot of work to do before you’re done.

For me here in Ontario, some of it is relatively painless. Ontario operates locations under the name “Service Ontario”, which are essentially one-stop shopping locations for dealing with provincially issued documents. There are two types – government run locations and franchises. Most transactions can be handled at franchise locations, but for modifications to health cards, you need to visit a government location as the franchises are restricted in the health information they can access. Once there, you can modify not only your health card, but driver’s licence, vehicle ownership or the Ontario identification card (if you don’t have a driver’s licence). There, one stop and all your provincial documentation has been changed to your new name.

The federal government also operates a similar service, called logically enough, “Service Canada”. Again, one stop and you can change the information on all your federally issued documents except your passport. The Social Insurance Number controls all government access, so changing that will change your tax records and, in my case, my federal pension records.

But you’re still not done. You have bank accounts and credit cards to change. In my case, that involved a simple visit to the bank where everything was done within five minutes. And something you may not have considered: if you rent, you’ll need to sign a new lease in your new name. You hope the landlord still wants you as a tenant as you prepare for this step.

What else? Well, what about your cable and cell phone? Those can be settled with a quick visit to the nearest location of your service providers, armed with your documentation. Ontario covers the cost of most drugs for seniors such as myself, so you’ll have to give your pharmacy the new information as well, as well as advise your doctor of the changes so he’ll get paid for treating you.

In the Greater Toronto/Hamilton Area, transit companies operate under an umbrella company called Metrolinx. Through Metrolinx, I have a pass (electronic ticket actually) that allows me to travel on any transit system under their control provided I have sufficient funds on the card. Naturally this has my name on it, so that must be changed as well.

These are the things I have to change, or have already changed. You may have others, such as gym memberships or gas company credit cards that will need to be attended to before you’re done.

Welcome to you new name.

Cat.

Some random thoughts

Riding the bus today, my mind wandered and touched on various items.

1 – The Region of Durham is doing some serious road work at a major intersection. This of course is causing massive traffic backups and pretty much throws bus schedules out the window. The irony in that is the construction is they are installing “bus only” lanes to speed up public transit.

2 – If you were to ask Canadians the origin of Canadian English, no doubt most, if not all, would say “England”. According to a documentary I watched, they would be indirectly correct. The documentary stated that the major influence on “Canadian English” actually came from the United States, which was settled in large part by the British. Pronunciation, definitions and some nuances are all courtesy of our friends south of the 49th parallel. Spelling is a different matter. In the 1870’s, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Prime Minister at the time was the head of the government that passed a bill that made the use of “u” in words such as colour the only official spelling. So when I use that spelling for neighbour and honour for example, I’m only following Canadian law.

3 – Watching some programmes on Germany before and during WWII. Am I the only one who sees irony in the fact that the Nazis ideal was a tall, blond, blue-eyed physical specimen while neither Hitler nor his inner circle were anywhere near that ideal?

4- This isn’t exactly a random thought, but was a private Facebook message regarding a string I was involved with, and thought about during my bus ride. I think it bears repeating here:

I am horrified by some of the postings I read from my American friends regarding their troubles with housing, medical care and employment. Granted I lost a job when I came out, but someone through church told me that if I could get my Pickering taxi licence, he’d hire me. I did and he did and I drove for seven years until I was injured. Perhaps it’s the Canadian psyche, but except for the young drunk men on Friday and Saturday nights in the cab, I’ve never had a problem. As an example of what appears to be the general view (and yes I know generalities can turn and bite me in the butt), during the last provincial election campaign, not one candidate; not one reporter from any media, nor any member of the public brought up the fact that Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, is lesbian. Everyone stuck to the issues. I think that had this been an American election campaign, her sexuality would have overshadowed the actual issues. By the way, she won and now heads a majority government. Based on my experiences over the past twenty years, I sometimes think that my brothers and sisters in the United States would consider Canada, specifically Ontario, a trans Utopia.

Not quite, but we’re working on it.

Since it’s Friday, enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist, we need love too.

Cat.

“Twilight Zone” revisited

I have no proof, but I think the name of the Registrar-General for Ontario is Rod Serling because I seem to have been thrown into an episode of “Twilight Zone”. Here’s the situation:

As I have written previously, I want to change my name. I originally changed it when I began my transition to give my family some privacy. That was twenty years ago. My ex-wife has gone back to her maiden name and I’ve decided to take back my family surname and adopt the name my mother had in mind had I been born female and as middle name I chose “Ann”, which is the common middle name of my new family.

With this in mind, I sent an application for a name change, with the appropriate fee, to the Registrar-General’s office in Thunder Bay. Three months later I received my application back, with a request to provide a criminal background check. Now, according to the form, because I answered all the questions related to criminal background “no”, it was not necessary to provide this additional document. Because it had taken so long – the R-G’s office said six to eight weeks – I had contacted my MPP’s office to find out what was going on. (The Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario is the equivalent of a State congressman in the US.) Upon receiving the form and request, I contacted the MPP’s office again and explained the situation.

You can cue the “Twilight Zone” theme now. While they didn’t indicate as much on the sheet attached to my application, what they want is a criminal background check on my chosen name, not my current name. This seems like a very odd request. How am I supposed to get a criminal background check on a name I don’t use yet except on Facebook and WordPress? Next step was a phone call to Durham Regional Police. The young lady I spoke with was quite blunt after I explained the situation to her. She simply said “You can’t.” Fortunately, she did have a solution. I have to apply for a background check under my current name and apparently there is a space on the form for “other names” and in that space I should put the name I want. That means both names will be run through the system.

This is where it gets a little more strange. The lady at the Ministry under which the Registrar-General operates told the lady at the MPP’s office this additional background check is required to make certain the name I’ve chosen is “clean”. In this context that means there is no other person with that name in the CPIC records who may have a record or otherwise may have attracted the attention of the authorities. If there is, I may have to change the spelling of my name. Not much of a problem other than I refuse to change the spelling of my surname. We’ve been here since at least 1850 and my surname honours that.

So, at the end of the month, once my pension check arrives, I’m off to the local police station to try to explain this to whoever is working the desk. That should be fun. Oh yes, I must also have $55 to pay for this.

I’ll keep you informed. I have the feeling this won’t be the end of this episode.

Cat.

Here we go again

As I wrote in “The 4,000 mile birth certificate” of October 21, 2013, I have had some difficulties with the Registrar-General for the Province of Ontario in getting documents changed. The four thousand miles referred to in the title of the above named posting refers to the approximate total distance travelled by my documentation between the initial submission and finally receiving my birth certificate with the proper gender.

It seems those problems still exist. In September I decided to reclaim my family name. I originally changed my surname to offer some privacy and protection to my family after I started my new life. That was twenty years ago. Since then my sons have moved away and my ex-wife has gone back to her maiden name, so I could see no reason not to so do. Fuelling this desire is the fact that some research showed my family has been in North America since at least 1850. At the time, Canada was known as British North America. Canada came into being in 1867.

In late September 2015 I found the application online, filled out and printed it. Then I took care of the details – money order and having the whole thing certified by a notary public – and sent in on its way to the R-G’s office in Thunder Bay, Ontario (far north western part of the province) in early October.

According to the website, the process should take between six and eight weeks. In early January this year, not having heard or received anything, I contacted my local Member of Provincial Parliament (equivalent to state congressman in the US) because I knew from experience he’d get answers a lot faster than I could possibly hope. He did, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Apparently I had neglected to include a criminal background check. Now I read that form carefully and nowhere on any of those pages did it state I have to provide that check. In any event today’s mail, approximately 4 months after I sent the request off, I received the application back along with a “missing document” form on which someone had written, by hand, (another argument in favour of teaching cursive in school) a request for this additional document. If this is a standard requirement, why is not a part of the printed form?

So, now I must wait until month end when my next pension cheque arrives to visit the police station and get this form. I phoned the police station and learned that inflation has hit that as well. When I last applied for a background check, for my cab licence, the cost was $20. It is now $55. That’s a 275% increase.

I had hoped to have everything done by the end of 2015, but it looks as if it will be St Patrick’s day instead.

Oh yes, this makes about 1,400 miles these papers have travelled so far.

Cat.

 

Addendum:  I read the application over again.  The only time a background check is required is if I had answered “yes” to any of six questions regarding criminal activity or charges.  I honestly answered them all “no”.   (I lead a very whitebread life).  C.

Adolescence for trans 101

This could very easily be subtitled “Things I’ve learned over the past nineteen years”.

No matter what your age, when you begin this journey and start hormones you will revisit what may not have been one of the more enjoyable parts of your life – adolescence. Some people experience the wonderful affliction known as acne (ugh). I’m not an expert, so I’m not going to discuss that. But there are other areas where I may be able to provide advice and/or information.

Let’s start with makeup. A good rule of thumb when it comes to makeup is “less is more”. Keep in mind that the use of cosmetics is to enhance one’s natural beauty, not create a mask. If necessary, ask a friend for advice and help. Have her show you how to apply it properly. I have been fortunate in that my best friend did hair and makeup in the Toronto film industry and has been extremely helpful. If you are unable to find a friend to help, consider going to a stylist for tips. Personal observation – I know some makeup artists will tell you that you need foundation, but keep in mind that most foundations will clog your pores.

Okay, we’ve got your face made up, now to decide what you’re going to wear. I’m not going to bother you with a lecture on dressing in a style appropriate to your age. I can’t, unless I want to be a hypocrite. I’m 71 years old and very fond of miniskirts (much to the chagrin of my BFF), so all I’ll say is wear what you feel comfortable wearing. In defence of my minis, I drove a cab for seven years and found I did much better on tips whenever I wore a mini. Also, dress appropriately for the weather. If you live in Canada or the northern US, you’ll probably find that in winter fashion goes out the window in favour of comfort.

Wait, you’re not ready to walk out the door just yet. There’s a couple of things you still have to practice and master. First, your voice and speech patterns.

Unless your normal voice sounds like Barry White, you can probably get away with just raising the pitch of it. I was fortunate in that my normal voice wasn’t that deep, so I can get away with very little modification. I tended to stutter, so had adapted the technique of using a more breathy voice and a slower tempo when I spoke. This had the advantage of greatly reducing the stuttering. A speech therapist noticed this and said I should keep it up for it also made my voice sound more feminine. Something else you have to consider is speech patterns. You may not have paid much attention too it in the past, but women don’t use the same speech patterns as do men. As a writer, I’m constantly paying attention to speech patterns as well as dialects whenever I’m out for possible use for a character. Listen to women speak and you’ll see what I mean.

Next, men are usually more aggressive than women and this shows in their gestures, which tend to be “large” for lack of a better word – more sweeping and aggressive. Women don’t tend to do that, so you’ll have to learn to dial down the aggression in the movements. This will take practice on your part and you’ll have to monitor your actions carefully until the more refined movements become second nature. Yes, there are women who do use grand gestures, but they are usually considered less than ladylike.

Something else you will have to work on is the way you walk. Men usually have a longer stride than women and walk at a faster pace. This too will take practice and constant monitoring on your part. I found one way I was able to slow my pace and reduce the length of my strides was to wear heels. I just couldn’t walk as I used to while wearing heels without putting my ankles at risk.

Hair is another area you may have to consider. If you’re able to grow your hair out, more power to you. I couldn’t do that because I started in my mid-50’s. My hair was reasonably long, but wouldn’t grow out any more. Since I’m not fond of wigs (they feel like hats) I went for weaves. Yes, they can be expensive and have to be replaced every two months at most, but they do work. When they got to be too expensive for my limited income, I did have to resort to wigs. The estrogen seems to be affecting the growth of my hair and it is now growing at a rapid rate, so after consultation with a friend who does hair and makeup in the Toronto film industry, and my hairdresser, we decided to let my own hair grow, then have it shaped into a bob. Once it reaches an acceptable length, we’ll colour it.

Please, please bear in mind that much of what follows is applicable in the Province of Ontario only. Laws and requirements will vary with your province or state of residence. Since you now look like the person you always knew you were, it’s time to change name and gender on your documents. In Ontario, it is possible to change the name on your driver’s permit simply on the strength of a letter stating such change is necessary from your doctor.

The rest of the documents require government forms and a lot of patience. Changing the name on your birth certificate requires sending them all kinds of information – the names of your parents; information on both your financial history and criminal background. This latter information is to make sure you’re not changing your name to avoid criminal prosecution or escape bankruptcy. They will also ask why you want to change your name and what name you want. Once you have the form filled out, it must be notarized. **HINT** Most lawyers will charge between $75 and $100 to notarize a document. Most town and city halls have a “commissioner of oaths” on staff who can do the same thing for much less. In Ajax, where I live, the cost was $20. When you’ve followed all the steps, you need payment of $137 then send everything to the Registrar-General for the Province of Ontario. And you wait.

In October of 2013, the government of Ontario changed the requirements for changing the gender on birth certificates. Surgery is no longer required. Another government form (and payment of $97) along with a letter from you doctor stating the doctor has treated you for “x” many years and the change is necessary. After notarizing this, it to gets sent to the Registrar-General. And more waiting. They usually say 6 weeks.

On the bright side, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration quietly announced in February 2015 that citizens would be allowed to change their federal documentation on self-identification. So once you have your Ontario documents, you can change any federal documentation at no cost. Except the passport. This will require applying for a new one in your new name and gender and paying the appropriate fee.

 

Surgery is a very personal decision and I won’t try to influence you one way or the other.  Personally I will say the clinic declined to operate on me for other medical reasons.  If you decide the surgery isn’t for you, or like me there are other medical conditions, there are some alternatives to the full SRS.  There is an operation called an orchiectomy, or orchidectomy, that removes the testes.  This greatly reduces the amount of testosterone the body produces.  There is also a version of this surgery that also removes the scrotum.  Either of these will leave you with what is effect a catheter made of your own flesh.

Breast enhancement is another area of concern for many trans women.  In Ontario it is considered cosmetic and not covered by the provincial health plan.  But, there are certain conditions that will be covered. One of these is called “aplasia”, which basically is lack of growth of breast tissue. If you’re not happy with your breast development, discuss these possibilities with your doctor, but I warn you, many doctors are not aware of the conditions or that they are covered under OHIP.  I have in my possession (somewhere) documentation from OHIP that describes these covered conditions.  Send me a personal message and I’ll send you copies of what I have to show your medical practitioner.

I hope the things I mention in this essay will help you avoid some of the pitfalls and minefields as you embark on your new life. If you live in Ontario this may help you navigate the government requirements. And the federal information may also prove helpful.

Enjoy your new life – you’ve earned it.

Cat.

The Ontario paper chase

For trans* people in Ontario, changing documents is a strange combination of easy and cheap and difficult and relatively expensive. I say “relatively” because much depends upon your income. As a senior on a government pension, for me it can get expensive. Let’s look at the various documents and the hoops through which the government will make you jump to achieve your goal.

The driver’s permit is probably the easiest (and I wish I’d known about this when I drove): A letter from your doctor stating the change is necessary is sufficient. Cost is apparently zero. Nice.

Before you can change any other documents such as credit cards and any other non-government form of identification, you need to change your name. Most places I contacted with insisted upon a driver’s licence for id. So, first you need a new birth certificate in your chosen name.

The forms are available online. These are “fill and print” documents so you don’t have to worry about messy printing. But since you’re dealing with a government website, finding the documents can be difficult. I found the best way was to go into “search” and enter “application to change an adult’s name”. That “adult” is important for they have several different forms for various reasons the change is required. You will be asked the usual questions; name; address; telephone number. Then they want the name you want to change to and the reasons. Once you’ve answered these, there are a series of questions regarding your criminal and financial information. This may seem like prying, but they’re trying to determine if the name change is to escape either prosecution or bankruptcy. When I answered these questions I was struck by the fact I’ve led a very “white bread” life, for each answer was “no”. Next you must find a guarantor, that is someone from a list they provide who can swear you’ve lived in Ontario for the past 12 months and that they’ve known you at least five years. Now you need a cheque or some form of payment for the $137 fee. Once you have all this, you must have the application notarized. Most lawyers charge between $75 and $100 for this service. But, most town and city halls have a person called a “commissioner of oaths” on staff who will be much cheaper. The town of Ajax, where I live, charges $20 for five signatures. Now it’s off to the post office and sending the application to the Registrar-General for the Province of Ontario located in Thunder Bay. Then you wait approximately six weeks.

In late 2012, Ontario quietly passed legislation allowing trans* people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates without requiring surgery. It may be advisable to do this at the same time you change your name (it all goes to the same office in T Bay). Once again the forms are available online. For this you will require a letter from your doctor stating you’ve lived in your chosen gender for “x” many years and the change is necessary.
The fee for this is $97. This money gets you both the long form (original) birth certificate plus the short, or wallet size, certificate.

Acting on the hope everything gets done at once, when you get your new documents (which, unless things have changed, will be sent to you under your birth name) you can visit the Department of Motor Vehicles and change your licence. For your health card and any other provincial id you may have, you will have to visit Service Ontario as the DMV agent can’t make those changes for you. There is no charge for these changes.

One more thing trans* citizens should be aware of: In February 2015, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (aka “the feds”) quietly passed legislation that allows trans* people to change their federal documents (SIN card, etc) based upon self-identification. Again, there is no charge for this. Your passport is a different story. You must reapply under your new name and gender and pay the appropriate fees.

Catharine.