Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Difficulties With the New Passport Guidelines for Gender Marker Change

I am having issues getting my gender marker set correctly on my passport. Yesterday, I got a letter back from the State department stating that I needed to provide a letter from an endocrinologist or other accepted professional stating that I had clinically transitioned to female. I had submitted one from my endocrinologist and one from my therapist, both in Kentucky. The letter from the Department of State didn't detail what exactly was not sufficient and I have been having difficulties trying to elicit that information. I dropped the following letter off a few minutes ago at the US Department of State website.

Attn: United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Dear Ms. Clinton,

I understand that the new guidelines for gender marker change were targeted to make things easier for non-operative transsexuals to obtain a passport in their target gender.

It does do that, but it makes it much more difficult for pre-operative transsexual women like myself to obtain a gender appropriate passport for flying overseas to have gender reassignment surgery. They fly to a foreign country because they have to pay for the procedure out of their own pocket due to the fact they are often refused coverage for AMA-deemed necessary coverage by health insurance organizations via the default standard policy with discriminatory exclusions that most employers don't see.

The difficulty comes in the fact that what referring health care providers used to deliver for a passport to have surgery in a foreign country now does not meet the guidelines, and they assume otherwise, since the standard has been established for some years. This results in wasted time for the patient having to prove to the doctor via US DOS notification that the guidelines were not met--essentially, proof by rejection.

Doctors are busy people and having to redo a recommendation letter takes time--valuable time.

I submitted my passport application about 4 weeks ago with original documentation for my court-ordered name change, birth certificate, and two letters of recommendation detailing my readiness for surgery--one from my therapist (an LCSW) and one from my endocrinologist.

I received by mail 2 days ago a letter that stated that I needed to provide a letter from an accepted provider that had 7 specific bullet points. I know at least some of those bullet points were more that adequately addressed. Because it took a week for the notification to arrive, I was greeted with the bad news that I had 83 days left to provide the information--76 days if you account for the mail taking the same time to return--before I am issued a passport in my birth-assigned gender. This is going to cause an issue for me because I already reserved the flight tickets with a female gender.

I immediately contacted the State Department help line so they could give me a better clue as what was exactly wrong with the doctor's recommendation so I could provide feedback to my endocrinologist to make the necessary corrections. I was told that the information was not available on line and they would call me back within 48 hours. It has now been over 50 hours since the contact request has been made and I have not had a response yet.

Without an accurate response, the likelihood of my doctor writing another not-good-enough recommendation is significant, and I still don't have my original documents back.

Furthermore, when I called yesterday, the support staff risked the exposure to the fact that I am transsexual to my coworkers by requiring me to read the entire letter, which includes very sensitive and therefore private information, to her over the phone, saying she understood my humiliation.

This procedure should not be this difficult, nor should the burden of responsiveness rest solely on my shoulders and not be shared by the agents processing the application.

Thank you for consideration in this matter.


Sophia Jean Hawes

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Agenda 2011

Of the 14 executives, a core group of at least 7 or 8 advocates signed up for the new agenda.
-- Jack Welch, Jack

Christmas is almost over, I had some comfort time with one of my friends last night and cravings for pizza from my hormone injection sent me out to watch a movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. It has been a while since I read the book, and the movie left me sitting there with one word: wow. The intensity of the drama was definitely deeper in my opinion than any of the rest of the movies.

It also left me thinking of resolutions, and one in particular. Come this next Christmas, I am not going to be living alone. I don't care if I have a roommate or a partner that I can snuggle up to, I intend to be with someone.

I am also going to start getting on the treadmill after work. The ideal objective is to lose weight and get down to 155 from the 190 pounds that I am sitting at now, but I am going to set the bar low and measurable. I am going to do at least 52 intervals of cardiovascular workouts of 20 minutes or more each, whether it's on the treadmill, walking the apartment grounds, swimming or dancing.

I've already signed up for belly dancing lessons. I had the opportunity last year to stumble across great deals on matching belly dancing costume pieces, and noticed that this Spring Westminster College is offering Beginner Belly Dancing, which I am going to take with one of my new co-worker friends, Nadya. That should take care of at least 12 workout intervals for the year.

Then I've got to deliver a performance to remember at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on Valentine's Day Weekend. This will be my first time doing a full monologue by myself of a piece that when done right is extremely powerful and educative of the transsexual experience.

Nadya turned up the heat for me by so far having gotten commitments from 35 of my coworkers to attend one of the three performances. As a result, she unknowingly numbered my remaining days of stealth on the job. I was trying so hard not to let my activism encroach in the workplace. I have little over two months to be permanently instilled mentally as simply another woman on the job before the my history is revealed. I've got to make them love me.

Meanwhile, I am planning to meet sometime next month with the director of a local theater company which is intentionally diverse to see if there's a way I can fit in and be a part. It's a coffee meeting I am looking forward to.

In May, 3 months after my Valentine's Day performance, I am flying to Thailand to have the surgery. The only thing not paid for at this point is the hotel room in Chonburri where I will be staying for 20 days.

Come July, I plan to pay for my kids to come up and spend some time with me, then I need to trade in my car for the lowest cost hybrid I can find.

So by August, I need to take a break from Farmville and start writing Memoirs. That will leave me 4 months to find a friend to live with, preferably a good cuddle friend who can nurse me back to health when I overdo it, who won't run away when I am sick or in pain, who will enjoy at least one of the activities I am involved in, and will grow spiritually with me. Of course, the requirements of having a gentle, considerate, respecting and kind personality still hold and I would love to meet that person today, whoever and wherever you are (even if I already know you).

Hugs and God Bless,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Closets and Circles

If I didn't hang out with some TS folks, where would I find the adorable trans men? They are my preferred gender.

But seriously, I found that finding the right set of trans friends to get to know and sometimes hang out with gives a level of support that's hard to find anywhere else. I found a wonderful network here in Utah.

It seems each person has a closet level that's right for what they can emotionally handle at a given stage of their transition. My closet progressively enlarged from cross-dressing support groups to LGBT support groups to cities in which gender identity is a protected attribute. There is a constant fear of the danger of not passing and not having the privilege that goes with it. A person's closet size is tied to how intrinsically deep that fear is.

But if someone fully transitions, they need to interact with the community at large, but they don't need to leave their support behind. That's one of the biggest mistakes that people who go stealth tend to make: they sever the two-way support that is provided by smaller community. In Kentucky, I found a wonderful group, but was shocked to find that anyone who had progressed as far as I did stopped coming. I was suddenly the big sister when I needed a big sister of my own.

The world can be a shit-hole to women, and to trans-women in particular. If bad things happen, you need someone who can provide emotional support, who can understand and whom you can trust. That's the world that Memoirs of a Transsexual: Welcome to Womanhood is going to open up to. It's not pretty. But it's real. At the same time, I value being there for people to guide them through what I rediscovered on my own with no guide available, except through what I read.

I guess what I am saying is that I move in multiple circles. There's Sophie the woman, Sophie the pan-sexual lesbian, Sophie the trans woman, Sophie the Unitarian Universalist and Sophie the programmer. Some of these areas intersect, and I can navigate those places by dealing with the intersections only.

When I am at work or about town, I am stealth--I am simply a woman. When I am on stage, in print, among transsexual support groups or campaigning for fairness, I am a transsexual woman.

I feel a passion when I am on the stage. I have a thirst for making something as real as possible, emoting and maybe educating at the same time. I feel really part of something to interact with a troupe. Doing any kind of presentation of what it means to be a trans woman, whether on stage, in front of a mic or in print lies at the intersection of my passion and something I can be really good at. It only needs the economic incentive to make it the perfect career for me.

Speaking of which, I just heard back from the director. My audition is going to be on the University of Utah Campus at 6:30 PM tomorrow, after hanging out with the Ladies from Development for a little while. I  have the monologue memorized end-to-end and know exactly where I make mistakes in its recital without having to refer to the printed page. At this point, I know the mistakes will become fewer and I will learn how to graciously recover when I do slip up. I am so excited!

Hugs and God(dess) Bless,

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preparing to Audition--Vagina Monologues, 2011

My vagina is so much friendlier.
I cherish it.
It gives me joy.

-- Eve Ensler, "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy...Or So They Tried," The Vagina Monologues

Yesterday marked exactly 5 months until surgery, and 3 months until I stop taking hormones in preparation, and, as I find myself having memorized the "They Beat the Girl..." since Friday, it marks exactly 2 months before I am delivering a piece that was first written as a Greek chorus as a full monologue.

Since the last time I did them at Fort Worth in 2009, I have missed doing The Vagina Monologues. When I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, I discovered that the auditions were closed to students only. So I missed out.

Then I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah for a permanent software development position. I wound up getting invited to a pre-screen performance of "She Was My Brother," directed by Jerry Rapier of Plan-B Theater. When I heard that they are an intentionally diverse acting troupe, I contacted him with positive results. He is anxious to meet with me in January to see how I can be involved. At his request, I sent a head shot and a resume I threw together.

I discovered Westminster College is giving belly dancing lessons, and I enthusiastically registered, especially since I now have my coin garment to go with my skirt.

On Tuesday, during a TransAction meeting, before leaving to watch a historic vote at Salt Lake City School District, which added sexual identity and gender identity to the list of protected attributes in the district's non-discrimination clause, I discovered through the grapevine that the director for Vagina Monologues at the University of Utah, Victoria Nones, has been looking for transwomen to perform a monologue for the last couple of years. 

When I finally got in contact with Ms. Nones, I found out the auditions have passed and, even though the rest of the parts have been cast, she wants me to come audition sometime this week for "They Beat the Girl..," delivered as a monologue. After not even a day of read-throughs, I surpised myself at my ability to have it almost memorized from end-to-end, and am confident I'll be able to perform it in February.

"They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy...Or So They Tried" has never been performed at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, home of the LDS Church. This monologue was written as a Greek Chorus of 5 by Eve Ensler to be added to the Vagina Monologues as an optional monologue based on interviews with transgender women, and first performed in 2004 by a cast of all transgender women, including names such as Calpernia Addams, whose story is told in Soldier's Girl, and Andrea James.

Over time, the number of cast members has shrunk, making the performance more realistic. In 2009, I had the honor of performing this piece as a dialogue. Now, I have the chance of delivering lines written for 5 people as the monologue of a single character.

As far as I know, I'm the only candidate, since the few other transgender actresses in the area have already committed to performing at Westminster College. The rest of the cast has already been set, and this is a late fill.

If I get the part, I will be involved in three performances Valentine's Day weekend. If you haven't ever been to Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, I strongly encourage you to make plans to go. The proceeds go to help stop the battery of women around the world. The University of Utah is going to be having their performance on Valentine's Day weekend at the Utah Fine Arts Gallery.

Hugs and God Bless,