Social Security Administration is running its office on an inconsistent policy regarding gender marker amendments. The official policy states the following items of proof are needed to amend your personal information on file with the SSA:
• proof “of identity establishing that he or she is the person on the record to whom SSA assigned the SSN, and”
• documentation “supporting the change” such as “an amended birth certificate” or “a letter from his or her surgeon or the attending physician.”
When I went to amend my information, however, I was informed that only an amended birth certificate counts as documentation of gender change.
By running their offices on a dual policy four negative consequences are possible and I think it’s important to examine each of these and how they affect the transitioning individual:
1. Immediate Discrimination
The transitioning person has gone in good faith to meet the requirements that the SSA has outlined in public documentation. Upon arriving they are informed of an alternate policy and treated like a simpleton incapable of understanding basic policy. This also opens the door to being “outed” by the representative to others in the room. The clerk is already of the opinion the applicant is below standard intelligence so they are less likely to take other aspects of the applicant (such as gender identity) seriously. This can cause major issues.
Here’s how it played out for me. I presented my documentation and was asked this: Do you have an amended birth certificate Mister Song? With this question several issues arise. First, I was immediately denied legitimacy and the right to self-determination with the refusal to address me with the proper title. This is discrimination. If a cis-woman arrives she would not intentionally be addressed as male because it would be grounds for a harassment case; why then is a trans-woman with proper identification of her status being addressed as male? Because the person speaking to her refuses to acknowledge her identity and as a trans-individual she is not considered legitimate and therefore (supposedly) has no grounds for a case against the offending party.
Second, this is a public place and the clerk has now identified me as trans to everyone in ear shot. This makes me the center of public curiosity and results in stares and whispers. Further, should there be anyone in the room who posses extreme bigotry and a violent nature, they have been alerted to my presence and I am more likely to be a target. By refusing to acknowledge the proper documentation the clerk has exposed me to additional threats beyond what I may have already wandered into just by being there.
This particular clerk compounded this action by, while discussing my petition with a supervisor, pointing at me and saying “Him; he wants to be female in the system.” This occurred after I had been told to have a seat and was said loud enough for me to hear, thus anyone nearby has been informed of my transgender status. This is a violation of ADA law that gives those with medical conditions the right to self-disclosure (see point four below).
When I approached the counter and asked that I be referred to by the feminine pronoun (really I should have asked I be included in a conversation centered on me) I was told I was being argumentative and instructed to take a seat until they were ready to explain things to me. At that point the on site police officer was called over to keep an eye on me in case I should decide to make trouble. This made me a public spectacle and now the entire room has focused it’s attention on me. Anonymity has dropped to zero as has my right to live free of harassment.
2. One Hurdle Too Many
The transition process is difficult and bogged down in red tape and the pre-conceived notions of an ill-informed public. By having inconsistent policies the SSA has created a needless hurdle for the transitioning person to surmount. For some this may be a breaking point and they may give up, leaving them stuck in a state of dual existence, female in some places and male in others. This makes functioning in society impossible and dangerous (more on that in a moment). It also adds to the stresses that result in the above average suicides rates in transitioning individuals.
Some might argue that this is a positive in that it weeds out those who aren’t strong enough to make the transition. I suppose they are right. Perhaps we should apply that logic to other conditions and situations. If your kid can’t handle being bullied at school, she/he isn’t strong enough to deserve a safe environment. If a cancer patient despairs the intensity of treatment, they aren’t deserving of said treatment. That kind of logic is sadistic.
My situation was compounded by the clerk and the clerk’s supervisor refusing to explain or produce documentation of the policy they claimed prevented me from using anything other than an amended birth certificate. Let me tell you, I felt despondent after my visit and considered the idea of giving up, but that leads to a slew of problems when seeking employment.
3. Employment Issues
First, let’s say the job applicant has a wonderful interview and is highly qualified for the job. The potential employer makes a tentative offer and runs the traditional checks through SSA. Now, because of inconsistent policies that prevented the applicant from amending their gender marker, the employer will receive documents that refer to the applicant by the opposite gender. Suddenly, the applicant doesn’t look so good, perhaps they seem mentally unstable. Would you want to hire someone who is mentally unstable? And anti-discrimination laws do not help in this case because the applicant can be seen as falsifying their application documents and have their employment offer rescinded.
The situation is the same for existing employees. They can be terminated on the grounds they falsified their application. If the employer doesn’t terminate them this confidential information becomes available to anyone who can access employee records. If the person with access has questionable morals, the transitioning person can become the victim of office gossip and discrimination that can create a hostile work environment.
To avoid this issue the transitioning person would be required to identify her/himself as transgendered in the work place. If they can “pass” without doing so, why should they be forced to disclose? This leads to the fourth and most important point:
4. The Right of Self-Disclosure
The ADA protects people with biological and psychological conditions from having to engage in disclosure that could lead to discrimination or dangerous situations. However you define the transgender condition, biological or psychological, it is covered by the ADA. the SSA’s inconsistent policy creates situations for the transitioning person that denies them the right to self-disclosure. Tell the world what you are, the SSA says, or we will. This opens the transgendered person up to discrimination in all areas of life: employment, credit, housing, legal services, et cetera.
When you strip the bureaucratic BS from the situation you are left with a discriminatory practice designed to punish transgendered individuals for being who they are and that undermines their ability to live as a respectable, honest individuals in society. It dehumanizes them, reducing then to a condition or psychosis that can be ignored and holds no community or political presence.
Consider the words of Harriet Tubman, “None of us is free, until we all is free.” If we allow this type of discrimination is anyone free?
- Social Security no longer notifying employers when gender markers don’t match records (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Social Security Administration Puts an End to Policy Endangering Transgender Workers (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Social Security Quits The Trans Outing Business (queerty.com)
- Trans Employees No Longer Under Threat from Social Security (bilerico.com)
- Social Security Ends Gender Verification Letters (lezgetreal.com)
- The Problem of Self and Regeneration (a Caitlin On . . . post) (caitlinsong.wordpress.com)