I few months ago I joked to a friend that DOMA would fall just as soon as Gail and I didn’t need it anymore.
As it turns out, I was exactly right.
Gail and I got married in MA in 2004, as soon as it became legal. It’s a sweet story. Way before the ruling came down that legalized same-sex marriage in our state, we had been planning a religious ceremony for May 23, 2004. We had the bowling alley booked and the rabbi lined up (Yes. I did say bowling alley). Then, all of a sudden, near the end of 2003, the announcement came that we’d be able to get legally married as of May 17, 2004. The wedding we’d already planned became our legal wedding. Ours was the first marriage license our rabbi signed (she’d been refusing to sign them for anyone in protest).
In the reaction to the DOMA decision, I hear loud and clear the frustration that there were/are many other things we could/should have been working on as a movement during the many years marriage has been the top issue for the queer lobby, and that the politics surrounding this fight have been fraught, especially for trans people (I love the sentiment in this video — thanks to trans*forming family for pointing it out). But the fact remains that, for my family, even state marriage made a huge difference, particularly with regard to parenting. I had parental rights when our daughter was born. I was on her birth certificate. The same was true for Gail when our youngest was born — in each case the non-genetic parent had (some) parental rights immediately upon birth and these rights were conferred by our marriage. When we completed our second parent adoption (which we did to make sure we had parental rights in all states), the process was smooth, partially because it relied on the same legal structure married straight people used. We’ve never had to count on the benevolence of our employers to get family health insurance coverage — the were required to provide it (though it was taxed at a higher rate due to DOMA, but I digress).
In our our day-to-day life, especially when it came to parenting, even state level marriage made a real difference.
But navigating being married at the state level, and NOT married at the federal level (which was the case for us as long as DOMA stood), was extremely confusing. Especially at tax time. We’ve been dreaming of doing one married federal return since 2004. That’s a long time. There are other arguably more important changes also, but I promise you, DOMA made us miserable — more miserable than your average couple doing their taxes — at least once a year.
But about a week before the supreme court ruling, with much less fanfare, the social security administration made a change that, for my family, made the DOMA decision largely irrelevant (for us).
The social security administration has long had a requirement for gender confirmation surgery to change gender marker. For me, this meant a change to my federal gender marker was a long way off (even though I’m now listed as male on my state driver’s license, and can change my passport anytime). Thus, for tax purposes, we were going to have to remain a “same-sex couple” for quite a while longer. But then they changed the requirements. Now a doctor’s letter indicating “appropriate clinical treatment” is sufficient to change gender marker.
Thus, even without the DOMA ruling, I’ll be federally married once I take a letter from my doctor to the social security office.**
I have the letter. Right here. I could take it in tomorrow***. I have a friend who did hers a couple weeks ago at the same office, no problem.
But I’m dragging my feet.
I have a couple of ideas about why. First, even when things are arguably changing in my favor, I just generally do not like things that go different than planned. I get used to a certain plan for how things will go, and if the plan changes, even if for the better, I still feel unsettled. I then think through, again, all the different ramifications, any possible fallout, even for decisions I’ve already made. It’s exhausting.
I also recognize the feeling I’ve had with every step I’ve taken with transition. At every step along the way I’ve thought something like “Oh no! What if I’m missing something and I’m wrong about this? Can I undo this? What if everything gets worse. I might need to back up.” I’ve felt this so many times now that it is old hat. I know I should just do whatever the thing in question is. I’ll inevitably feel better.
But I’ve noticed a particular tenor to my doubt this time. It came out as me saying “I don’t know Gail, maybe I shouldn’t change gender marker yet. I mean, I barely even pass. Maybe I need to wait until I’m more convincing.” Gail just laughed and said “whatever” (in a nicer way than it sounds). I think this is the updated version of the part of me that said so often, especially early on, “Maybe I’m just making this up” (over and over, much to my dear wife’s great annoyance).
At the heart of this feeling (or collection of feelings), is a sense that even very small steps feel like pushing my way into a space I don’t have a right to occupy, that I am overstepping, trespassing. This feeling comes up strongly at some funny times. For the longest time I felt like I shouldn’t wear a tie even though I really (really really) wanted to wear a tie. I thought people who “knew” (and by “knew,” I mean have known me primarily pre-transition) would think I was being silly wearing a tie, that somehow it would imply I was just playing dress up. If anyone made a joking comment about the tie, I expected I would have felt crushed, in part because I wanted so badly to “get to” wear it. And yes, I know, plenty of women wear ties (and look great in them) — I could have just worn the damn tie. But that’s not the point — the point is I wanted to wear a tie as a man wearing a tie, but doing so felt like it would be almost too notable, that if I did it, it would be seen as a joke, or like I was making a statement.****
So when I think about going to get my gender marker changed, and I keep finding other errands to run first, part of what I’m thinking is “Who am I to just say I’m male? This is ridiculous. It can’t be this easy. I mean, look at me, no one is ever going to buy this.” Just like the tie — my hesitation has much more to do with how much I want it than how little.
** This is mostly true, but it’s not quite this simple. My understanding is that our situation still would have been a little bit legally iffy, because it might be possible for the federal government not to recognize our original “same-sex” marriage. Thus, I had been advised that we should consider getting our marriage license re-issued in order to be certain we’d be OK federally. The ruling on DOMA does make our legal situation a bit more secure for this reason.
*** Well, not actually tomorrow. I have to go to work tomorrow. But you know what I mean.
**** I did finally get to wear my tie. It was awesome. (many thanks to A & K for the wedding invite that served as the catalyst…and congratulations!)