Home » Gender Identity, Ideas, Tokenized
5 January 2011, 3:00 pm 2 Comments

Tokenized: Papers Please

Submission by Sylvia Renee

I want you to do something for me.

Take a good look at whatever (non-fake) ID you use regularly.  Presumably, despite the awkward look on your face,and the old hair cut, the picture looks like you even if you have to squint a little. Odds are all the text also more or less represents who you are – except that part where you lied about your weight.

Really study your ID. Get to know it.

Imagine every time you have handed it to someone to prove who you were. Every speeding ticket. That time you bought some whiskey to bring to a friends. When you had to fill out an I-9 form to get a job. Any time you left the country.

Now imagine that that that ID looks nothing like you and that the name is wrong. Imagine that there is nothing at all to suggest that the person on that piece of plastic and you are the same person. Go back and replay every scenario but this time use an ID that doesn’t match. How differently could that otherwise benign interaction have gone?

Most people wont ever have to deal with anything other than a bad picture. But that tiny letter beside your name can make all the difference in the world.

This is a daily reality for a lot of trans folk. I am privileged enough to have most of mine sync up – though it cost almost $600 to get to that point. Even then, years after I changed my name, I am still trying to get everything straightened out.

Fun Fact: It is free for a woman to take her husband’s last name.

This time of year people are generally traveling all over the place. On one of my most recent flights I almost couldn’t make it through the security theater check point because the TSA officer didn’t think my ID matched.

“ID please”

“Here you go.”

“Sir, I need to see your real ID.” Despite the fact that I had done my hair and was wearing fairly feminine clothes complete with coordinating jewelry, she decided that I was a man. And wanted to prove it.

“That is my real ID. I can show you every other piece that I have if you need further proof.”

The officer examined my driver’s license in great detail. She was about to call over her supervisor.

I. Was. Terrified. Even before the the TSA implemented the new molestation “enhanced security” techniques I had had nightmares about being singled out and made to explain my identity to malicious officer.

Ultimately she let me through with out any more hassle. But there are so many ways that could have gone differently.

Believe it or not, there are places in the US that will not allow a person to change the gender marker on any of their state identification documents under any circumstances. Back in my home state, the two Republican candidates running for Secretary of State made denying trans people an appropriate ID a central issue in their campaigns. One of them won.

Take a good look at your ID. If everything fits then that picture isn’t just of you. It is also a picture of cis-gender privilege.

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  • Levi said:

    Yeah, I am starting to get into that paranoia stage about my ID…

  • Alex said:

    Really, all of the printed stats on a photo ID except height and age seem at best redundant and at worst inaccurate. Weight? Goes up or down. Eye colour? Hair colour? Contacts and hair dye. Sex? If I “appear to be male” (in the subjective judgement of whoever’s looking at my ID), my photo looks like me (and also appears to be male), what does the M or F tell you? I could be a cis man, a trans man, a butch woman – either cis or trans – who you just thinks looks “male”… Dated mindsets and institutional inertia FTL.