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My transgender daughter had a hearing to change her name last week. The judge, Hon. John Marcucci, approved the change but did not grant her petition to waive the required public announcement.
My daughter had made the common motion to be exempt from public announcement as it would be a stressful imposition on her privacy and could expose her to harassment. The judge told her that he would not grant the waiver unless she had actually suffered threats of harassment, and asked point blank if she had. Brushing aside the bullying and social discomfort that has resulted in a reluctance to even go outside most days, she simply replied “no.” Though she explained her extreme time pressure (she is at school in Canada and needs all of her documents changed before she returns), he said he had already granted an early hearing (one month rather than two after she had filed her paperwork) and there was no reason to waive the “inconvenience” of the public pronouncement.
I do not know this man but could not help wondering whether he had ever thought to be grateful that he is comfortable in the body he was born in. He probably saw himself as just “enforcing the law” (though most Colorado judges routinely waive publicity requirements for transgender people). The clerk apologetically handed us information and directions to The Denver Post’s offices — which turn out to have moved so our walk only resulted in another delay, another person to call, another process to go through.
I want this judge to understand the “inconveniences” my daughter has already suffered. He should be aware of the years she spent in high school agonizing over who she was just as she was taking college entrance exams, AP exams, and wrestling with the college admission process. I want him to imagine starting a new life, requiring daily hormones, just as one starts college (and what it would take to stay on the honor roll as one does that). I want him to read the essay she wrote in her freshman creative writing class about numbers, contemplating that she was already more than half the age that transgender people, on average, die. And I want him to see all of the moments when plans to go out (for dinner, to a concert, to a movie, to see some friends) are scuttled because she just can’t manage to go out today.
Even tracing the name change process alone would help him understand. What would it be like to arrive home from school and immediately begin getting her fingerprints taken, then sending them out for background checks with the FBI and CBI? Could he imagine the dismay she felt when she turned in the paperwork only to find that the next hearing date was after she planned to return to school? Has he thought about what it would be like to accomplish all the steps to change one’s social security number, passport, driver’s license, and accounts between school terms?
As we left my daughter remarked about the particular legal hurdles all trans people must clear. But then said she was among the lucky. She has a family with health insurance and that is able to afford to pay her prescriptions costs. For us the bills for expedited background checks, filling fees, publicizing her name change, and an expedited passport are a nuisance rather than a financial burden. For some it is much worse, imposing impossible trade offs between being financially solvent and being able to be who you are, comfortable in your skin. Even in a tough situation, she could see her privilege. I wish Judge Marcucci would pause to recognized his — much greater — privilege. It might lead him to rule with more compassion for all.
Deborah Avant is a professor at the University of Denver.
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