I recently had an encounter with our mental health system. (I'm fine. Now.) I don't have to tell you that almost any encounter with our health system is embarrassing; that seems to be the state of American healthcare. But what do you think the frosting on my mortification cake--the little extra bit of humiliation to go with the spongy cake of being put in a room with no sharp corners and the delectable pudding filling of despair that having them take my belt away proved to be?

Having to out myself. Three times--once to the triage nurse, once to the nurse who took my vitals, and once to the doctor.

For a Christmas present, to help me out of my recent dry spell of gainful employment, my parents gave me some old bonds they had purchased for me to help pay for college. (That there's anything left is mostly because I was a scholarship student.) This is good news for me: they would pay about half my rent.

But of course, you know, they're in my old name. So when I arrive at the bank, I have to out myself again--to the teller, the teller's supervisor, and the supervisor's assistant, since the supervisor won't be in tomorrow--I couldn't cash them today, because I don't carry any ID with my former name on it, and I didn't happen to have a copy of my name change order with me. (For a long time I did in fact carry one around with me for just such an emergency.)

Last week I had a job interview. (I didn't get it.) And in addition to worrying about all the things any woman might worry about on an interview (Am I too aggressive? Not aggressive enough? Too feminine? Not feminine enough?), even beyond worrying about whether or not they'd clock me as trans walking in the door, I had one big worry--that they might pull a credit bureau on me (an increasingly common practice) and find some old accounts that were still in my name, outing me immediately. (This did actually happen once when I was applying for a job--they didn't say anything to me, but I overheard one of the supervisors wondering about my report.)

It's not so easy being green, or transsexual in today's digital culture.

In the old times you would transition, immediately break off all contact with your friends and family, move to another place, and start life over with nary a loose thread to worry about. (In fact, in the 1960s and 70s, this was actually the encouraged method of transitioning.) Now, there are still people who do just that--walk off into the sunset, obsess about expunging all records of their former gender, and lie awake dreaming of the day they would just invent those memory-wiping dildos from Men in Black already.

Nowadays many transsexuals don't try to burn out their entire history. Many have deep relationships with the people they know; families are becoming more and more accepting, in general; and for those fortunate few, like me, who live in a place that actually protects against anti-trans discrimination, there's much less worry about transition affecting their work life.

But that doesn't mean that they don't care if people find out. I, for one, don't make it a practice of telling people I've met since transition, even if I have many friends who knew me from before. And often it can be painful to be reminded of the past. Or to have to out yourself just navigating the healthcare system, or paying bills, or any number of mundane activities cis people take for granted.

And of course it's much harder to simply remove all traces of yourself nowadays. Your name gets into so many databases; most of my junk mail still comes in my old name. Nor is the always process particularly easy--or, as I found out with my health insurer, sometimes there's one process for cis people who change their names (like many married women still do) and an entirely different and more (arbitrarily) rigorous system for trans people changing their names. (I'm still pissed at that one--I had to humiliatingly argue with my pharmacist about getting a prescription filled because my ID and insurance card conflicted.)

The ancients believed that names had power over the things they stood for: and maybe they were right, because even if I hadn't been so lazy about getting the name change out to everybody I owe money to (or holds my money, a smaller group), I fear my old name would continue to haunt me--the ghosts of mailing lists past, the odd Wikipedia article, the occasional uninformed relative. Coming out may have been hard--but nowadays staying in can be just as tricky.

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