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Leslie Lagerstrom

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The DMV Test

Posted: 09/20/2012 4:59 pm

"Please, oh, please," I chanted out loud as I stared at the envelope with the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles return address in the upper left-hand corner. Sam would not be home from school for another 30 minutes, and I knew I could not possibly wait that long. After a brief soul-searching moment I rationalized that he would understand my angst, and proceeded to tear open the envelope.

For most people, getting your license in the mail is a non-event, the only excitement coming from seeing your mugshot-style photo for the first time and trying to decide if you will be able to live with it for the next four years. But for Sam, we were anxious, for a reason 99 percent of the population would never consider, but for him it was big deal. For Sam (and therefore for me, because I love him so much), we were eager to see if the gender marker actually read "M."

Arriving at this moment was a long time coming, and getting there was filled with many people and formalities that tried our patience. In Minnesota it is actually easier than in most states for transgender people to have their gender marker changed on their license. That said, it is still a tiresome process that provided many anxious moments for our family. We first had to obtain a formal letter from Sam's doctor verifying that he had transitioned. Once that was secured, we had to complete a Petition for Variance. While not a complex form, we still needed to make sure we answered the questions completely, not providing too much or too little information, because if we erred either way, we might be denied, or so we were warned. Done. Now, all that was left to do was attach the original letter from the doctor to the state form, mail it in, and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Several weeks later, when we had all but given up hope, what our family now fondly refers to as the "Willie Wonka Golden Ticket" arrived (sans the chocolate bar) in the mail (the basis for the reference to Willie Wonka being that the Golden Ticket, otherwise known as the letter from the state, was hard to come by and very much coveted by people like Sam). On official State of Minnesota letterhead, Sam was informed that he was granted permission for the gender marker on his license to be changed from "F" to "M," and that he should bring this Golden Ticket to his road test so that the examiner could properly process his license if he passed. Overcoming what we thought to be the biggest hurdle, we breathed a sigh of relief.

On Aug. 17 we pulled up to the first station at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), where we met a man (we'll call him Brad) whose job it was to ensure that we had all the necessary paperwork before Sam could proceed with the behind-the-wheel test. You know the drill: proof of insurance, a valid instruction permit, and, in our case, the Golden Ticket. The first station was actually a drive-through window, similar to one you would find at your favorite fast-food restaurant, and as we pulled up, Brad greeted us with a hearty "hello." A jovial man, he first looked at Sam's instruction permit and made a lighthearted joke about Sam not being able to take the test that day because it wasn't his birthday. "Don't you know most kids take their driving test on their birthdays?" he asked. "Now you are going to have to wait another year," he said, laughing at his own joke.

Must be DMV humor, I thought to myself.

We watched as he inspected our insurance card, which met with his approval, and then he came to the Golden Ticket. Ah, yes, the Golden Ticket, that document from the state that "outed" Sam to this man. We were used to these types of awkward encounters, but that didn't make them any less uncomfortable. Scanning the Golden Ticket, Brad's demeanor changed immediately. He informed us that he would be right back and then pulled the drive-through window shut with a bang. We giggled under our breaths (a coping mechanism adopted long ago for this kind of situation) as we watched Brad pick up the phone, imagining that he was calling the Willie Wonka of the DMV, or someone else who could help him accept what that letter represented. After several minutes he was back but still displayed a sullen attitude. As he returned the paperwork to Sam he said, "Here you go. Please proceed to Lane 1, give all of these documents to the person administering your test, and good luck, SAM-UUU-ELLL," accentuating the masculine derivation of the name.

"Let it go," I warned as Sam pulled forward, but the first wound was already inflicted.

Next up was Bill, the examiner who would ride along with Sam during his test. In hindsight, we should have known things were not destined to go well when he approached our car wearing a bright-yellow, reflective vest similar to the kind worn by construction workers. Why on Earth would someone whose job it is to ride in a car all day need to wear that vest? I thought to myself, but I chose not to fixate on his choice of apparel. The second red flag came when Sam handed Bill his documents. Like Brad, he spent little time looking at the insurance card and permit, but when he got to the Golden Ticket, you could hear his mind come to a screeching halt, similar to the sound brakes make on asphalt. He proceeded to read the letter from the state over and over again, all the while shaking his head.

Emotional wound number two had now been inflicted. And with that I think Sam lost all of his confidence. Bill found a reason to fail Sam that day, for a minor infraction that could have been argued. Dejected and angry, we headed home, wondering whether the failure was caused by Sam's nerves or discrimination on Bill's part -- something we will never know for sure.

A week later Sam retook the road test with a different examiner, and this time he passed. To be safe, we decided that that person did not need to see the Golden Ticket until after the test was done, which made Sam feel more at ease, knowing for sure there was no bias.

This brings me back to where this blog started. Although we knew that we had followed all the rules in order to have his gender correctly listed as male on his license, we have found that nothing is guaranteed when you are dealing with transgender issues. And so, on this afternoon, as I tore open that envelope, I held my breath and crossed my fingers -- and then jumped up and down like a child when I saw on Sam's new driver's license that coveted letter "M."

Note: The rules for changing one's gender marker on a driver's license vary from state to state. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a user-friendly resource in the form of a United States map that provides the current policies by state.

 

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