I recently applied for Medicare. A few weeks after submitting my application on line, I received a letter in the mail from Social Security, telling me to call not a phone number but a specific person, named in the letter. I couldn’t imagine what would warrant a letter telling me to call an actual person.
I called Usha, and a real person answered the phone. O.M.G. really??? She looked up my name and asked me security questions to verify it was really me. Then she said the absolute last thing I would ever have expected: “The gender you checked on your form doesn’t match what’s in our system.”
As a therapist, I advised hundreds of people: “Before you ever start telling people you’re going to transition, before you ever start taking hormones – right now, start making a list of all the places your name and gender appear. Include phone numbers, email addresses – whatever information will help you make the change once you reach that point. Add to the list as you think of new things. Library card. Your bank. School. Believe me, you will be so grateful to not have to create this list once people are reacting to your transition, especially if you’re also going to be dealing with a shifting hormone balance.”
No one ever gave me that advice 25 years ago. At the time, I was too young to have much interaction with Social Security. I got a new Social Security card with my name change – but I changed my name long before I started taking hormones and could change my gender. There is no gender indicated on my Social Security card. I forgot I’d never made that change to the Social Security system.
Usha: “Do you have paperwork that will verify your gender change?”
Me, nearly falling over laughing, “I might have a file… somewhere… maybe.”
Usha, beginning to laugh herself as the ludicrousness of the situation was clear: “Ordinarily, you’d have to take paper documentation to your local Social Security office along with your ID, to prove it’s you. Because of Covid, the offices aren’t open, so I’m going to waive this requirement and process your application.” Yesterday I received my Medicare card in the mail.
So, trans folks reading this – make sure you’ve changed your name and gender everywhere you need to! And if, like me, you have transitioned long before you’re dealing with Medicare or Social Security benefits – double check that you’ve changed your gender in their system!