It was a difficult birth after one of the longest labors known to humankind. But the baby finally arrived at 4:30 p.m. PDT.
Name: Fran J. Fried. Height: 5-9 1/2. Weight: You don’t want to know. Date of birth: Sept. 21, 2010. Place of birth: California Department of Motor Vehicles Branch, Olive Avenue and Weber Street, Fresno.
It’s a girl.
As of yesterday (Sept. 21), the state of California officially recognizes me as female. Certainly not your usual chica, but a girl nonetheless.
I am now free to move about the country. And get a passport with F on it, too, since the State Department recently relaxed its rules on gender identity to fall in line with most of the rest of the world.
And since I’m not planning on having sexual reassignment surgery, barring some incredible circumstance, this is about as official as it gets. Almost all the heavy lifting is over. Almost. This effectively ends a process that was set in motion 2 years, 8 months and 12 days before — the night I had my epiphany about the gender thang — but in reality has been ongoing since, well, my actual birth.
And this rebirth brings up the philosophical question: Is it possible to have your second birth after you begin your second adolescence?
Last Thursday, when the judge approved my legal name change, I was all ready to go home, doll up and head to DMV for the new license. However, he threw a blanket on that when he said, “We’ll mail the paperwork, and you should have it within a week. Will that work for you?”
Damn. Not like I had a choice, right? But I had waited this long; I could wait a few more days. So I went to Club One and played poker instead — celebrated my last official act of manhood by playing in the $14 hold ’em tournament with over 40 other guys. (Came in 14th, the first time I’ve ever gotten past the halfway point in a tourney …)
Sunday afternoon, I returned from coffee to find that my housemates had gone through the afternoon mail drop from the day before, and there were three pieces of mail on the table outside my door: junk mail, junk mail … and an envelope from Superior Court addressed to my former name. Three copies of my court order, in case I lose one or two.
Wow — already! This changes things. I can set the wheel in motion a lot sooner than I anticipated. But first …
A last-minute mental speedbump!
The voice saying “What the hell are you doing?” was making one last desperate assault on Fort Frannie.
Are you really doing this? Are you sure you’re a girl? You’re really a man. You know, this is the point of no going back — no being a boy when you feel like it, no going back at some point and getting the gender changed back. Besides, you can’t afford it again. This is it. You really want to be a girl the rest of your life?
I felt a little out of sorts on Friday as all this stewed about my brain, though by the time evening rolled around, I actually had a wonderful time. I saw “Howl” at the Reel Pride film fest with my friends Shana and Shannon, then went bar-hopping with them, along with their old friend from college, Kelly, who they hadn’t seen in seven years; her boyfriend, Matt; and, in a slight bit of awkwardness, an ex-boyfriend of Shannon who happened to be there when we got to the Starline Grill.
The two sides of the Gemini, and the gender thang, were on full display. Since I was kinda the odd wheel in this sextet, the one without the common history, I floated between conversations, a bit of social stereo separation. Kelly and I hit it off great; she’s a MAC addict, and we spent beaucoup time talking about makeup and shoes. Matt and I hit it off great, too; we talked about Hot Wheels and comic books. It’s an interesting life, really …
Saturday was most excellent — my friend Heather had a rare Saturday off from work, and since she doesn’t drive, and we both needed to get out of here, I picked her up and set my internal GPS to a place I’d passed through but never visited before: Monterey. Mid to late afternoon, we ended up at Cannery Row. Why not? I figured. So the parking fairy was working for us, as Heather was in the car, and I found a free spot on the street and we started walking.
I knew they had spruced up the place since Steinbeck’s day, but I had no clue it was a foofy tourist trap! A kazillion foofy little chain places and some hoity little hotels and a solid dose of ersatz nostalgia. Makes Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco and the Jax Brewery in New Orleans seem like slums in comparison. Plus, a world-class aquarium you need to at least be a yuppie to afford ($28 a ticket). Whatever character the place might have had back in the day was long gone — sanitized for your protection. I think Steinbeck pisses in his grave each time someone walks into Bubba Gump’s.
Heather made a sage observation: “You can tell the tourists from the locals because they’re the ones with tattoos.”
A couple of cool girl things happened. Early on, after 2 1/2 hours of driving, I desperately needed a place to pee, and the first coffee shop we saw had no bathrooms. (That’s cruel and unusual form of torture — a caffeine peddler without a place to piss?) We walked a little father north and found ourselves in front of a fancy Italian restaurant along the water. The hostess at the door, a blonde at least as tall as me, asked if we needed a menu, and I told her we were just looking. Looking for your bathroom, that is. She let us look around, since the place has a wonderful waterfront view. And on the way out, I saw the downstairs to the bathrooms. Relief at last.
On the way out, the very friendly hostess was standing outside the door, and she told me she loved my eye shadow. It was MAC violet pigment, same as the photo up top. “I love MAC!” she said. She also loved my liner. Her name’s Britte, and she told me she wished she could do something with her eyes. I told her I learned how to do my eyes from a MAC boutique (Fillmore and Pine, San Francisco), and she should find a MAC one day and let them work on her and learn from them the way I did.
We exchanged hugs (“That made my day,” she said), and Heather and I headed into the thick of the tourist trap — and there, off a pier where a dork in a Jimmy Buffett skipper’s cap was playing hokey versions of pop songs, was a stairway to the water. Heather had wanted to get her feet wet (and got more than that when a stray wave came up from behind and smacked her in the ass). And as I took pictures of her, a woman walked by and said, “Cute shoes.” (Black patent ballerina slippers from Payless — cheap and comfortable for walking.)
We got back to Fresno close to 10 that night. I dropped off Heather and I was very hungry. I parked in the Landmark lot, slipped on the heels Heather found for me in a thrift shop a week and a half before (black patent T-straps, brand new, $3); I plan to wear them to my friends’ wedding this Saturday, so I wanted to break them in. So I walked down to Livingstone’s to get a little dinner, then came back to Landmark. There was a DJ that night for a change, and around 1:00, I was starting to fade and getting ready to go, but he threw on “Into the Groove,” and yours truly — who won the Halloween costume contest at the Grotto in New Haven in 1986 for my “Desperately Seeking Susan”-era Madonna — could not resist. I threw myself, uninhibited, into the crowd of girls on the floor. Now I could go home. I truly felt girlish again. For the moment.
Sunday was a blah sort of day. I didn’t feel very girlish. And I didn’t even watch a down of football all day. Just a big blah — part of it was not having recovered yet from the day before, part of it was the impending document change. And here comes the final assault:
“Are you really a girl?”
“You’ve been through this so many times now. Of course you are! Yes, you have a dick, but no, you’re most certainly not a man. You’ve never been happy as one. You know that. You’re the happiest you’ve ever been, outside of the job. You’re one of the girls. Don’t you love it when people tell you you’re beautiful? You really want to throw that all away? You know where you’re going.”
“Well, can I get away without doing the gender change (on the license)?”
“Now why would you do that? You went through all this trouble to get the name change, and now you’re gonna stop at the last minute? You’re just scared because there’s a degree of finality about it. There’s a sense of permanence about it, and you’ve never been comfortable with that. Just do it. Once you do it, the cosmic doors and windows are gonna open for you. And the job is gonna happen once you get this out of the way.”
That’s pretty much how Sunday went.
Got my usual bike ride in Monday morning and got a big surprise to boot.
Street crews started water main work in the middle of the main intersection of the Tower District — in front of the Tower Theatre, Olive Avenue and Wishon Avenue/Fulton Street — and it’ll go on a month. Since Wishon/Fulton is part of my usual bike route, I took a detour. It took me by the garage where I take my car on Divisadero and H streets. Dave Kurata, the owner, was outside and he waved. And it hit me — maybe I should have a talk with him. Up to this point, I’ve been praying, making deals with God, that if my car’s gonna break down, let it happen with me in boy drag. So far, so good. But with the license change coming, and soon, and me being girl almost full-time now, I think I better clue him in.
I’ve been going to Dave since I worked at the Bee and his garage was three blocks down E Street. He’s not cheap, but once he fixes something, it stays fixed. And he’s been good with working within my unemployment budget.
Anyway, he was sitting in a pickup and pulled up to him.
“No, no problems with the car today.” He chuckled. We bullshitted for a couple minutes, and then I said, “Hey, I’ve gotta fill you in on something. My friends and family know about this, and I realized maybe I should let you in on this in case I break down on the road and have to be towed in. I’m in between genders.”
He looked at me.
“I’ve known about it for a long time.”
I had a flashback to the reaction I got when I had the talk with my brother Ken a year ago: “It’s nothing I haven’t known for a long time.”
“Holy fucking shit!”
Since he works on the cars of many Bee people past and present, I figured one of them had told him.
“No. I’ve just known about it for a long time.”
So I learned that mechanics are fonts of information in the same way hairdressers and manicurists are. I wasn’t gonna get his source out of him, but at this point, it really doesn’t matter much.
Again, “Holy fucking shit!”
“Yeah, I don’t have a fucking problem with that,” he said. “You choose to live the way you want, if that’s what makes you happy.”
People’s acceptance, with no resistance or bullshit, makes me happy.
That made me happy.
Onward back to the house, to the shower, to my therapist, then to the Social Security office.
The Social Security Administration office closest to my house is a nondescript building a block from Fresno Yosemite International Airport. I pulled up, made sure I had the envelope with my court order and my original card, which I think I signed in sixth grade. (I can’t believe how neat my handwriting was — it was one of the first casualties of journalism.)
I walked in, and there was nobody at the front desk, but I saw an electronic self-serve kiosk along the opposite wall. I took a number and sat down.
I had never been in a Social Security office before. What a depressing place — dull fluorescent lighting, rows of plastic institutional chairs, cheaply paneled walls … and not one magazine newer than 10 years old. Cosmos and Glamours that went back to 1995. I chose the newest mag there — Vogue from April 2000. The celebs might have been a little dated, but the legwear and some of the shoes weren’t.
My number was called. I went to Window 2. The young woman was very pleasant. I showed her my court order and my old card. She asked for my photo ID; I groaned. (“You mean the one I’m trying to get rid of?” She laughed.) OK, I gave it up. She didn’t bat an eyebrow. This gender thang would be no big deal for either of us.
She went into script mode — “Under penalty of perjury (Perjury? Whooooo …), do you attest that all your answers are true to the best of your knowledge?” Something close to that.
“Yes, your honor.” Hell, I didn’t even have to do that for my court appearance!
“Yeah, I know, I sound like a judge, don’t I? I just have to go through all that.”
So it took about 15 minutes, but we were done. Painless. She gave me back my court order and a receipt, and told me the new card would reach me by mail within two weeks. I don’t know her name, but she was very nice.
Except, as I got into the car, I realized she didn’t give me my old card. Was I supposed to take it, or was she holding onto it? I walked back in.
A rent-a-cop who wasn’t there when I first walked in told me, “I’m gonna have to see your purse.”
I wasn’t happy. “I didn’t have to go through this when I first walked in.”
“Well, in was in the back using the bathroom.” Well if the security of the place was such a big fucking deal, why wasn’t there someone spelling him on his bathroom break? And why didn’t he come up to me when I was witting there my first time in? So much for education. Give a guy a badge, even a fake one …
I dropped the purse on the desk. He wasn’t happy, but neither was I. He was satisfied I wasn’t a threat to national security and let me go.
“I wasn’t a threat to you the first time I walked in,” I said.
“But what about the second time?”
Turned out she kept my old card. All was well.
The last obstacle, the last mental speedbump, crumbled on my bike ride yesterday morning.
I made the swing west and north to my 7-Eleven on Palm and McKinley avenues to get my lottery tickets. As I pulled up, I saw a familiar face standing in front of the laundromat next door. Vince Corsaro, drummer and linchpin of The Sleepover Disaster, a local band with a national cachet, was doing his wash, and I came over.
I told him I was planning to do the DMV thing in the afternoon, and I told him I was going through the last speedbumps of “What the fuck am I doing?” He retorted with the convincer: “Well, it seems you made your decision a long time ago. It’s just a matter of going down there and doing it.”
Done. I think I just needed someone to put it all in perspective, and Vince did it in a rimshot moment. Thanks, Vincenzo …
Vince had told me he heard the lines at the DMV on Olive and Weber, a couple blocks from where I lived my first five years here, weren’t very long in the afternoon, so I didn’t rush to get things done. I made sure my face was just right, since this was for something resembling posterity — my first official photo ID as a woman.
I threw on a pair of jeans, since I’d look out of place all dressed up at DMV, and I brought along some symbolism important to absolutely no one but me: purple, my favorite color — my favorite purple top and a purple headband; the necklace and bracelet Heather gave me for Christmas a couple years ago; the abalone earrings my dear old friend Pam bought me down by the Cliff House in San Francisco in April; some of what’s left of my very first tube of MAC lipstick, a creamy fuchsia called Up the Amp; and my favorite black patent Mary Janes — the shoe style that was my first clue that something was different about me back in childhood.
I arrived at 10 after 2. It was a slow day at the DMV — at least by Calcutta standards. There must have been well over 200 people waiting in every corner of the building and spilling outside, and the information desk line just to get a number was four deep in front of me.
I told the woman at the desk I was there for a name change and gender change on my license, told her I had my court order, my gender form from my doctor and a name-change receipt from Social Security, since the DMV’s identity information bank is tied into the SSA’s. I think she was pleasantly surprised that I had my shit together, and she gave me a number, G144, and a DL 44, the name-change form. I don’t think the gender thang fazed her in the least.
There’s no such thing as a simple “take a number” at DMV. I’m not sure of the hows and whys of their different codes, but there were eight different letter categories, with dozens of people in each, all waiting to filter their way down to the same set of 31 windows. And the Gs were only up to 102 when I arrived. This was going to be a long one. I was smart enough to have brought my current read, Jon Krakauer’s Pat Tillman book, “Where Men Win Glory.” So after two minutes of filling out the form, if that, I dug in, and I finally made it to the halfway point of the book, where Tillman and his brother Kevin completed basic training, passed Army Ranger training and arrived at Fort Lewis.
I stood the whole time I was there. The first hour dragged, but the second hour was going along at cruising speed. One by one, the numbers dropped off the board. At one point I used the bathroom, and as I was washing up and fixing my hair, a woman in her late 50s/early 60s came in to use the lone toilet. From the stall, she told me how she didn’t know the lines would be that long, and I told her a friend of mine had said the lines would be shorter in the afternoon. Just regular banter between two women. If she knew I was a woman with a little something extra, she didn’t let on.
About quarter to 4, the Gs finally were up to 140. The nervous fidget in me had been playing with my hair, scratching an occasional itch, and I figured it was about time to comb and fix my hair one last time. As perfect as it’s gonna be. I couldn’t go back to reading the book. And with the lengthy wait, I wasn’t feeling any nerves anymore — just a sense of “Let’s get this the fuck over with.”
At 4 on the dot, an hour-50 into my wait, the robotic woman’s voice — the one that suspiciously sounds like the obnoxious voice from the self-serve checkout at Fresh & Easy — called out, “Ticket number G144, please report to Window 5.” Almost all the way around from where I was standing Here we go. I was starting to feel a little excitement.
But another wait. An older woman in a wheelchair was bending the clerk’s ear about something, about how she and her daughter (granddaughter?) had been there a long time and their number hadn’t been called. Anyway, the clerk, named Lisa, took care of her and was finally ready for me.
I had all my info ready for her: the court order, the gender form from my doc, the SSA receipt. All should be fine. And she was very pleasant with me, in a matter-of-fact way. Plus, she looked up my record and got a clean sheet: “You’re easy. Usually I’ll punch up a record and get two pages back.”
Then she said, “Will you excuse me for a minute?” and walked over to a supervisor, then returned. I wasn’t panicked or nervous, but it did make me pause for half a beat. “Is everything OK?” I asked very calmly.
“Yeah,” she said. “You’re OK. I just want to make sure I do this right.”
While she was clearly OK with me as a person, it was clear that she hadn’t done gender change on a license before. And while I couldn’t see her screen, I knew there were at least a few computer hoops she had to jump through that she had never encountered. It actually took four visits by two supervisors to straighten it all out. Also, four different fee quotes — first it was $31; then it was free, since it was a name change and my license was still good and I wasn’t changing my license number; then it was $25; finally, it was free.
Both of us and the two supervisors kept a good sense of humor about it, though, as there were no complications except for stumbling through the computer process. As Lisa said, and I was thinking, “You’ve waited this long — what’s a couple minutes more at this point?”
Finally, all was well. She gave me an eye test, the first three lines of Chart B of Charts A-C. Then she gave me a provisional license: My new name and an F where the M used to be. Back in Connecticut, from whence I came, you get your license a few minutes after you get your photo taken. Since California’s government is a fourth-world country, it would take two weeks for the new ID to arrive in the mail. I was not happy, but maybe the state will surprise me, like the court did.
She punched a hole in my old license and let me keep it for posterity, for laughs and for the odd chance I’d need something resembling a photo ID. She then took me over to take my new photo. I hate technology. I had to place my right thumb on a scanner before my photo was shot. The computer kept telling Lisa my thumb was leaning to the right when it was pressed flat on the scanner. Finally, one of her co-workers helped her work around it, they had their scan and we had our photo. She said it turned out very well, but the image was very fainty on the printout she showed me. I could see a little bit of extra chin, though — not happy with that.
But I walked out of the place, at last, at 20 to 5. Two-and-a-half hours of labor. But I was done. In the eyes of the state of California, I was now legally a woman. Somehow, I didn’t feel any different, though, just disappointed that for all this time and effort — on what very quietly, very subtly, was one of the biggest days of my life — I didn’t even have anything tangible to show for it. I didn’t have the license yet.
But I did have a sign of relief. All the hoop-jumping is over. I’m still breathing deep breaths a day later.
I drove down the street to Revue for a cup of coffee and to set up shop to start this little tale. Heather came by; our friend Dana dropped her off at the shop.
We celebrated by getting dinner at Livingstone’s. (The real celebration will take place soon, when she throws me an “It’s a Girl!” party at Landmark. And I have no say in this — she’s throwing a party and I’m coming.) As we sat there, I told her at least couple of times, “I can’t believe I did this.” She smiled a beaming smile. So did I.
Then up to the Walmart on Herndon to replace a headlight that had just burned out. It was actually my first time in Walmart as my better half, and no raised any eyebrows that I could perceive. The more uneventful that going out in public becomes, the less apprehensive I am — the happier I am.
I did force myself to go down to Landmark for one drink. I didn’t want to go, really, even though it’s my hangout bar — I had been there for the Saints-Niners game Monday, and I’m heading down shortly for the weekly pub quiz. But I did have one Absolut Peach-and-cranberry. Then back to a house where the wifi’s been out the last day or so. Hence, the lateless of this momentous news item.
You know, even historians can’t figure out where the Rubicon is. I know where mine was — The California DMV branch on Olive and Weber.
Done. It’s over.
Now on to the next exciting chapter of my life. One that hopefully involves a great job, a great girlfriend and a great life.