There are many of us who have learned, through a variety of difficult experiences, that interaction with the police is generally something to be avoided if at all possible. That’s typically been my approach to our local law enforcement, especially now that I’m transitioning. It’s no surprise that officers, as a microcosm of larger society, sometimes tend to have problems with respecting minority groups. 22% of trans people have reported experiencing anti-trans harassment by police, and the rate is even higher for trans people of color. Police in major cities routinely arrest trans women for carrying condoms under the assumption that they must be sex workers – because clearly this is the only reason why we would have condoms. It’s a bleak and challenging situation.
So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to walking into our local sheriff’s office, as “Mr.” Lastname, to be fingerprinted and receive a background check as the first steps toward getting a legal name change.
My expectations, fortunately, were wrong. Everyone was unfailingly polite throughout the entire process. Only Heather, my cis girlfriend who had come with me, was “sirred” by the receptionist, before she immediately corrected herself. And even after she saw my still-male ID and current legal name, there were no pronoun slip-ups at all. She seemed to understand what was going on. The records staff were equally friendly as they ran my identification to check how many times I had been arrested (none, actually), and then sent me for fingerprinting.
Taking fingerprints is a surprisingly lengthy process here, even though they’ve digitized it all and it no longer requires ink. The elderly woman who took my prints marked me as female in the system, even after taking down my name, and I had to remind her – despite how deeply I’d appreciate seeing that F next to my name on state documents – that I was still considered legally male. She even offered to mark it as “X – Unknown Gender”, which was surprisingly one of the options.
Stereotypical as it is, we chatted about nail polish and lip stain; she mentioned a brand that lasts all day – “like cement” – and can only be taken off with a special cream. As she did the individual prints, she asked what I would be changing my name to. And she thought it was a pretty name. Before I had to go back to the records room, she asked if my family was supportive – they are, all of them – and wished me good luck.
I can honestly say that I’ve never had such a peaceful, uneventful, trouble-free encounter with the police. I was really impressed with their professionalism throughout the entire day. I don’t usually expect that the average person will know very much about trans people, but I definitely wasn’t expecting that much understanding and sensitivity at a Florida police station.
I’m just hoping that the rest of the process will be as easy as this was. The next step is filing the official papers, which costs several hundred dollars here, and then eventually going before a judge to finalize it. I really appreciate the support that everyone has provided throughout all this, and I’ll keep you updated on how it goes.