Getting my passport (part 4) – It arrived at last!

Part 1 – My first, failed attempt
Part 2 – 3 trips I took travelling as a woman on my male passport
Part 3 – Second visit to the passport office 

After my second visit to the passport office in part 3, I’d spent the week worrying about whether I’d actually get granted a passport or not.

A few days later I found a small, passport shaped envelope waiting on my doormat outside my apartment. I felt a flicker of paranoia… Maybe it had been rejected and they were returning my old one to me?

Nope – Inside was my lovely new passport. It had my real name, my new picture and probably most significantly to me it had “F” under sex.

It’s just a document, but it feels really significant for a few reasons. Firstly and most obviously it allows me to travel without stress. I now have a document that is indistinguishable with that owned by any cis female.  Secondly, it’s government recognition of my status as a woman; It just feels good. Thirdly it will allow me to enter the next phase of deleting “his” remaining presence in my life; Using my new passport and deed poll together I will be able to get everything except my birth certificate updated.

Getting my passport has been way more difficult than it should have been; I think significant changes need to be made to make it easier and less triggering for the trans community. Having it feels like it was quite a significant milestone, but it was unnecessarily hard won.

Next up: Drivers License.
Fingers-Crossed

Getting my passport (part 3) – Second visit to the passport office

After realising in part 2 that I could no longer travel on my old passport, I now needed to have another go at getting an updated travel document.

I had been waiting for my face to recover as much as possibleafter surgery  before getting my photos taken. By the time I got my new pictures, it was less than a month before my next trip to our New York office, so I was going to have to have another face to face appointment.

I picked up the phone and called the booking line. I was immediately gendered male with a “Thank you Mr Collis” after I gave my surname. I quickly said “Actually it’s Ms Collis, not Mr” and, unlike my experience in part 1, the advisor instantly apologised profusely.

passportoffice

On the day, I was well prepared for more ill treatment by the G4S personnel, but I got gendered correctly by them as I moved through the building. Maybe it’s another few months of physical changes HRT, more confidence or just that the surgery has really helped people identify me correctly.

 

After a short wait, my ticket number was called and I went to the counter. The man quietly looked through my documents. After a few minutes, he said that he was going to have to refer it to a manager for additional authorization.

I returned to the waiting area and sat down. About 30 minutes passed and my anxiety increased. Eventually a man came to take me for an interview. He showed me to a small, quite intimidating room.

He said that the form was fine and that the photos were fine, but the only issue he could see was that the psychiatrists letters confirming my diagnosis were dated more than a month ago & they usually don’t like this. I pointed out that the reason for the delay was because I had facial reconstruction surgery booked after the letter was written and it seemed foolish to get a passport that would be invalidated a few weeks later. I also pointed out that I’m going to be transgender till the day I die, so the diagnosis being a few months old is neither here nor there. My final objection was that another appointment at a gender clinic can take almost two years on the NHS or would cost me around £200 privately, so if they won’t accept the letters that I have, then they may be effectively preventing me from travelling for up to a couple of years based upon my gender status. He said that he would write that in the notes, but they may need to query my application.

I left the passport office without certainty that I would get my application granted.

Continued in part 4

Getting my passport (Part 2) – 3 trips I took travelling as a woman on my male passport

In part 1 – I wrote about my failed attempt to get a passport. In part two, I’m going to tell you about three trips that I took, travelling as a woman that’s carrying a passport with a picture of a bearded man inside as their only means of identification.

  1. New York, New York
    I had a business trip to our New York office and since I hadn’t managed to get my document’s updated, I was a little nervous of travelling.I was flying Virgin Atlantic. The agent at check in was a small, older, Irish lady. She looked at my passport and said in her melodious accent:”Oh… Oh…  Err… I need to check with my manager… I’m sorry… I hope you understand…. You look lovely by the way. You look great“.  She was very sweet.The supervisor came and said there was absolutely no problem, and would do something to make sure I had no further friction.

    At the gate I blithely assumed that there would be no comment. The gate attendant took my passport and then her brow furrowed in confusion. She looked over both my shoulders and around me at the other passengers that I might be travelling with. Eventually she said:

    “Err is Mr Collis travelling with you?”.

    I kind of half shrugged / grinned as I pointed to myself. She almost stumbled backwards as she got over her surprise and said

    “Oh – I’m sorry – go on through”.

    It was all quite a nice experience and a reminder that I’m “passing” more or at the very least “passing as male less”.

    I was most nervous about US Immigration, but it was a complete non event. The Officer asked me a few questions about when I was last there, took my fingerprints and wished me a good visit. I realised retrospectively that they are trained to look for similarities, not the differences.

    The visit itself was really good fun. The work was intense, but I think I enjoyed New York much more than I had before. I was treated really well and gendered correctly in every shop and restaurant that we visited.

    The only unpleasantness in the whole week occurred on British soil, by one of our government officials. On my return trip the UK Border Officer made a bit of a big deal about how my passport said “M” and how “you’re going to want to get that updated…aren’t you?” and as a parting gift asked me a sleazy question about “whether I’d had the Op yet?” with a distinct leer. In the moment I didn’t feel particularly upset, but later I felt distinctly uneasy and a little angry at his unprofessionalism and the violation. I probably should have reported him. Maybe that would just have caused more transphobia, not less?

  2. A night in CopenhagenMy next trip was to Denmark for the night with a friend. As I approached immigration in Copenhagen I saw the officer waving people through in a mostly disinterested way, requiring little more than a vague wave of the passport in his direction. I followed suit and waved my passport at him. He leaned forward and beckoned for a closer inspection. He then waved it back at me while saying “No! No! No!”. I simply shrugged and nodded. He then handed it back and waved me through. Really odd – he felt strongly enough to challenge me, but acquiesced immediately.My afternoon was spent roaming the city, wandering in and out of shops and just spending time with my friend. In the evening I had my first Michelin Star experience. In terms of fine dining, Copenhagen is most well known for Noma, but we couldn’t get a table at (relatively) short notice, so we booked for AOC. It was by far and away the best meal that I’ve ever had. My friend described it as being about the theatre as much as the food.On the way back out of Copenhagen it was exactly the same routine; It was more like they wanted to be seen to object or as a means of punctuating the boredom.

    gat_south_egates

    On the return to the UK, I used the automated face recognition system. Partly because I wanted to see if it could see beyond long hair and makeup. Excluding hormonal changes (which were becoming noticeable at this point), my face was in effect the same – so surely it would let me through? It didn’t. My second reason for wanting to use the ePassport gate was because for those of us the system doesn’t recognise, you go to the front of a queue to see an officer rather than wait in the huge main queue. She let me straight through.

  3. To Marbella, Spain for facial surgery

My final travel experience changed everything. I was travelling to Marbella to visit FacialTeam for FFS (Facial Feminization Surgery). The outbound trip was largely uneventful. I got some light quizzing at check in at the gate and the copenhagen style half-arsed objection entering Spain.

The surgery was a big success; I intend to write about it in a few weeks, when I’m 3 months post op.

After surgery, they give you a letter to show to passport control people. I just stuffed it in my hold luggage… Didn’t think I’d need it.

At Malaga, I got the usual reaction from Spanish passport control… He angrily waved it back at me while saying “No no no”. What always gets me about this is that my usual response of shrugging gets them to give me my passport back and wave me through.

At the UK border, I queued for the biometric machines, mostly for fun, but also with the knowledge that when it would inevitably reject me, I’d get to see someone immediately without queueing.

The machine scanned my ID and the camera kept inching up and down… Which I can only think is the robot equivalent of tilting it’s head slightly and squinting. Eventually it denied me access.

I went to see the UK borders man next to the machine. He welcomed me “hello ma’am“. Then I saw the usual confused look. He asked if I had a more recent photograph ID. I said I didn’t. He very politely explained he was having trouble seeing the resemblance and again, politely, slightly apologetically, said he had to get a colleague.

The supervisor came over. The two of them discussed the picture. I heard one say to the other “you see the chin looks very different…” And other discussions on where they should be able to ID me. I explained that I’d just had surgery. They asked me to show my ears and discussed further.

Then the supervisor took me off to one side. He asked if I had any other ID. I said “I have a drivers license, but it won’t help much“. He took the drivers license and quizzed me on middle names and postcodes. Eventually he stepped away for a minute, came back and thanked me for my patience.

They were both so polite and professional, but I think that letter would have been useful.

Either way – it’s a nice proof point that I look quite different now, but it was obvious that I couldn’t travel on my old passport again.

Continued in part 3