Wednesday • 2014.08.13
Post-Office Parcel Pickup Added to List of Services Trans* People Can Be Barred from Accessing
It was plain bad luck that the mail carrier happened to arrive with my package during the 10 minutes per hour when my condominium’s concierge security was out doing his rounds.
With me at work, and nobody there to sign for my package, off it went to the local post-office. I discovered this when I received a pick-up slip, in lieu of the book I was expecting that day. I was somewhat frustrated at the extra errand I would now have to factor into my week, but I shrugged it off as no big deal. Little did I know I was about to slam into yet another transphobic barrier created by my government’s discriminatory ID policies. Here’s one I bet you never thought would be a problem for Canadian Trans* people: obtaining access to our own mail.
The next day, pick-up slip stowed safely in my purse, I made my way into the drug store that hosts the local Post-Office. There was only one person on duty, apparently the manager. I handed her the slip.
“I just need to see some ID,” she says. Uh-oh. Not enough that I clearly possess the slip obtained from inside my own locked mailbox, she needs to confirm my identity. Okay, I’ll just show her my Ontario health insurance plan (OHIP) card. Sure, it improperly carries a male “sex” designation, but I hope maybe she won’t notice that detail (which unfortunately you cannot update without first correcting your birth certificate, which I can’t get).
It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed about being a Trans* person. In fact, the opposite is true. But it should be up to me when, or if, I want to have that aspect of my identity expressly disclosed or discussed with strangers.
It’s an unfair violation of my privacy that everyday while engaging in mundane transactions, I am forced to show strangers a card which tells them about the state of my genitals at birth. The last time I showed it to a bartender, he made a nasty face at me. That’s gross, pointless, uncomfortable, and even dangerous depending on the type of stranger who happens to be seeing it.
Unfortunately, I need to receive my parcel and have been given no other choice. So I place the card on the counter as she returns from the back, my parcel in hand.
She looks at the card, with the unwanted “sex” indicator, but she either fails to notice it or chooses to express no outward reaction. I allow some of the tension I’d built up to relax, figuring I would be spared an awkward transaction today thanks either to her grace or to her inattentiveness (I would never know which).
Then the other shoe drops. Shaking her head, she begins to tsk, tsk, tsk at my proffered OHIP card.
“Yeah, we’re not able to accept that as ID,” she says.
For those unfamiliar, our provincial health cards are issued to all Ontario citizens by the Ontario government, for the purpose of accessing socialized healthcare (which is the only healthcare available here). The card carries our full name, photo, birth date, and that infernal “sex” designation. One may be forgiven for wondering precisely why this card would be insufficient to prove identity in the context of accessing a government service: the answer is an obscure law, designed to protect the privacy of Ontarians. Because every Ontario citizen is required to have an OHIP card, it therefore follows that if said card was classified as legal ID, it would constitute a mandatory government-issued ID card—a civil rights no-no. This is not an issue for passports and driver’s licenses, because those are optional privileges.
So, while there’s no law against accepting OHIP as ID, the law does specifically block organizations from requiring, or even asking for an OHIP card as ID. That’s a very subtle distinction that would require more than ten seconds to train staff on, so unfortunately, common policy for many places is to simply refuse to accept OHIP altogether even if the customer offers it freely (which would be perfectly legal). Convoluted, yes, but we Ontarians live with nuisance imposed from above.
“It’s all I have,” I tell her truthfully.
“Don’t you have a passport?” she asks me. I feel helpless: I don’t have time to explain to her, nor am I inclined to, that I haven’t had a passport since it expired in 2008, when my renewal was refused (as were two subsequent new applications), because I applied as a woman and not as a man.
I remain silent rather than engage her in a philosophical debate on whether she might suppose that this unjust withholding of my rightful travel documentation constitutes a violation of my mobility rights, as supposedly guaranteed to me under section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Nor do I opt to share with her the errant thought now occurring, that in the present circumstance, should an emergency befall my family in New Jersey, I would be unable to attend them in the hospital—or funeral home.
Instead I simply shrug. “No, I don’t have a passport,” I tell her.
“What about a driver’s license?” she asks me. I cast another shrug.
“I don’t drive.” This happens to be the truth, and so in my case, I have not run up against the DMV’s discriminatory practices. First, you are required to apply as the wrong gender based on your birth sex. Then, you must submit to a medical examination and convince a cooperative doctor (provided you can find one) of the legitimacy of your own identity, and thus be diagnosed with a mental disorder in a letter to the DMV, as a prerequisite to applying for a change to the card, before you can finally receive ID which reflects who you truly are, and won’t out you as Trans* to anyone who sees it. As difficult as my transphobic experience with the bartender was, I shudder to imagine what a traffic stop on a lonely northern highway might be like.
“What about the Provincial ID Card?” she suggests. Ugh. The Ontario Photo Card.
Introduced a few years ago, and administered by the DMV, the Ontario Photo Card is identical to the driver’s license in all but two respects. First, it is printed in a different colour. Second, it does not confer any driving privileges on its bearer. For a Trans* person, it carries the same discriminatory requirements as a driver’s license. “Nope, I don’t have one of those either,” I say.
“Oh it’s so easy,” she tells me. No it’s not.
“You can just go to Service Ontario and quickly register…” No, I can’t.
“They’ll send it out to you in just two weeks, honey.” No they won’t.
Then she frowns, and sighs, as if I’ve done something to make her day more difficult. “Well,” she says, “I’ll accept it just this one time, but you need to come back with real ID next time. You’re lucky I was here: the other girls I trained, they wouldn’t let you get away with this,” she admonishes me.
“Thanks,” I say, trying not to grit my teeth. As I collect my parcel and turn to leave, she calls out… “I really won’t be able to take the health card next time!”
So much for my Parcel service.