Seven months ago I wrote about names, and what the term deadname meant to me. Today, my old name is officially dead. I still hate the word, but there’s something cathartic about saying it. The person isn’t dead. I’m still here and writing these blog posts, but the name is currently in the process of being buried.
Sitting beside me is the final, signed, court document stating that my name change was granted. Sitting on my printer are forms for my passport, birth certificate, and social security. I’ve already been to the DMV and the bank. Mathilda Jane Schraeder is here to stay. I’m still going to go by Mattie colloquially, but I wanted a more proper legal name. Mattie always just felt like a nickname, and not something I wanted for myself legally.
So why after seven months did I finally change it? Why did it take me a year and nine months since coming out as transgender to finally decide to change it? Well, for one, the process in Illinois is arduous and costly, not to mention the task of changing it legally everywhere else. There was also the sticking point that I was still married, and that complicated things.
The main reason, however, was the fact that I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to legally change my name until a few months ago. Afterall, Mattie would be short for Matthew and Mathilda, so either way it didn’t make much difference. Most people wouldn’t even ever see my legal name. Of course that was before the dysphoria started hitting me.
Every time I’d get a phone call for my legal name, it’d make me dysphoric. Every time I had to hand someone my debit card or my ID, I’d get a sense of dread that they’d look too hard at it and instantly realize that I’m transgender. I would be out for lunch with my coworkers, and the waitress would collect all of our debit cards, and every time would come back reading names off the cards wondering whose card was whose. When they got to my name, they’d always look at me with the same look of realization. A few times I was told that it wasn’t my debit card, and I had to produce an ID to prove them it really was me.
None of that is a big deal, but that’s where we get the term microaggressions from. Small, insignificant issues that over time build up to a frustrating and much larger aggression. By the time my divorce was finalized, I knew I wanted to change my name, and I knew that Mathilda was the name I’d be taking.
I arrived at my court date for my divorce early, and decided to ask the clerk there what documents I needed to change my name. They pointed me to a website that had all the details. I’m not sure why I didn’t look online sooner. I suppose that I just always assumed my county would be behind the times and not have any kind of online system. Turns out I was very wrong.
The Illinois Legal Aid website really did have almost everything I needed. They even had a online form you could fill out that would complete the necessary paperwork and file it. Or so they claimed. I got to the end and it informed me that a witness had to sign the paperwork as well before it could be filed. I printed the forms, had my best friend sign them for me, scanned them back into my computer, and went about filing online.
Filing online was probably the hardest part of the whole ordeal. There’s no official filing process. Instead, a bunch of third party services offer filing for you. I followed the paperworks’ instructions, filled in my debit card information to pay the $209 filing fee, and made it through the filing process only to have it denied. Apparently you are not supposed to file all the paperwork at once, but instead as multiple different attachments. Unfortunately, the $209 wasn’t automatically refunded. Instead, it was placed as a hold on my debit card and I’d have to wait for it to drop off.
My next try to file the paperwork ended similarly with a denial. This time, I submitted three separate documents. The first was the request for name change, the second was the newspaper publication form, and the last was the order for name change that the Judge would fill out. As it turns out, the newspaper publication form was not something that the court needed filed. They told me as much and I had to file again. Another $209 hold on my debit card.
As the saying goes, “the third time’s the charm,” right? Nope. I submitted the paperwork again, and they told me this time that I had to submit both the request for name change, and the order for name change, as “lead documents.” Which, as it turns out, the filing service I randomly selected didn’t support. With that particular service you could have one lead document, and a bunch of secondary documents. Another $209 debit card hold later and I’d be able to try again.
Finally, my fourth attempt went through. The next step was to call the circuit clerk to schedule a court date, which was harder than expected because they seemed not used to talking to someone who had no idea what they were doing. I managed to get a court date around 2 months out. After that it was off to the newspaper to get a legal notice published.
Legal notices are an antiquated requirement for name changes in Illinois. I suppose that sometime in the distant past, before the days of the Internet, it was important, but in the world of today they are a dangerous requirement for people like me. Believe it or not, anyone can show up to a name change court hearing and dispute it for, really, whatever reasons they want. It’s entirely up to the judge to decide whether or not to grant the name change, and on what grounds they would deny it.
Another $95 later and my legal notice would appear in the paper every Friday for the next three weeks. On my way to work the first Friday it was to be published I bought a copy of the paper to see the publication for myself. It was exactly as expected. All I had to do from that point was wait for the court date.
I’m not a very patient person. In the period of time waiting, I went through the entire county’s history of name changes. I couldn’t find evidence of a single case where name change was done for gender reasons. There were cases of divorce, custody, adoption, but not gender. Not in 30 years of online history. I began to get nervous.
Eventually the big day got here. I made sure to dress nice, in one of my favorite dresses. I nervously shaved as well as I could to hide the dark shadow on my chin and upper lip. I drove to the court house and waited to be called.
As I sat in the waiting area, more and more people started to show up. I started getting even more nervous. Were they here to dispute my name change? Nope, it was just traffic court. Would I have to sit through traffic court and get my name changed in front of a few dozen people? Nope, eventually they told me to sit in a smaller courtroom off to the side.
The only people in the room were me, the bailiff, and a man in a nice suit. Was he there to dispute my name change?
Within a few minutes the bailiff called out “all rise.” I stood, and the judge entered from a back room and sat in his fancy chair. “You may be seated,” he said.
He first asked the man in the suit what they needed, to which the man replied that he was just there to schedule a court hearing. One bit of nervousness subsided.
The Judge asked me a bunch of questions. Had I been convicted of a felony? No, I hadn’t. Had I been convicted of any crimes? Just traffic court. There were a few others, but I don’t remember Them. They were relatively inconsequential. Next, he asked for my proof of publication with the newspaper. The newspaper provided me with a little card, with a copy of the publication taped to it, and a signed statement from the publisher that it was published on these specific dates.
The Judge took it, and sat quietly for a few minutes. I could tell he was making marks on a paper, and writing down notes. That’s when it happened. “We have a problem,” he paused. I’m sure my face turned bright white with horror. He continued, “it’s not September.” No, it most certainly was not September. It was August 27th, 2018. A monday. The day of my court. My mind was reeling with worry and confusion about what he was talking about. He continued again, “your newspaper publication states that court would be held on nine twenty-seven of two thousand and eighteen.”
My jaw dropped. How could I have made such a mistake? Who could have made such a mistake? I read that newspaper publication a hundred times since I had it published.
“Is there any reason you need your name change approved today?” he asked.
I briefly considered any excuse I could come up with, but shook my head. “No. No particular reason.”
“Do you know if this is your mistake, or the mistake of the newspaper?” he asked next.
I replied that I wasn’t sure, that I could check my email, but my phone is in my car since you can’t bring phones into the court house. The silence was deafening. I’m sure it was barely a moment, but to me it felt like an eternity. Eventually he spoke again, informing me that he’d fit me in on September 27th, 2018, and that court would resume then. He excused me. I thanked him for my time and left.
Another month of waiting.
Today was the day. I was both nervous and excited. It sounded to me as if the judge would have no problem granting my name change, but only had to follow procedure for the botched newspaper publication. Still, I had to worry that people would dispute the name change. I knew it was vaguely crazy to think anyone would do so, but the nervousness in my head wouldn’t let me ignore the possibility.
Once again I got to court early, and sat in the waiting room watching people join me in waiting for court to begin. Once again every time someone new came, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were there to complain about the trans girl wanting to change her name. Every time I was wrong.
Finally, I was called into the courtroom. The same tiny courtroom from the previous encounter. The bailiff requested everyone rise for the judge, and the judge said to be seated. My nervousness was through the roof.
He stated the reason that we were there, that it was a continuation of a case from August. He asked me to confirm, and I did. That was it. He signed the order, and sent me on my way. It was the most anticlimactic ending that I could have possibly expected. I was sure the whole question and answer session from the previous month would be done again. I was sure there’d be more to it, but there wasn’t. I was in and out of the courtroom within five minutes.
All that’s left is to change my name everywhere it’s required. I stopped by the DMV and the bank on the way home, because those changes would be easy. The rest all require paperwork that I need to fill out. It’s all sitting on my printer as I type this.
It doesn’t matter though. All that matters is I am now Mathilda Jane Schraeder, legally, and permanently.