How Square can be more Trans and Gender Inclusive

Mount Sinai’s “hack” to use my correct first name is my doctor writing my name on a piece of paper. That means every time I go back, they forget and use my birth name instead.

As a trans person I struggle daily with my first name and my birth name. I have a name I use, a name I chose myself. And a birth name I never want to use again as it is from the gender I do not belong to. Using my correct name helps me grow in my identity and myself. Using my birth name upsets me deeply and makes me sick, sometimes literally, physically ill with anxiety.

Usually transitions are temporary. At some point, for those who can, we legally change our first name and then update all the companies and organizations that have our name. And hope that we didn’t forget one. In my case it is especially complicated as I have to change it in France before being able to change it in the US, where I live and work. So it will still take at least 6 months before I can see my first name on my US ID card, and maybe 1 year at least before I can see “male” on that ID Card next to “gender”.

And in the meantime, in the first year or two, experiences of a transition and validating one’s identity are crucial to feel worthy and “enough.” Having your birth name shouted at you in the middle of a cafe to let you know that your order is ready, also lets you know your identity is not valued. And it doesn’t help to feel stronger or sane either.

Invisible disability

Having to rethink your identity at a random moment of the day so brutally like that is invisible disability. In my case I lost a day of work. Just like that. It upsets me so much that my heart sinks and I want to throw up. It reminds me how little I am and the strong version of me just vanishes. It was impossible to think about something else.

A bigger issue I forgot in the moment because I am privileged by living in Brooklyn, and being white, and transitioning to male: what if I was living in a less accepting state and my co-worker didn’t know I was trans? Then I would have been outed and maybe facing real physical danger if someone discovered I was trans (already about 20 trans persons killed this year in the US alone).

A few minutes after my birth name was shouted, twice, at the coffee shop, the cashier came to apologize. They explained that they use Square and they use the credit card name when they are busy and were deeply sorry as they are usually trans friendly. I told them I understood and in the same moment I realized that I could actually do something about this painful user experience. Sure the cafe could rethink their ordering process by mandating employees ask for a name when they take an order. Some do it. (Edit: they seem to do it more consistently since the incident). But what could change beyond that?

Transforming pain into action

As I stood up from my deep anxiety I realized I have the power to do it. I do design consultancy with a user centric methodology. I help companies figure out their issues and I teach them how to solve them. This is literally my job. The reason I wake up in the morning.

And yet, I have been struggling with trans and gender issues for the past year or so. When incidents like the one in the coffee shop happen, it demolishes me. It incapacitates me as it is a huge trigger. And I am not the only one. What I learned this time is that it’s time to take action and turn that overwhelming anxiety and anger into education and change. Time to make companies aware of how their design can hurt some communities and how they could make a few changes as part of their diversity and inclusion incentives.

“How can we be gender inclusive?”

Here are a few of the every day interactions that are painful for any person who has an identity different from what’s written on their credit card or ID card. And how I already see a quick fix.

For some of them, a session of Design Thinking discussions would be beneficial to their product or service and increase gender inclusivity. It’s important to remember that gender inclusion in a company is not only beneficial for trans and non-binary people, but for everyone, including cisgender persons. For example: when a person gets married/divorced and needs to update their last name. While not life-threatening, that person runs into these same issues until they take the time to contact each of those companies and manually update their name. This is an identity issue, not an isolated trans and non-binary issue.

How to improve the gender inclusive user experience when enjoying a tea at a cafe:

Square or any other payment system platform: when you swipe your credit card at a cafe, Square shows the customer first and last name to the cashier. They can use that name to associate it to the order. Seems like a perfect user experience in a world where everyone uses the name displayed on their credit card. Often, an email address is stored with each credit card info. So it shouldn’t be hard to also store another name: “preferred name.”

**UPDATE:** after I published this article, I had a video call with Square and Jay Bendett (who I work with, conducting Gender Inclusion workshops) and… voila! Square updated their system to include an optional preferred name. I’m thrilled that Square heard my call to action and took the time to employ a solution. Making changes happen everyone! 🏳️‍🌈✊✊✊

More Thoughts for Meaningful Changes:

American Express or any credit card company: if the change doesn’t come from Square, it could come from the credit card company. On their online settings, they could have a way to enter a “name to use” on top of the legal name (which, for now at least, has to exist for bank and identity fraud, I guess).

Listen to music:

Spotify: As Spotify is linked with Facebook, and I created a new Facebook account when I came out (as a lot of people do too), I had to create a new Spotify account and wait for the customer service to merge the 2 accounts and be able to finally have my correct first name appear with the correct music library. It took a few days and a few emails exchanges. This could be easier.

Order a taxi through Lyft:

Lyft: Every time you enter a Lyft car, the app proudly shouts a “Dropping [birth name]!”. It took me a few days of exchanging emails to get them to manually change my first name and I finally stopped the anxiety every time I was hearing my birth name while entering a Lyft car. The process could be easier to change your first name. I almost decided to stop using their service. That’s how uncomfortable I was feeling.

Get medications at the pharmacy:

CVS pharmacy: impossible to change your first name as they say it is linked with your health care insurance company. That means receiving calls every 2 weeks for my medication, hearing my birth name over and over again on my voice mail.

Health care insurance company: especially them, they should be more gender inclusive and allow for a “name to use” and which pronouns to use. Then the “name to use” could be used by the doctors, hospitals, pharmacies…

Transgender clinic pharmacy Mount Sinai: This is the most disturbing of all. They still use my birth name. Even after many months of going there. They know it but no file is kept with my correct first name. I get dead named (that means they use my birth name (or “dead name”) instead of my correct first name) every time I go there. Each service at Mount Sinai has to hack something to remember. Mount Sinai overall file should have a field for “name to use” and which pronouns to use — visible by all services.

Pay for my utilities:

Con Edison: impossible to change first name on their website.

National Grid: impossible to change first name on their website.

Buy some furniture:

Wayfair: They canceled my order 3 times because my shipping/billing addresses names were not matching. They lost a customer. I know there might be a better way of handling Gender Inclusive there.

Book a doctor appointment:

The Doctor Blog by Zocdoc: every time I book an appointment through Zocdoc, I have to go through filling my birth name and not my correct name, to be sure my insurance company won’t screw me. And then I struggle to get the doctor, nurses and assistants to call me with my correct name and use the correct pronoun. It should include both (legal name for insurance purposes and “name to use”) and which pronouns to use.

Send money online:

Paypal: they request a proof of legal name when I want to add money or make a deposit. That means I actually can’t get money on it or I have to use my birth name when I send money to friends…

Travel:

Airport and passport: this is a even bigger issue here. But roughly, this is a nightmare and even sometimes goes into harassment and missing flights because your identity and physical traits are in contradiction with your current official passport. The whole US body scanner is on its own a joke where a human being has to press a button to decide if you “look” like a male or female. I get pat down every time I go through TSA and not always with respect. Lots of work can be done here around Gender Inclusivity for sure.

Changing your name and gender:

Governments: this is where the core of the problem is. Changing your name and gender should not be that hard and so time consuming. I know I have a specific use case but I am not the only one — having to change name and gender in more than one country. In France, I have to bring mutliple pieces of evidence that I live “as a man” for the past X months in order to get a judge “decides” if he allows me to change my gender on my french birth certificate (including a trip to France to see that judge in a court). Slighlty less complex as I “just” have to go to Washington, DC with those letters to be able to get my name changed. If the clerk is cooperative (they can decide to refuse and ask me to go to court in France).

This is such an humiliating process and upsetting. I lost a day of sanity last Friday by talking to a social worker so she can write a letter for me. We had to go through my past to explain “how it makes me feel when someone uses my birth name instead of my correct first name”. Ugh.

Make some noise

I am going to stop the list here just because I am already in such a mental pain. The conclusion is that I have, we have, the power to make a change in all of those areas. And I need to remember that next time my birth name randomly shows up in front of me.

If you have connections to any of those companies listed here (or any companies that could get better at Gender Inclusivity), share this article and hopefully we can get the minds to open more and actions to follow! This is also how you can be a safe and helpful ally.