Saturday, February 27, 2010

Us vs. the Bank

For those not keeping track, my better half came out to friends, family and workmates as bi-gender last year, and has been gaining in confidence about going around campus and around town en femme. In order to settle in her mind some doubts about whether she ever actually felt "male" rather than just "not bothered", she decided to try and "go female" full-time and see how that felt. To the best of my knowledge, so far it's felt fine. The main problem for me is that our son and I still see her and refer to her as his "daddy", for which female pronouns are confusing. It also makes it harder for her to "pass" in public if a small boy constantly calls her "daddy".

I'm also a bit concerned about how the rest of our family will react to this, and whether it will cause the boy any problems in the long run, but we're hardly the first to have to deal with these sort of issues. And so far, nothing is irrevocable, although she has now taken the first big step of legally changing her name. She's been using her new name for nearly a year now, and most people are used to it. After some debate she decided to go for the longer, female, version, and drew up the Change of Name Deed, and had it signed and witnessed on her birthday. We also went for a meal out with boy and Nana, tried the cheesecake we made which hadn't quite worked, and attempted a two-player, co-operative, game of the Battlestar Galactica boardgame. It was a good day.

Then began the great big "informing everyone" exercise. The first few places seemed to go fine, although there's still time for them to get back to us and complain that the deed isn't "official". See, it's a little known fact that in England and Wales you don't need to get a solicitor to do a Change of Name deed for you and you don't need to have it enrolled. Much like a will, provided you get the wording right and it is witnessed by two independent adults, it's legally binding. But we didn't encounter any problems until Thursday when we went into town to inform her bank.

At first, the personal banker was happy to accept it, but needed to check with the manager whether she could change her title, despite not mentioning it in the deed. As the titles "Mr" and "Miss" have no legal standing whatsoever, we weren't really expecting a problem. But she came back and told us that the manager had said they couldn't accept the deed as proof of change of name because, and I quote, "it doesn't have a stamp on it." We explained that it is not a legal requirement for it to be certified by a solicitor, but she couldn't over-rule policy and not being quite up to arguing our case then and there, we left. We wandered despondently around town, and where on our way home when we passed a solicitor's office and decided to go and ask how much certifying it would cost. It turned out to be a criminal solicitors, but we were directed to another one, where we asked if it was necessary to have a deed notarised but no-one was available, so we were sent to another place down the road.

There, we met a fantastic receptionist, who commiserated with us, and made a quick phone call. Again, no one from the family department was available, so he took my SO's name, contact number and a photocopy of the deed and said someone would get back in touch. Sure enough, a few hours later she got a call from a very nice solicitor who confirmed that it wasn't a legal requirement, but they would be happy to do it for us if we wished. Armed with this, and the passport office guidelines which explicitly state that a change of name deed does not need to be witnessed by a solicitor or Commissioner of Oaths, we went back to the bank yesterday.

This time, a manager was right there and on inspecting the document he didn't even seem to listen to our explanation but declared that it didn't look like any legal document he'd seen before. There was mention of "a raised bit on the paper" and a comment along the lines of "For all we know, you could have just printed this out at home." He seemed utterly uninterested in our protestation that that would be perfectly legal, and we walked out abruptly after saying we would be complaining. We went straight to the solicitors, and despite not having an appointment, were seen promptly. She checked the wording, which was fine, although more archaic than what they use, and asked if the problem was that it was laminated. When we told her it was "the wrong sort of paper", she said that was nonsense and the manager clearly didn't know what he was talking about. We decided to pay her £10 to make a couple of certified copies, in the hope that a solicitor's stamp and signature would be enough for them, and she told us to tell him to ring her if he wanted confirmation that it was a legal document. She was brilliant, basically, and we now have a go-to solicitors, although it would be nice to think we won't need to see them again.

Back to the bank we marched. The manager attempted to disappear, and barely glanced at the stamped copy before accepting it. He left the poor personal banker to inform us that they wouldn't change the title because it wasn't explicitly mentioned in the Change of Name deed. But they processed the rest of the change (and we realised too late that they'd taken one of our certified copies for their records instead of making their own copy) and we made a note of the manager's name. A letter of complaint, demanding both the change of title and a written apology, has been drafted and will be sent to both the branch and Customer Services. I'm not sure even that will be enough to prevent my SO from switching banks, especially as we find it hard to believe that a woman wishing to change her title from "Miss" to "Ms", say, would need to present a Change of Name deed. While the initial refusal of the deed is probably down to ignorance of the law, the refusal to change title smacks strongly of transphobia. We have several people (including myself) willing to go ask their bank about changing their title to see how easy it is. I'll be sure to let you know the results, as well as the response to the letter. If it's unsatisfactory, I might be more inclined to name and shame. At the moment, it could just be one man's bad call, rather than company policy. But that's possibly being too charitable.


Unknown said...

Laura had problems getting her bank to change her title from 'Miss' to 'Ms'; it took 6 goes and some aggression to finally make it stick.
By contrast, my bank spontaneously volunteered to change my title from 'Mr' to 'Dr' without my even asking, and over the phone.
It seems that banks are inherently conservative, bureaucratic entities when it comes to titles...

Adele said...

Fair enough. I keep underestimating the uselessness of banks....