COLUMN: Name-change ruling based on flawed logic
Oklahoma County judge Bill Graves has refused to approve the name changes of two transgender women. The denied requests were made by Christie Ann Harvey and Angela Renee Ingram, who still hold the legal names James Dean Ingram and Steven Charles Harvey due to their respective rulings.
Graves' arguments fail to show good reason for his decision on either ruling. In fact, a closer examination of the cases leads us to wonder why they should have been at the discretion of the court at all.
Graves’ decisions were made on the basis that name changes could not be made for fraudulent purposes under state law. Graves cited three specific reasons for denying Harvey's request: she might trick someone into marrying her who was unaware that she was transgender, police officers searching for a male using DNA evidence would overlook her and sex changes might be used to circumvent state laws against same-sex marriage.
There are a number of problems with Graves’ reasoning. Neither of the women seem intent on “tricking” anyone into marrying them — Ingram is currently dating a man very aware of her being transgender, and the same is true of the woman to whom Harvey has been married for several years.
Why the police would not have access to the fact that either Harvey or Ingram are transgender when conducting an investigation in the event that they committed a crime doesn’t seem entirely clear. Nor is it clear why someone would pretend to be transgender rather than just moving to a state that allowed same-sex marriage if that was what they ultimately wanted.
However, even if we accept Graves’ arguments — which I certainly am not prepared to do — they seem rather irrelevant to the actual ruling.
What Graves was supposed to decide was not whether Harvey and Ingram legally should be considered women, but only whether they could legally hold the same names they use in their daily lives.
If, for example, Ingram had decided to change her name to "Chuck" rather than "Angela," would Graves have allowed it? Barring a male's name change to Angela relies on assumptions about the gender normativity of names.
On that note, what if she had chosen a gender-blind name such as "Alex," "Pat" or "Shelby?" If this seems like murky territory, that’s because gender and our notions about what constitutes gender are fluid social concepts.
For Graves to deny people he designates as men the ability to change their names to more feminine ones relies on essentialist assumptions about sex and gender that most sociologists and anthropologists emphatically reject. While Graves did consult a doctor, Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, about whether or not the DNA of a person who has undergone a sex-change operation changes, he takes for granted that a person’s DNA is the final arbiter on their sex or gender.
This completely ignores the social aspects of both sex and gender, which are ultimately the important ones when dealing with social constructs like names.
Furthermore, he equates sex and gender in a way that reveals himself unqualified to speak authoritatively (let alone with literal legal authority) on the subject.
Why should Ingram and Harvey’s names be subject to subjective approval, not just by Judge Graves, but by any judge? Ingram and Harvey should have to answer only to themselves in regards to their own names, and any legal system that fails to recognize that should be called sharply into question.
Jason Byas is a philosophy senior.