Monday, March 23, 2009

What's in a Name?

So I've written a little bit before about my choice not to change my name and how I'm continuously questioned about this...and how it's one of those "little things" that helps keep sexism alive.

I started to think about this, because when Ronald and I came back into the U.S. from Mexico on Saturday, we had to declare our purchases through U.S. customs. At first, I read the form and it explained clearly that families could declare their purchases together, so long as they reside at the same address.

I didn't even think twice after reading that. It makes sense. They have a written record on the form of the address of the family traveling back into the U.S. and everything they brought. So I proceeded to fill out the form for Ronald and I and that was that...

Until I started watching the channel on the cruise ship where they tell you everything that you need to know about getting off the ship at port. And the guy there mentioned that in order to qualify as a "family" in the eyes of U.S. customs, you have to live at the same address AND have the same last name.

WOW. Really?

Not only is it stupid that to be considered a family by U.S. customs you have to have the same last name, but it's also *SO* "logical," that it's not even worth noting this fact on the form. You should just assume that if your last names are different, then you're not family.

Ok, I'm overreacting, I admit it. But this was annoying, since I had to fill out a whole other new form and Ronald did too...AND since they only give each cabin one form (if you're staying in the same cabin, you must be family, right?) Ronald had to go hunt more forms down.

This wasn't my only run in with name changes on the trip. At our "honeymooners lunch" the other couples started a conversation about what the wives' names used to be and what they are now. (Ronald and I just avoided that conversation...we actually avoided socializing much in general, but that's not the point.)

So I got to thinking about how annoying it is that name changes are so ingrained in our society. The pressure is small enough here and there to be a bother, but taken all together, it's no wonder that so many women, who otherwise might have kept their names, go ahead and make the change anyway. And then i got to thinking about how, as is often the case with inequalities, name changes don't only affect women and keep sexism alive: It's also one of those things that keeps heterosexism alive and well.

It goes hand in hand with the gay marriage problem: all the 1,008 legal benefits that are denied to homosexual couples. In fact, the sexism and heterosexism here are rampant. If a woman gets married and changes her name it costs a nominal fee and requires some annoyances like getting a new social security card and notifying your credit bureau. If a homosexual person, or any man in general (like a heterosexual one changing his name to his wife's) wants to share a family name with their partner, then they must pay a much higher fee and even announce their name change in the paper (an old law that was never changed) in addition to all the other annoyances.

So the message: If you want to fit the "norm" for our society, you better be heterosexual, and you better stick to traditional name changes. And hell, you'll be rewarded with lower fees and less annoyances.

In the case of the stupid U.S. customs form that assumes way too much about what constitutes a "family," I at least had the choice not to change my name when I got married. So yeah, I'm going to encounter some frustrating issues along the way since my name doesn't fit the partiarchial paradigm. But a homosexual couple didn't even have the option to get married and have a legally recognized "family."

I guess I'll count my blessings on this one for now, but I just don't see what U.S. customs stands to gain from their system.


  1. I have a lot to say about this...duh...but i'll only comment on the heterosexist remarks...duh :)

    I do appreciate the incorporation of the instilled heterosexism even within your personal dilemma with what is defined as a "family." I think that's the bigger issue here with the customs ordeal is that who are they to tell me what my family consists of, be that two newlyweds with different last names, two women, or a single mother who kept her maiden name but whose children have their father's last's 2009 damn it!

    If I've learned anything from Virginia Mollenkott, it is that we are not, in fact, batting for two different teams. We need to transcend this us v. them mentality, because the reality is that if one of us is being discriminated against (for whatever reason!), then we all feel the pains because of it. If women aren't safe in this world, none of us are truly safe. If gays don't have jusice, then none of us have justice. (same for blacks, latinos, asian-americans, transexuals, etc... but the two groups are only included for our purposes)

    Therefore, when I read your post about your injustice in the "different last name dilemma" I am angry with you. I feel the injustice you feel. I'm not reading it going, "omg don't even know...ur not gay...u can't even begin to imagine prejudice...blah blah blah" Your fight is my fight and my fight is your fight.

  2. Can we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya now? :)


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