by Lisa P.
This post is going to be short, for long-winded Lisa at least.
One day last month I was so excited, I couldn’t sit still all day. I received a credit card in Lisa’s name from BMO (Bank of Montreal, or for my Canadian cousins, Banque de Montréal) and I am absolutely thrilled. One of my pain points has been handing over my credit card with my very male name (i.e., there is no chance a woman would have my given name). BMO will be forever in my debt (or, if I buy too many things with the card, I will be forever indebted to them in more ways than one). They have validated that Lisa exists and in doing so have validated that “I” exist.
If you have read my prior posts, you know that I use a pseudonym for both my first name and my last name. My friends in dance and in my book club and other women I have met along the way all know me by that pseudonym. I chose it carefully, so that there are hundreds of women in my age group with the same name in the United States and in England. I also chose it because I like it! Whenever someone calls me Lisa I feel “seen” as me. I am not transitioning to full time and have no intention of changing my legal name currently, so any time Lisa has her name on a class member list, individual’s address book, or in a bank system feels, she feels victoriously authentic.
Like Kandi, I am all about being out and being seen. But unlike Kandi, I yearn for stealth. I believe that is true because I want to be accepted simply as the woman I am and not because someone wants to bend over backwards to show acceptance to the queer community (although I have appreciated that greatly when I have received it and believe allyship is essential for all of us, since we probably cannot convince everyone, all the time, of our chosen gender). Because I want to be seen as the woman I feel that I am, I hate having to out myself, except when I want or need to. I don’t think every salesperson I meet is entitled to know my legal name and gender. Years ago, I asked for an American Express credit card with only my first initial, middle initial and last name. For a long time, I handed it over with great confidence….until that is, I received a paper receipt to sign and the signature line had my full legal name. I realized at that point that the salesperson’s register may display my full legal name to them when I scan my card, regardless of what is written on the card. After that incident, I reverted to using cash. But cash is less secure, inconvenient, slow, and requires more logistical planning. I started researching to see if I could find a better way.
My first choice was to find out if I could change my existing American Express or Mastercard or Visa cards.* None of those card issuers allow for a card in any name other than your legal name. So, I was foiled in that effort.
Then I discovered the True Name credit card (available only from a couple of financial institutions, like Citibank and BMO). I knew I had to apply for one! They required me to obtain first a credit card in my legal name. Then I had to call the bank and ask for a card in my preferred name. I chose BMO as my card issuer for a couple of reasons. First, their card is non-traditional (printed longitudinally rather than latitudinally), making it easy to distinguish from my other Mastercard. Second, I thought that BMO would be more flexible in terms of choosing my own name, since Canadians are more easy-going than Yanks(!) Citibank made it clear that a customer could only change the first name on the card. With BMO, I was asked to fax (yes, they still use a fax machine!) a document listing my legal name, my true name, and my tax ID number. While I hated all the extra steps and the three or four times I was required to speak to someone to confirm receipt, I was happily surprised in the end when I requested and received a card with my complete pseudonym as my first and middle names. Yes, I must still use my legal last name on my card, but I don’t mind having it on the card. Having my legal last name will make it easier to flash my legal ID if that is ever required (and, if that doesn’t work, BMO has a 1-800 number I can call if someone needs to validate my ownership of the card).
I should add (in case this happens to you) that when I received my first true name card in the mail, I had to call the bank and cancel it immediately (just my luck). The envelope that it arrived in had been torn open and it was physically possible to remove the card, record all the information on it, and replace the card in the envelope. Under the circumstances, I did not want to activate the card lest a thief could immediately start charging value to it. Unfortunately, that meant yet another time I would have to “out” myself to a faceless voice on the bank’s help line. Thankfully, other than the “7-10 business day” further delay, my card finally arrived (in an undisturbed envelope this time).
I have now proudly used my Lisa credit card and credit card number many times, in person and over the internet, with no issues. I love seeing my female name on my credit card and am genuinely happy Lisa is financially viable. I discovered an additional value to the card. Often, I have wanted to sign up for an event that requires a credit card. Before I had my True Name card, that meant I would have to sign up as Lisa and then use a credit card from “him” to pay for the event. Now, everything fits neatly, with no question about who is paying for the event and who is receiving the benefit. That is why I say that Lisa is finally financially viable.
For those of you who are DADT (like me), the legal notices still come to my legal name, although one can arrange for all digital notices. Regardless, I disclosed to my wife that I was getting a new credit card and that it would be used only for DADT purposes. She seemed unconcerned, which helped. If you choose to get a True Name card, I hope you get the same reaction from your spouse. We all deserve this type of validation, as it brings “True Joy” to see your “True Name” on a credit card! I haven’t tried obtaining a credit card in England or any other country, so one of our readers currently across the pond will need to weigh in on the availability of this type of card there. If any reader has had any other experiences with a True Name credit card, please comment. It will help us all master the card.
*If you are wondering why I have three credit cards (now four!), the reason is simple: Visa is required by Costco (where the gasoline is cheapest), American Express gives me the best benefits and my MasterCard is accepted worldwide and doesn’t charge currency transaction fees (extra fees for charging in another currency).