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A Nation Engaged: being transgender means you have two American identities

Jennifer Winslow, a transgender woman, tells Take Two that her unique American identity is that there are two of her: one before she transitioned, and another after becoming the Jen she is today.
Jennifer Winslow, a transgender woman, tells Take Two that her unique American identity is that there are two of her: one before she transitioned, and another after becoming the Jen she is today.
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All this week, Take Two explores what it means to be an American through the eyes of Southern California residents. It's part of, "Nation Engaged," a collaboration between NPR and local member stations.

Jen Winslow is an American.

But in America's eyes, there are two of her: Jen as she is now, and Jen before she transitioned.

She is a transgender woman, and the process to change is as much bureaucratic as it is biological.

The thing that people miss when they think a transition is just surgery, is that everything else in your daily life that goes along with your identity that you don't really think about is actually tied to your identity in one way or another.

Say you're at a restaurant and you hand over your credit card. The waitress doesn't really think that much about it, but when she gets to the back she's like, "Wait a minute, this is not who was sitting at the table." And they come and they say, "Can I see your ID for this?"

Out comes the ID. They look at that, they look at you, they look at that, then they look at you again for about 5 minutes. Then they either buy it, or you then have to explain, "This is what's going on."

The process of changing your official government identification is personally rewarding but it's absolutely necessary. The amount of things that have your identity tied to them is astronomical.

There's insurance tied to my ID. The bank is tied to my ID. There are Netflix accounts tied to my ID. There are utilities tied to my ID, which actually, the utilities are proving to be the tougher thing to change than I would've ever thought in a million years. It was almost more than the DMV!

I was surprised even at the DMV that they have a form that's for the gender change. They actually do! I remember I went up to this person when I got there because I really didn't think that would be a form that would be fillable ahead of time.

When I got my new license – my official one – in the mail, I ran up to my apartment and I opened it as soon as I got in the door. My legs were literally weak, so I ran over, sat down and just cried. I was married so I had a daughter. I can actually put this probably number two to having a child.

There is that gnawing aspect of trying to make sure that, when everything is changed, they actually change those records as far back as they can. For the birth certificate, my old birth certificate is sealed up now. That birth certificate no longer exists. 

The other side of that is, really, the technology age where you live forever as your old identity. So at some point, when I change my ID on something as simple as Twitter or Facebook, they let you update your name, but their original record is still going to have my old name.

When I'm 90, someone is still going to be able to look up my name and it's still going to be tied to my birth name. That old identity is never truly going to go away. 

After this election, I think that part of the country is going to come together. I think right now we're a broken country.

My ideal president is someone who's going to not only support us, but carry on the progress that's already been started for us.

To see it first hand, when I transitioned, I was working on the sales floor of Target in a very small Indiana town. At the end of one week, I had been there as my old self. The following Monday, I came in as Jen.

That's where I saw the progress because I had regular customers that came in that, as soon as they realized it was me or I spoke to them or told them, the smile that came over their faces and the hugs that came out of that just ... that is the progress that is America.

When you look at the deepest, small farming community in Indiana and these people hugging you and congratulating you, that's what America is.

Series: A Nation Engaged

America is changing. The crosscurrents of demographic and cultural change are upending traditional voting patterns and altering the face of the American political parties in significant ways. As part of our collaborative project with NPR called "A Nation Engaged," this week we're asking: What does it mean to you to be an American?

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on Facebook.