Apple is Intertwined with My Story as a Trans Woman.
I’ve been an Apple user from the moment I was old enough to make choices about my media and computer usage. My first device was an iPod nano, gifted to me by my father. It only got worse. Even earlier than that, I was absolutely enamored with everything Apple. I remember where I was the first time I saw the Think Different commercial. (My grandmother’s living room).
I grew up believing in what Apple did. I was a child in rural WV. The new iMac with its Bondi Blue gorgeousness was a dream to me. I knew I’d never have money to have something like that. As I got older and more invested in technology, Steve Jobs was a personal hero to me. I absolutely ate up everything I could find about him. I idolized him. Even now on my bookshelf I have books about him. To give you an idea how much his ethos mattered and still matters to me I literally have a tattoo memorializing his place in my life from when he died.
My history with Apple is My history. The moment I got a debit card for myself the first thing I did was purchase a MacBook. I think the year would have been 2006. I purchased a .Mac subscription immediately. Of course I wanted that .Mac email address, that was proof I’d made it. I was part of the Apple club. I stopped running GNU/Linux operating systems on the spot and switched to MacOS full time (It was Mac OS X then).
This history of my Apple account is a history of my growth from a teenager into an adult. It was there for me for all of it. When I learned for the first time that there were words for me (“trans woman”) and that I wasn’t alone: I did that on a Mac. When I researched how to transition and what I would need to do, a Mac was there for me. My Mac has been my right-hand for every important moment of my adult life.
When I filled out and wrote the paperwork to apply for my official name change last year, I did that on an iPad Pro using an Apple Pencil. For every moment of growth I’ve had, for every momentous occasion, for all my social interactions and everything I’ve done since the iPhone was first released (which I purchased first day) an Apple device has been there for all of it.
When Apple writes those feel good scripts for their commercials about how their technology touches every part of a person’s life and they highlight a marginalized person, that’s me. I’m the person. I’m like a walking advertisement for their products; which makes it all the harder for me that their products have become one of the most reliable sources of pain in my life today.
When the Problems Started.
I didn’t realize, and was never adequately informed of, how important my account with Apple would become to me. It has all my music. It has my files. It has my primary account on my MacBook. It has my photos. It has such a significant portion of my life that to sever myself from it would cause me meaningful harm.
Those problems started with the iTunes Store and Apple’s DRM and have never improved. For all of Apple’s strides to making superior, quality products they have remained committed to proprietary and locked solutions that keep their commitments to media providers, enable custom features, and make it harder to ever leave their eco system.
And I don’t want to leave. But now at this moment in my life Apple has moved from a force that empowered me to a force that actively maintains and forces me to engage with an identity that doesn’t belong to me. Apple made choices to lock in their customers, but they also locked in our identities in a way that, by their own admission, they can’t fix — and I refuse to accept that one of the most technologically brilliant companies on the world cannot handle fixing an email based identity system.
The Problems with Apple’s Lock In.
I created an email back in 2006 or so using the common format firstname.lastname@example.org. That email later because email@example.com. That email LATER YET became firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what’s tied to that account:
My iTunes Library.
Not just over a decade of every single purchase I’ve ever made with Apple but all of my playlists and all of the custom music from lovers and special moments that I’ve uploaded to iTunes Match.
My Developer Account.
I’m a developer. I have a developer account. My account is tied to this email.
The Literal Login to my MacBook.
And not just the login to my MacBook. My iCloud account information was used to form the very structure of my user account. Every single file on my computer is at the directory users/deadname/filename.xyz.
I accidentally shared the path to a file on my computer a week ago and revealed my deadname to dozens of people who previously had never seen it.
My Photo library.
Every photo I’ve taken since I got my first iPhone is in my photo library. Those photos were stored in Photos.app and then iCloud when the photo library was available. I’m fortunate I have backups in other systems (Google Photos) but I shouldn’t have to think about that.
My Movie Library
Literally every movie I’ve purchased through the iTunes Store, hundreds of dollars of them, is tied to this account.
My App Library
Every App I’ve ever owned through the App Store, every purchase through those apps, and all of the files and data stored in them are part of a library that is tied to my Apple account. I can’t do anything about that.
And there’s probably more I can’t change. These are just the things I was able to rattle off. The point I’m making here is that my Apple account — every person’s Apple account — is tied to their most sensitive and important data and often very long histories of it that predate Apple’s newer and more flexible iCloud identity system that DOES allow you to change your name — provided you set up iCloud with a third party email address.
Deadnames Are Abusive.
For many, or even most, trans people taking a new name is an important and beautiful part of the experience of being a trans person. A new name is freedom. It’s freedom from a history we didn’t choose. It’s freedom from an identity that was forced on us. It’s freedom to say who we are. It’s freedom to start over. It’s freedom to be ourselves for the first time in our lives. Taking a name is for us to take ownership of ourselves.
To see that name, that deadname, is a punch in the heart. It makes me sick. That name is tied to years
of abuse at the hands of society. It’s tied to ideas about me that aren’t real. That name is a Sherlockian investigation wall linking to everything I have ever hated about my life. Seeing that name pulls me down ever-linked pathways of harm all linked back to the moment a doctor decided they knew my heart because they knew my genitals.
And Apple has made itself into one of the pins holding that web onto the walls of my life.
And I Tried to Fix It. I Can’t.
I have called. I have emailed Apple’s customer support. I have called repeatedly. I have escalated to managers and more capable support staff who had more power to help me. I have offered to provide legal proof of a name change. I have tried every trick I know to get Apple to let me move on and be me without robbing me of almost 15 years of history.
Those are my options. I start fresh or I endure. I can wipe away thousands of dollars in purchases with no recourse, lose all of my data, or accept that gut punch every time I turn on my MacBook or approve a purchase in the App Store.
I even asked if there was a solution wherein they could give me a credit on my new account so even if I lost all of my data I could AT LEAST get my purchases back. No dice. Nothing. No amount of escalation has helped with this.
I had a similar problem with Spotify. Nothing could be done. But at least Spotify had the decency to offer me ways to migrate my playlist and information to a newer account.
So Will Apple Care Enough to Fix It?
I refuse to accept that from Apple and no trans person should accept that. Apple has more money than God and more technical resources than entire continents and economies.
Apple has painted itself as an ally to LGBTQ+ people. I know their insurance is among the more trans friendly insurances. The CEO is a cisgender gay man. They release rainbow watch bands for the Apple Watch. They proudly feature LGBTQ+ people and even trans bodies in their feel-good promotional videos for new features in the iPhone. They’ve said where they see themselves in my life.
Apple, I love your place in my life and I cherish your place in my history. It’s time for you to do better for every trans person. You’re brilliant and you talk a big game about what a good ally you are to us, so prove it. Give us the power to change our relationship with you even if it’s a technical hurdle, even if it’s hard for you to do. We deserve this from you because we’ve been here for you. Be the ally you claim to be.
You designed this mess. Fix it.