Jared Hyams figured nobody would look closely at a change of address form–after all, don’t civil servants have better things to do with their time than quibble over a signature? Deciding to make a joke, he scribbled a penis and handed it into the Australian Electoral Commission.
“I thought it would be a laugh; they would approve it and next year I would sign something different,” Hyams told Australian newspaper The Age.
Now, Hyams, 33, of Blackburn South, Australia, has been battling with government officials for five years over the use of his phallic signature. The issue boils down to what constitutes an official signature–and Hyams isn’t giving up the fight.
He’s engaged in so much litigation that he has now decided to embark upon obtaining a law degree, and will complete the requirements this year.
“But when I did this signature all of a sudden the sh-t hit the fan. I was receiving letters and phone calls telling me I couldn’t have it. I thought, that’s interesting, why not? It sparked something in me,” he said. “I didn’t understand if these people were offended or had taken it personally.”
Although it started out as a joke, Hyams eventually decided the penis doodle was worthy of being adopted as his own signature. He filled out forms for a passport, driver’s licence and a card proving his age.
First, Hyam’s change of address form was ruled invalid, and the officials called it “frivolous, vexatious” and a waste of money.
The election commission ultimately processed the form with no signature at all, and mentioned the victory in this “rather novel” case in its annual report.
The Victoria state transportation department said the diagram might “create uncertainty and confusion”. While fighting the ruling, he was lectured about contempt of court and wasting its time. The Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs actually claimed that the image “could constitute sexual harassment” of government staff. They refused to process his passport application, as did the Department of Justice when he applied for a Working with Children Check.
Why did he put up so much of a fight for something so trivial? Obviously, he got asked that all the time, but the self-described “skeptic of everything” said he refused to let the government tell him how he could sign his name.
“What a signature is comes down to the function, not the actual form,” he said. “Generally, it’s a person putting a mark on a piece of paper by their own hand. As soon as you start defining what a signature is you run into problems – if it’s meant to be someone’s name, how do we define that because most signatures are just illegible scribble.”
“It’s been an interesting journey,” Hyams said cheekily. “But none of it is resolved. Everything is just left hanging.”
The Victoria state government officials, however, issued him a driver’s license that contains the penis signature–apparently their employees were not as vigilant as the federal government.
Hyams has also succeeded in using it for other purposes, including a federal government-issued health care card, his bank account, library cards, and student identity cards.
Exam instructors have questioned him about his signature, and a tutor once refused to read his exam because of it.
Hyams actually has no particular attachment to the genitalia; he said choosing a different symbol probably would have caused him less of a headache, and he would have chosen something different had he taken more time to think about it. Now he says he will only change it when the government stops fighting him so vociferously about it. In other words, it’s the principle of the thing.