Flash fact: according to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 Executive Summary survey, only 11% of individuals surveyed had a complete set of legal documents that matched their chosen name and gender identity. The same survey found that 68% of individuals surveyed didn’t have any documents that reflected their chosen name or gender identity.
Holy systemic oppression, Batman! Originally, the first paragraph started with “fun fact,” but the facts weren’t fun, so we changed it to be comic-book-y instead. Regardless, identification inequity is a huge issue within the transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) community. For whatever reason, the American government has decided that its citizens need lots of different types of identification, and that each form of ID should be housed under a different branch of government, so when folx want to change their information, it’s a great big pain in the derrière. They also think putting everybody’s gender on everything is a good idea because…it’s a conversation starter? Who knows?
Depending on you or your loved-one’s age, marital status, immigration status, and impending need to GTFO America, there are differing amounts of documentation you may want to change. We’d like to take this time to state that lots of transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) folx don’t care about updating their legal documents for a wide variety of reasons, and that’s totally cool. There’s no right way to be queer, and having different names or gender markers on a legal document doesn’t make your identity any more or less valid.
That being said, if you or a loved-one is interested in getting the process started, it helps to get the name change done first. You can refer to our Name Change tab for more information about this process. If you’re looking to get your gender marker changed, the best place to start is with a note from your mental health provider. If your provider is not familiar with how to write these letters, you can show them this template. Also, consider referring them to our website for more information about working with trans and GNC youth—you’ll be happy you did.
Once you have your name change order and/or letter from your shrink, we recommend changing your documents in the order they are listed:
Especially for younger kids who don’t have a license or permit, getting the birth certificate changed first makes everything else easier. It is considered a valid form of identification, and one of the accepted documents for changing your name and gender marker on your social security card, driver’s license/permit, immigration documents, and passport.
You can have your birth certificate amended by the state you were born in or by your current state of residence. Most states allow individuals to make binary changes (male-to-female or female to male) to names and gender markers on birth certificates based on transitioning, but some states and “territories” still have a long way to go (click here for a more detailed explanation of your state’s policy).
As of this writing, individuals can get an ‘X’ gender marker on their birth certificate (indicating a non-binary or gender non-conforming identity) in Oregon, California, New York City, Washington, and Colorado.
Social Security Card
Some states require you to have your social security card changed in order to get your driver’s license updated, but many don’t. That being said, many folx don’t have driver’s licenses or permits, but everybody who was born in America has some kind of record with the social security office.
All you have to present to get your name changed is the aforementioned name change order, but to get your gender marker changed you need updated legal documents or a letter from your mental health provider or primary care physician. Here’s a template if your whomever has never written one. The social security office will accept a valid passport with your updated gender marker, a birth certificate, or a court order. While your gender doesn’t show up on your social security card, some companies still use the gender provided by the social security office to verify your identity.
Currently, there are only “male” and “female” options for social security (because it’s a federal government thing). If you get lucky and ask really nicely, some social security office workers might accept your non-binary documents to switch to “male” or “female.” It’s complicated.
To change any of your immigration documents, you will need a letter from your doctor and to fill out the appropriate forms. Because the three of us have never filled these documents out ourselves, we encourage you to check out this website for more detailed information about changing your documents. We recognize our privilege in having never had to fill these out, and aren’t trying to be dismissive, but simply want to refer you to “the experts.” If you have any further questions that the aforementioned website does not answer, please reach out, and we’ll try to help you find answers.
Driver’s License or Permit
For many folx, changing the name or gender marker on a driver’s license or permit is the most meaningful part of the ‘Legal Documents’ process. These are the documents people see most often—whether it’s buying alcohol, going to an R-rated movie, or showing friends and acquaintances a really bad photo—driver’s licenses and permits are many folx primary forms of identification.
Changing your name and gender marker on a license or permit looks different in every state. Some states require proof of surgery, while others will change it just because you ask. Many still require a note from a mental health provider or primary care physician. For a detailed list of your state’s requirements, Google “change gender (or sex) marker on driver’s license” followed by the name of your state.
Currently, non-binary gender markers are offered for driver’s licenses and permits in Oregon, Colorado, California, New York, Washington, District of Columbia, Maine, Minnesota, Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Illinois (eventually), and Virginia.
Like all of these other documents, if you flash your name change order and fill out a few forms, the government will change it. Gender markers are harder on the federal level. This website provides a lot of awesome information about what specific forms you need and how much money to send in. That being said, it may not have the correct form on their website, so the feds will likely send back your application with the correct form to fill out. Don’t get discouraged, getting your documents changed is a pain.
You will also have to provide a passport photo to get a new passport. You can get this taken care of at your local Walgreens for under $20. Pro tip: get two copies of the photo in case they send your application back and don’t include the first photo. Trust us, it will save you a lot of heartache. Also, unless you are getting an expedited passport, you’ll have to do all of the application process by mail, so make sure to take your time with filling everything out correctly.
Don’t forget to include the fee (it’s about $100 for a new passport), and expect a long wait. Plus, you have to get finger-printed—we almost forgot about that! Nothing happens over night with the federal government.
We recognize that most trans and GNC youth probably aren’t married yet, but for older queer folx or people who like to be prepared, here’s a small section for marriage licenses. If you’re looking to change your name after transitioning, go to the website of whichever county (or parish) you were married in and do a quick search. You will need to send some forms and one of your original copies of the court-ordered name change.
Each county (or parish) will likely have its own rules about gender changes. Whatever’s on your birth certificate is what’s going on the form (from Em’s limited experience). While there are no set rules for non-binary designations on marriage licenses, the person filling out your paperwork may have the option to leave the gender section blank or choose a non-gendered term, such as “Partner 2.”
Credit Cards, Insurance, and Other Adult Stuff
You’re either going to have to call them or go into a physical location; it depends entirely on who you bank with and who you get your insurance from. From our experience, most places are very courteous throughout the process, and many won’t even ask to see your legal documents. Either way, it’s easiest to get these things changed after you have an updated copy of your driver’s license, permit, or passport.
There’s a reason why only 11% of trans and GNC folx have all of their documents changed…well, there are a lot of reasons, truthfully. As you can see, changing your documents isn’t something that happens quickly, especially if you’ve been convicted of a felony or don’t have extra time and cash. While corrected documents can be affirming and keep you safe, they are by no means essential, and do not in any way impact the validity of your gender identity. You are a glorious, beautiful, intelligent little snail, REGARDLESS of what the government says.