Sunday, July 6, 2014

Identification

This post is a synopsis of the process I went through to legally change my name and gender on government documents.  I've gotten quite a few questions about it, so I thought I would compile everything into one blog entry. 

In 2010, the US State Department began allowing transgender people to change their gender on passports without surgery and in June 2013 the Social Security Administration adapted a similar policy.  These federal policies apply to anyone in the USA but driver's licenses and birth certificates vary from state to state.

The first step you should take is changing your name.  This procedure is different in every state and in North Carolina, where I live, this policy can vary from county to county.  While there me be slight differences between counties, the process should be very similar everywhere.  First, I will share with you how I came up with my name.

*****

When I first got on the internet (~20 years ago) I chose a female name for myself based on my given first name, even though I rarely went by my first name.  Today I consider it an honor to my father, as he was often called Tommy while growing up.  My original middle name was Michelle and I chose that simply because I love that name and as a kid often fancied it as a name for myself.  I used the last name Valentine because I'd met a girl named Tammy Valentine and thought that was a really cool name.

So I started out as Tammy Michelle Valentine but when I began my transition I dropped that last name and began using my given name, Matthews.  I also dropped the middle name as I had the idea that I would ask my mother to give me a middle name when I came out.  I was being hopeful that things would go well.  As it turns out, the day after I came out to her Mama gave me the middle name Ann.  She said that she had prayed on it and came up with this name when she woke up that morning.  I thought that it was perfect!
 

*****

The first step is to contact the county Clerk of Court's office and ask them to send you a packet detailing what you will need to do to change your name in that county.  I had no idea that this process would take as long as it did or be as difficult as it was, but in November 2013 I finally received the paperwork for my legal name change to Tammy Ann Matthews.  I'd gone full time on the Winter Solstice of 2012 but didn't apply for my name change until the May 2013.

The following is the link to my blog post detailing that process here in Nash County, NC.....



http://tammyworld2012.blogspot.com/2013/12/legal-changes.html


In North Carolina, we have to have both FBI and SBI criminal background checks as part of the name change application.  Webpages for both agencies describe the necessary steps that must be taken in order to receive these background checks and here are the links for the FBI and (for those in North Carolina) the SBI sites..

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks/submitting-an-identity-history-summary-request-to-the-fbi

http://www.ncdoj.gov/getdoc/d89eb538-15a7-4f65-aa96-8219428e64bd/Background-Checks.aspx

*****


My next step was to change my name and gender marker with the Social Security Administration (SSA).   It's a good idea to do this before making changes on your driver's license because most states do check your SSA information when you apply for a change.  Also, just about everyone today relies on SSA information as the definitive source for your identity.  For the name change, I had to have an original copy (from the County Clerk's office) of the court order changing my name.  For the gender change you need a letter from your physician.  The details on that letter and how to go about this important step of changing gender marker on SSA records can be found in the following document.....


http://www.transequality.org/Resources/SSAResource_June2013.pdf



*****

The nest step was my driver's license.  I can tell you it was awkward living full time for almost a year and not having a name/gender matching identification card (license).  Before I transitioned I went and updated my picture with longer hair and an androgynous look, so the picture was not that far off from my presentation but having my old name and gender marker was problematic.  The people at my bank adjusted quickly and in most instances where I was asked for my license Is imply told them I didn't have it with me.  That kept me from having an alcoholic drink at a few restaurants but otherwise didn't cramp my style too much.

Some states won't let you change your gender marker without a letter from a surgeon stating that you have gone through gender changing surgery.  For MTFs this would be either GRS or an orchiectomy.  I have many friends in this situation and it can be a little awkward but it shouldn't hold you back from doing anything, even getting a job.  You won't be able to be stealth, however, and anyone closely examining your license will know that you are trans.


It will be easy to change your name on your license, but the ease of changing the gender marker will depend on where you live, among other factors.  Here in North Carolina I still get varying reports on whether or not friends have been able to make this change and as far as I can tell there is no clear policy at the DMV. 

Since the SSA change in 2013 I was under the impression that we could change gender markers as I know several friends who have done so.  One friend had tried repeatedly in the past but when I told her of my success and the probable new policy, she tried again and was successful.  Recently I've heard from another friend who is having trouble with it and DMV employees are telling her she needs a specific letter stating she's had surgery, so I can't say for certain what the North Carolina ruling is.  It used to vary from office to office and with different  personnel as well. 

At the NC DMV you will need the same letter outlined above for the SSA change.  I was advised to have the doctor make one change to that letter, essentially saying that you have completed gender transition.  This advice was given to me by people who successfully changed their gender markers before the 2013 federal policy change and I will say that everyone I know (but one person) that has been to DMV after me has been able to change their gender marker using the same letter they used with the SSA.
 

It should be noted that for all of these agencies, the letter must come from a physician and not a therapist.  Some doctors may have problems with the wording of "completed gender change", but from most reports this is no longer necessary in NC.  My thinking was, why take a chance.  I just made my best presentation, walked into the DMV office confidently and handed them the paperwork, telling them I was there to change my name and gender on my driver's license.  While very similar to the SSA's required letter, here is the form for the letter my doctor wrote me for the DMV..... 


Letter of gender change for NC DMV:

I, (physician’s full name), (physician’s medical license or certificate
number), (issuing U.S. State/Foreign
Country of medical license/certificate), (DEA Registration number or
comparable foreign designation),
am the physician of (name of patient), with whom I have a doctor/patient
relationship and whom I have
treated (or with whom I have a doctor/patient relationship and whose
medical history I have reviewed and
evaluated).

(Name of patient) has completed gender transition to the new gender
(specify
new gender male or female).

I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States
that the forgoing is true and correct.

Signature
Typed Name
Date 


Note: it might be a good idea for those living states without a clear policy of gender change before surgery to get their passport first, then go to DMV to change the gender marker on their license. 


*****

It is also a good idea to get a passport, especially if you are not able to change the gender marker on your driver's license.  You can get a passport card that looks similar to a license and is a good form of photo ID.   In my case, I am traveling to Canada so I needed a passport. 

For the name change, you do need a birth certificate and an official copy of the court order changing your name.  My birth certificate shows me as male but you also have to present a driver's license and the physician's letter, so they will know you are trans anyway.  The following link outlines the specifics of what you need to do to change gender on a passport.....



http://transequality.org/Resources/passports_2012.pdf


When I applied for my passport, I got a response back from the State Department stating that I needed a new physician's letter.  It seems that my doctor left out one of the important elements of the letter, in our case the DEA registration number.  There are 8 bullet points in the example letter provided in the preceding document (found in the link).  So this goes to show that those letters have to be precise and the doctor needs to provide them on paper bearing their official letterhead.  For clarification, here are the 8 bullet points for the passport change, and they differ slightly from the SSA requirements.....


*Physician's full name


*Medical license or certification number

*Issuing state of medical license/certificate


*Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) registration number assigned to the physician


*Address and telephone number of the physician


*Language stating that he/she has treated you or has reviewed and evaluated your medical history and that he/she has a doctor patient relationship with you.


*Language stating that you have had appropriate clinical treatment for the transition to the new gender (the new gender, male or female, must be stated.


*The statement must clearly state the following: "I declare under penalty or perjury under the laws of the United States that the following is true and correct." 



*****

The last official document I will need to change is my birth certificate.  In North Carolina this is only possible with a letter from a surgeon stating that you have undergone irreversible gender changing surgery.  I did try to get mine changed when I changed the name on it (using the letter from my doctor to DMV) but it didn't work.  You never know until you try and it doesn't hurt to try.  Oh well, with my GRS scheduled for September 24th, it won't be long until my birth certificate is changed.

Some states allow gender marker changes on birth certificates without surgery and some will never allow the birth certificate to be changed.  Still others will only issue you an amended certificate that shows the old record.  Since moving won't affect this as you are issued this document at the time and place of your birth, some are stuck with not being able to change their birth certificates. 

Times are changing and states are following the lead of the federal government in relaxing policies on gender changes to official documents.  If you live in an area that restricts your ability to change the gender marker on your driver's license or birth certificate, there is hope that you will be able to do it one day.

*****

I've outlined my experience so far with my name and gender change.  Any other input on current policies where you live or your experiences with this process would be appreciated.  Please post that information here in the comments section, as I am providing this blog as an information source for those going through this process.  I will say that life is much easier when you have the correct name and gender on all of your documents.  As the saying goes, it does get better.....