Youth Blog – I Am Who I Say I Am: Changing Your Name and Gender on Official Documents
Written by Liz McConnell, IMPACT intern.
Updating the name and gender markers on your IDs might be part of your transition – just one more step in reflecting your authentic self. This process can be confusing and depends on where you live, so below we provide information on where to start. Remember that you are not in this alone, so reach out for support, whether through a family member, friend, or an important adult in your life.
In addition to getting an official name change, you may want to update the gender markers on your passport, social security card, driver’s license or state ID, and birth certificate. We hope this guide makes it a little bit easier!
If changing your name is a part of your transition, getting an official name change first can make the rest of the process easier because you can update your name and gender at the same time. The process varies from state to state, but it usually works through a court petition. In most states, you don’t need a lawyer, but you might find it helpful to talk to one to understand the process.
If you’re under 18, you need parental consent to change your name. If you’re in school, changing your name officially will mean that your name is correctly displayed to your teachers, on school records, and on your diploma [1,2,3].
Most of the time, name changes are approved. However, sometimes courts ask inappropriate personal questions about gender transition. In 2009, a court in New York ruled that there was no legal basis for asking transgender people to share private medical information to complete a name change . If this happens, you can seek legal assistance, such as from the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund or the Transgender Law Center.
In many states, you have to publish your name change in a newspaper for a certain amount of time. However, in some states you can apply to skip this expensive and invasive step . You may also be eligible for free legal name change services from the Name Change Project.
The State Department changed its policy in June 2010. Under the new policy, you need a letter from a doctor including the doctor’s full name, license number, issuing state, DEA registration number, address, phone number, and a statement that you have received “appropriate clinical treatment” . This can mean whatever is right for you, from simply living as your correct gender to taking hormones or having surgery.
If your doctor is not willing to say your transition is complete, you can request a limited two-year passport with a letter saying you are still in the transition process [6,7]. For more information on passport changes, check out this guide from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) or the official announcement about the new policy from the State Department.
Social Security Card
You won’t see gender anywhere on your social security card, so it might seem like you don’t need to change anything. But that’s not true! The Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps gender as part of their electronic records, and outdated information here can cause issues with background screenings by employers. The good news is that the SSA updated its policy in June 2014, and you can now change your gender marker with any of the following: a valid passport with your updated gender, a letter from a doctor, an updated birth certificate, or a court order [8,9]. For more information, check out this guide from the NCTE or the official policy from the SSA.
Unfortunately, the process of changing your driver’s license is a little more confusing since it depends on where you live. About half of states have removed the requirement that you provide proof of sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or get a court order, but a lot of states have outdated policies. In some states, you can update your gender with a letter from a psychologist [1,2]. To find out what the policy is where you live, check out this map from the NCTE.
This also depends on where you live, and unfortunately it’s harder to change than your driver’s license because it’s considered a “vital record.” Many states require a court order or proof of SRS, and some states actually prohibit updating the gender on your birth certificate. California, Vermont, and Washington have removed the surgical requirement, and hopefully other states will follow their lead [1,2]. To learn more about the policy where you live, check out these guidelines from Lambda Legal.
For More Information
If you’re looking for more information, check out this podcast from the Trans Youth Equality Foundation and guides from NCTE, Lambda Legal, or the ACLU. Some organizations have made state-specific guides, such as Equality Illinois and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.
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 Lambda Legal. (n.d.) Identity Documents. Transgender rights toolkit: A Legal guide for trans people and their advocates. Retrieved from: http://www.lambdalegal.org/publications/trt_transgender_id
 National Center for Transgender Equality. (2012). ID documents and privacy. A Blueprint for Equality. Retrieved from: http://transequality.org/Resources/NCTE_Blueprint_for_Equality2012_ID_Documents.pdf
 Equality Illinois. (2013, December). Guide to name and gender marker changes. Retrieved from: http://www.equalityillinois.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Equality-Illinois-Names-Change-Toolkit.pdf
 Equality California. (2013, September 6). California legislature passes bill to aid transgender Californians with name changes, identity documents. Retrieved from: http://www.eqca.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=5609563&ct=13258701¬oc=1
 National Center for Transgender Equality. (2014, March). Understanding the passport gender change policy. Retrieved from: http://transequality.org/Resources/passports_2014.pdf
 U.S. Department of State. (2010, June 9). New Policy on Gender Change in Passports Announced. Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2010/06/142922.htm
 U.S. Department of State. (2014, December 12). 7 FAM 1300 Appendix M. U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual, 9, 1-9. Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/143160.pdf
 National Center for Transgender Equality. (2013, June). Transgender people and the Social Security Administration. Retrieved from: http://www.transequality.org/Resources/SSAResource_June2013.pdf
 Social Security Administration. (2015). RM 10212.200 Changing Numident Data for Reasons other than Name Change. Retrieved from: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0110212200