A lot of people have been wondering how the recent election might affect their ability to legally change their name and gender and update their documents. While we know that we are the only ones who ultimately define our genders, having state-issued documents that more accurately reflect our identities often critically affects our safety and well-being as trans people. We hope this memo will provide some guidance, and maybe even reassurance.
Before anything else, we have to acknowledge that there are a lot of unknowns right now: we can’t predict the full extent of the effects of the election. But by the same token, we don’t necessarily know that there will be any immediate changes (it’s worth noting the new presidential administration has not announced any concrete plans to change ID document policy).
Another encouraging thing to know is that many of the steps you may want to take to change your legal name and gender are controlled by the state where you live, not the federal government. The processes for obtaining a court-ordered name and gender change and updating name and gender on driver’s licenses, state IDs, and birth certificates are in the hands of individual states, and no change in federal administration should directly affect them.
The biggest area of uncertainty right now surrounds the process for updating legal gender on federal documents and records such as Social Security cards, passports, and immigration documents. We’ve fought hard to make the process more accessible for larger numbers of people by removing burdensome requirements that used to make people looking to change their gender on these records prove they’d had “sex reassignment surgery.” Currently, you only need to present a letter from your doctor saying that you have had “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.” This standard does not require any one procedure or treatment; it is an individualized standard that is determined by you and your medical provider.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this standard will remain in effect under the new administration, and there is a distinct possibility that the requirements may become more burdensome, though the timeline is impossible to predict. The good news is that the process of changing your gender with the Social Security Administration (SSA), passport, and USCIS documents is currently fairly straightforward: you don’t need a court-ordered change of gender or to update your gender on any other document; all you need is a letter from your doctor stating that you have had “appropriate clinical treatment,” as well as the necessary forms and fees. (For more information about the process and required language of the physician’s letter, go to: this link for SSA, this link for U.S. Passport, and this link for documents issued by USCIS.)
Our recommendations for how to proceed partly depend on what steps you’ve taken already. If you have already obtained a legal name and/or gender change (if available in your state), but haven’t had an opportunity to update your information with the SSA or USCIS, or on your passport, we would recommend pursuing that as soon as you are able.
If you would like to obtain a legal name and gender change but haven’t yet, you have two basic options. The first is to immediately apply for a name and gender change in the court in the county in which you live, and apply for new federal documents as soon as you have your court date and are granted the order. This is the usual procedure we recommend, as having a court order is required to change the name listed on your Social Security card and many other documents. However, there is some risk in this, as you may not obtain the court order until after the new administration comes into office (anecdotally, the wait time for a court date is about two months in Oakland, CA at the time this memo was written; the time may vary considerably across the country).
The other option you have is to apply for new federal documents immediately with an updated gender only, waiting until after your court date to update your name if you plan on doing this as well. This protects you from any risk of losing access to the option of changing your gender on your federal documents. The downside is that you may have to pay additional fees to replace your passport and other federal documents if you would like to change your name on them later. You also may temporarily have to deal with having documents where your legal name and gender appear “mismatched.” But if you are only planning on legally changing your gender, or if avoiding the risk is most important to you, this may be a good option.
You can find detailed information on the process for changing your information on federal documents in our new publication, ID Please: Quick Guide to Changing Federal Documents.
This is a scary time for many in our community, and we know that this resource does not answer all of the uncertainties and fears of this moment. We hope, though, that it helps address one anxiety many people have shared with us. Please know that Transgender Law Center is here and remains committed to doing everything in our power to protect the rights and lives of all members of our community, including immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, youth, and people of color who have borne the brunt of this election’s hateful rhetoric and violence.