One of the most annoying hassles while transitioning is getting your name and gender changed on legal documents like birth certificates, passports and IDs. This should be simple, quick and cheap, but in most places it’s quite the opposite. This can lead to all sorts of trouble, from trouble getting into bars, to trouble making large purchases, to trouble getting past airport security. However, thanks to California AB 1121, a law that newly came into effect, transgender Californians no longer have to worry about this.
AB 1121 makes it so that all Californians need to change the gender on their birth certificates are a note from their doctor and $23. This is much easier, faster and cheaper than the previously required court order. It also streamlines the name-changing process, eliminating the (what I’ve always thought to be bizarre) requirements that the person appear in court and publish the name change request in a local paper. In California, the cost of putting the request on the newspaper alone can be too much for trans people, many of whom are often without a steady income.
The bill was authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and signed by Governor Jerry Brown last fall. It also makes changing state-issued IDs and passports easier once the person has changed their birth certificate. This may seem like a small thing, but it will go a long way in making the lives of trans people easier and better. It should have the impact of making travel, interacting with the police, voting and any other activity where an ID is required a lot easier for trans people. It’s never fun when your ID says the incorrect gender and you get questioned by TSA agents because of it. With this law, that should be happening a lot less.
In sharp contrast to this positive news out of California regarding trans people and IDs, comes the report from West Virginia that two trans women who recently went to the DMV to change their IDs were harassed, mocked, called “its” and told to remove their makeup, wigs and jewelry before they could get their pictures taken. This is despite the fact that they are trans women who live and present as women and are more likely to be seen wearing makeup than not. They even had notes from their doctors and court orders explaining that they were transgender and should have updated IDs to reflect that.
Trudy Kitzmiller went into the Martinsburg, West Virginia DMV to update her driver’s license and was called “it” and told to remove her makeup, wig and jewelry if she wanted to be photographed for the ID. She left without getting a new ID. Earlier, in January, another trans woman, Kristen Skinner, went to the Charles Town DMV and was also called “it” and told to remove her makeup, as she was told that DMV policy is that men cannot wear makeup in ID photos. She removed her makeup, got her picture taken, and as a result, has an ID that does not match the way she looks on a daily basis. Neither woman has filed a lawsuit against the DMV at this time, although according to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, they have cause to do so.
They did nothing wrong, and in fact, were trying to do the right thing by updating their IDs. However, because it’s so difficult to change your gender on state IDs in West Virginia, these two women were humiliated and mistreated in public. Now, because the West Virginia DMV thinks that they are men, their IDs won’t reflect the way they look, or even the way they are. This can lead to small problems, like confusion when they use credit cards, and to big problems, like needing your ID to accurately depict you when you’re going through airport security or talking to a police officer.
ID laws don’t just make things easier and less embarrassing, they make things a whole lot safer for trans women. An ID that shows the wrong gender can out a trans person to people that they might not want to be out to, and it can give people the (ridiculous and harmful) idea that the trans woman was trying to be deceptive. When these things combine, the situation can get very bad for a trans women. Trans women, especially black trans women and other trans women of color, face a disproportionate amount of violence, as evidenced by the four trans women of color murdered last month, and the transmisogyny that leads to that violence often comes from anger and fear that one is being tricked. Incorrect IDs make confusion more likely and accidental or unwanted outings even more likely.
Although some states, including Oregon, New York, Iowa, Vermont, Washington and now California have passed laws making the changing of birth certificates easier for trans people, other states still lag behind. States like Idaho and Kansas will not change birth certificates at all for trans people, others will only issue amended birth certificates that show the gender and name change, but still show the original information, and others will allow a change only after gender confirmation surgery. As seen in West Virginia, laws that make it easier for trans people to get the correct are very important. Hopefully other states will follow California’s lead and take this very unnecessary burden off of trans people’s shoulders.