The Incredibly True Story Of How Cissexism Made My Same-Sex Marriage Legal

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Standing in line at the Los Angeles Superior Court in Norwalk, waiting our turn to apply for a marriage license, my wife and I were all smiles. Even when we reached the little windows in the wall, and the woman behind one of the windows gave us a condescending look, telling us with a little twinkle of satisfaction in her eye that California doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, we were all smiles. I slipped my passport out of my purse and presented the inconsistent gender marker to her, of course with a big smile on my face. I’m sure I must have looked quite smug.

You see, several months before, I had filed the proper documents with the California DMV to receive my driver’s license with an ‘F’ in the area designated for sex. However, at the time, passport changes were much more difficult to obtain. Thanks to this simple governmental regulation, my wife and I were able to exploit a legal loophole and obtain a federally recognized marriage, something that still eludes many of our LGBT sisters and brothers. Currently, only nine states out of 50 recognize same-sex marriages, a statistic that is deplorable under a government that touts itself as being, “the land of the free.”

I’ll never forget the look on that woman’s face, behind the glass at the courthouse. Nor will I forget the look on the young man’s face, behind the glass next to her. He was all smiles, too. And it seems that a month later, when we came to the courthouse dressed to the nines, he remembered us. In fact, he asked us if he could officiate our marriage! He was even sweet enough to use “spouse” instead of “husband” or “wife” regardless of what it said on the marriage certificate. He even took photos of us with our close friends out in the lobby where everyone at the courthouse that day could see us, I in my white silk strapless dress and my wife in her long bell-sleeved black dress. We were all smiles. I’m sure we all looked quite smug.

It was important to me to use a form of identification that identified me as male, despite my distaste at being misgendered during a normal workday, or in any other way being identified as a man. I hate that. I mean, I’ve got boobs for crying out loud! I am no man. But, in this case, it was important to me that someone get the clear distinction that I was exactly that, and my wife a woman, and that someone was the United States government. I needed them to see our marriage as being ‘valid,’ despite trying not to seek validation from outside sources. Sure, there’s civil unions and other forms of joint partnerships that carry tax incentives and whatnot. We could have even just had the wedding for ourselves and our friends and family, in someone’s backyard or some picturesque locale. It would have been every bit as significant and sentimental to my wife and I. But in the back of my head, was a whispering voice that kept calling, so quietly:

“…hospital visitation rights…”
and, “…beneficiary…”
and, “…power of attorney…”

These words resounded in my head, in that infinitesimal voice, because I would be damned before some nurse would keep me from seeing my wife, if she were injured! And I would be damned before seeing one single penny of our money end up in the hands of my parents simply because they were listed as “next of kin.”

The US Supreme Court will soon announce a ruling on same-sex marriage cases that have gripped America for years. The nine sitting justices will have the opportunity to determine, once and for all, the fate of millions of LGBT people who have thus far been denied equal protection under the law. I know in my heart that, at least, most of these nine people can see how important it is to a same-sex couple to be able to visit each other in the hospital, or to ensure a surviving partner doesn’t get thrown out into the street, simply because they are not the legal beneficiary. I firmly believe that they will decide in our favor, if indeed protection of the Constitution remains the mission of the Judicial Branch. I don’t see how they can’t. The defendants can’t even make a solid case without quoting a 2000 year-old book of fairy tales.

I honestly don’t even know what to think, if the alternative happens. It would carry far-reaching implications. To me, the matter is as plain as it could be. Each American citizen is granted equal protection under the law. We’ve fought the equality battle for too long to suddenly forget what it means in this country. And to the county clerk, that young man at the courthouse, it was also as plain as could be. I saw it in his eyes, when I smugly handed over my male-identified passport, and smiled at the other, condescending, clerk. Later, we all saw in in his eyes as he proudly pronounced us married by the power vested in him by the state of California.

Any law that can ban marriage from one group of people and still allow it for another, goes clearly against our Constitution and even more than that, is just plain stupid. Especially when circumventing the law is as simple as deciding which form of identification to show the clerk. Being transgender sometimes has it’s perks. Just don’t expect me to answer to “husband.”


Elizabeth is a thirty-something transwoman and wife. She’s a retail slave, part-time writer, and aspiring professional photographer.

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34 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    I always wondered if this would work! I’m stuck with one of the 6 or so states that won’t let me change a birth certificate so I guess for the rest of my life or until something changes that backwards state is giving me the freedom to same sex marry :)

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      If that backwards state is Texas, it would work. Littleton v. Prange ruled that gender, where marriage is involved, is determined by the an un-amended birth certificate.

      It’s sad, though, because the legal precedence was set as a way to invalidate the marriages of hetero trans women (Nikki Aaraguz’s plight is especially heartbreaking). The fact that it’s used against other trans women makes me wary of taking advantage of it. I think the only way I would is if I could use it to help someone else (immigration wise, for example).

  2. Thumb up 20

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    This! Some might see this as, “ugh (eww), see you are taking advantage!!!!” But what else are you suppose to do!?! This is your life.

    It’s reading stories like this I say to myself, “can a person just live?” and you did by exploiting a loophole because of our stupid cissexist society.

    Get it.

  3. Thumb up 5

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    I always thought this basically debunked the gay marriage debate. Like, I can’t get married to my gf, but I can change my gender? well that’s dumb. why not just allow both? but yes. YOU DO YOU :D and I finger snapped at the “The defendants can’t even make a solid case without quoting a 2000 year old book of fairy tales”

  4. Thumb up 3

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    I’ve known other two-women and two-men couples involving a trans person who’ve done this same thing. Of course I totally get why you’re doing it (and mazel tov!) but, purely speaking for myself, I don’t think I could. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Apart from the legal issues (which you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t), leaving my ID mismatched would be an emotional thing. I’m hoping these will all be non-issues in the near future and, Supreme Court or no, at least California is likely to have same sex marriage again in the very near future.

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      I agree. Nothing against people who do this, but if I ever get married, I want it to be as myself, not under some legal fiction that got arbitrarily attached to me.

  5. Thumb up 1

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    My favourite example of this is the hosts of the Trans-Ponder podcast (both trans women). One had her gender legally recognized and the other put it off, so they could get married.

  6. Thumb up 3

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    It’s too bad that this is the only way you could legally get married, but at the same time it’s really cool that you could.
    Just out of curiousity, what if anything happens to the legal status of a heterosexual marriage if one of the partners transitions later?

    • Thumb up 6

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      Woo go you! We did this exact same thing. :)
      I used my License and then got it changed immediately after. The passport was completed just a couple months ago.

      The problem is, of course, the IRS. if the IRS has two people claiming a dual or married Tax status their Social Security Cards have to line up as Male – Female. If not they can (and in the case of two of my friends) will be audited if its noticed.

      My current SSN links to a Male marker because changing my Social Security card is still linked to mandatory Surgery, as is changing my Birth Cert.

      So, while me and my spouse are been a woman / woman marriage the IRS still sees Female and Male. When this status changes it may become null and void for tax purposes. Hopefully a ruling by the supreme court will make this all moot.

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          I hadn’t heard that about the IRS. My wife and I got married in April before her GRS in May. Interestingly even in our Midwestern state the license says spouse and spouse. My understanding was that the marriage would remain “legal” even after all of her paperwork is changed, and thus would still be recognized by the IRS. Were your friends required to change their filing status? Sometimes it all gets a bit complicated…

        • Thumb up 1

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          @Shewas, It varies state by state. In NJ (before we just got marriage equality, Screw you Christie!) if a legally male and legally female married prior to transition and legal sex marker changes, the state would still have recognized them as married after the gender/marker change because some part of the marriage law said something like “that no man may tear asunder”. This meant that after the gender change they would be same sex spouses because the state was unable to annul or invalidate the marriage and NJ recognizes gender changes. It’s been that way since 1974.

          For me that meant that until marriage equality finally passed a month ago I could not have married the woman of my dreams because I finished transition a long time ago and was not married then.

          It varies by state and the laws can be very different. Make sure you check your states rules if you are interested in taking the marriage plunge and one of you is transitioning.

  7. Thumb up 4

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    As a matter of fact, I can now change my gender marker without nullifying the marriage, but your mileage may vary depending on where you live. Incidentally, it’s much harder to get my gender marker changed on federal forms such as Social Security and state forms like my Birth Certificate without having some kind of “irreversible” surgical procedure performed.

    Sure, being listed as “husband” on our marriage certificate is proving to cause it’s own wonderfully expansive set of mental unrest, but while my wife has had GRS, I have not. That fact causes more distress than a line on a piece of paper. In the meantime, this makes our marriage federally and legally binding, which I’ve decided was more important than the dysphoria I would be feeling regardless.

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      You no longer require any kind of bottom surgery in California to change your legal gender on your birth certificate. That was changed last year. Social Security does require trans women to have bottom surgery to change the gender marker on their Social Security file. It’s not as big a deal as it once was because they no longer cross reference your SS gender with that on your employer’s records… but it is a good idea to get it done eventually.

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      FYI, the Social Security Administration has just (this past week) updated their policies which no longer requires any kind of surgery to update the gender on your SS record. It now only requires a letter from your physician which verifies you’ve had appropriate clinical treatment (any mention of surgery is no longer required). Here’s a link which outlines the new requirements. You can also use your passport if the gender marker has been changed on that.

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

  8. Thumb up 1

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    I remember the day in court where I finally finished fixing things legally and knowing that was the point at which I could no longer marry a woman in California. Instead of a day where I could just be happy that things had been set right, I also had feelings that it sucked to lose the ability to have my relationships recognized even if that ability wasn’t there for any sensible reason.

    Oh well.

    Now I can’t enter into *any* marriage that would be recognized by all 50 states. No matter the gender of my partner.

    So that’s a thing.

    Justice on same-sex marriage can’t come soon enough. We’ll see what happens later this month when SCOTUS releases their verdict, I guess.

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    I’m glad everything worked out for you, and it at least gives me some confidence that it can for me too, living in Florida, which committed basically the same act of homophobic idiocy as California back in 2010.

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    Congratulations on your marriage! We read a piece in my family law class about this subject, which was very interesting. Defining legal gender by sex assigned at birth and refusing to allow same-sex marriage are both horrible, but I do enjoy the irony that these two discriminatory policies, when put together, allow a few gay couples to marry. Good for you for taking advantage of this loophole – I hope you will soon be able to renew your vows with the proper gender marker on all your documents!

  11. Thumb up 9

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    I’m getting married tomorrow to the love of my life, who is a transwoman, and we live in one of the most homophobic states in the Union (TN). I’m really excited. :D

    Two of our friends are our trans superheroes. They’re both trans men and got legally married in South Carolina when one was legally considered a man and the other was legally considered a woman. The thing that makes their marriage the coolest thing ever is that their marriage is a gay marriage even to transphobes. People who refuse to acknowledge their gender identity would say that they’re two women; people who acknowledge their gender identity know that they’re two men. And they got married. In South Carolina. And just to make things even more awesome, they’re an interracial couple, so their marriage would have been illegal a few decades ago anyway. They’re my heroes.

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    Congratulations to you and your wife! You two are badasses! Of course, I wish that it were possible for you to marry each other legally without having to be misgendered. Still, being able to take a broken system and use it to your advantage is a gutsy move that deserves major kudos!

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