Once your child/teen/young adult has chosen his/her/their new name, it’s time to use it. Every transgender person’s transition is unique, just as they are. But there are common steps in each journey. Choosing a name, deciding whether to transition only in private or go all in, deciding whether to use gender affirming hormones, and if surgical options are for them.
Our daughter’s transition began privately. She only presented in her true gender at home in the beginning. She was more comfortable waiting until after high school graduation to transition “publicly.” This included changing her name legally so she could live as her true self without having to deal with harassment due to her birth name. For this, the name must be legally changed before official identification documents, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses, can be update. State issued ID’s are needed to open bank accounts, rent a home, buy a car, and get a job, among many other things.
The process of changing your name legally varies from state to state, but it involves court systems and judges. In NJ, the petitioner is required to submit a petition to the court, pay a fee, and publish a notice of intent in a court designated newspaper. After the change is approved, the judgement must be posted in the newspaper. The whole process takes several weeks, but was rather painless. I recommend purchasing extra copies of the legal certification – you will need them. In NJ, a court date is set, but the petitioner doesn’t usually need to appear; it’s all done by mail. The newspaper posting is required to make sure the petitioner is not trying to avoid debts or hide illegal activities.
Figuring out the name, and gender, change process in your state may take a little sleuthing. The best place to start is the NCTE (National Center for Transgender Equality): https://transequality.org/documents. NCTE keeps up-to-date information about the legal requirements for name and gender changes for each state. On their site, there is a nifty map. Click on your state and a summary of the required steps are shown along with links to the appropriate state and county agencies.
Changing your name can be pricey. The TLDF (Transgender Legal Defense Fund) Name Change Project provides free legal help in a few areas of the US. Their website is https://transgenderlegal.org/our-work/name-change-project/.
Once the official name change certifications are in hand, it’s time to get updated birth certificate, driver’s license, social security card and passport.
Social security cards and passports are federal documents. To update the passport gender marker, a medical certification of treatment is required. This does NOT mean surgery. It means almost any type of transition related treatment such as psychotherapy or hormone therapy. The letter of certification does not need to include treatment details. You can update both the gender marker and the name at the same time. Instructions for updating the gender can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/need-passport/change-of-sex-marker.html. Passport name change information can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/have-passport/change-correct.html
Updating the social security system is similar to the passport changes. You need a gender transition certification and a name change certification. If you have an updated passport, it can be used as gender certification for social security. A medical certification from a physician (same format as the passport letter) can also be used for the gender change.
If you have multiple name change certifications, you can do the passport, social security and birth certificate changes simultaneously. The federal changes are simpler. The state ID change requirements for birth certificates vary widely from self-certification to a surgical requirement. Two states don’t allow gender marker changes on birth certificates (Ohio and Tennessee). Different requirements are used for driver’s licenses. It’s generally a mess.
Anne had to go thru the updated birth certificate process twice. The first time for her new name. At the time, she couldn’t change her gender marker because NJ required sex reassignment surgery in order to change the gender marker. This law was changed a couple of years later. As soon as the law changed, Anne submitted the paperwork to update her gender.
Some experts recommend parents of transgender children carry a file of identity paperwork to ensure their child is treated properly. If completing a name change, a copy of the certification should be part of this file. This is especially important in states that are more hostile to the transgender community.
I wish you well as you go through these processes.