I opened mail from the DMV recently and realized my driver’s license is up for renewal this year. I tossed the paperwork aside because who has time for paperwork right now? (I was also too lazy to get up and get my wallet out to pay the fee.) But a couple of hours later I excitedly went back to my kitchen counter where I left the paperwork because I remembered that my state of Vermont now offers a gender neutral option for gender. I’m nonbinary, and the thought of marking an X instead of F was fucking awesome.
But then my heart sank. Can I do this? My birth certificate still indicates my assigned gender at birth, which is female. I was born in Pennsylvania and I don’t have the option to change my gender to nonbinary. I’m not currently able to change my gender marker on my passport or other federal documents either. While it would be incredibly affirming — and correct — to change my driver’s license, will declaring my true identity on one piece of documentation create barriers to travel or when I need proof of ID when applying for insurance or a mortgage?
My story is one of many, and why Biden and his team absolutely need to provide a third gender option on passports and federal IDs.
I am one of 68% of transgender people who does not have an ID that accurately displays my name and gender. This is not from lack of desire or trying; an unfortunate and discriminatory part of being transgender means we’re constantly asking for permission to exist. We are forced to prove our transness, and in our efforts are faced with medical, financial, and legal barriers many transgender folks can’t afford, or don’t have access to, because of lack of support and other resources. Before I had gender affirming top surgery to remove my breasts, I needed to get letters of support from my doctor and therapist to declare surgery was the best route for me to relieve much of the dysphoria I had around having breasts. Simply telling a surgeon or my insurance provider that this was what I wanted to do was not enough. I was 39 years old and wasn’t allowed to make a decision about my body on my own. Fuck that.
I shouldn’t have had to feel relieved and lucky to have received those letters from affirming doctors who understand the health care needs of transgender folks. I shouldn’t have had to feel lucky to have a procedure which benefited my mental and physical health. But I did, because so many transgender folks don’t have these options. But it’s not like I won the transgender lottery; I didn’t recover any money from my insurance and had shitty follow-ups with my surgeon afterwards. And when it comes to filling out forms and legal paperwork, I’m not so lucky to be able to choose my correct gender.
While Pennsylvania isn’t one of them, there are 13 states that currently give folks the option to choose or change their gender marker to X on their birth certificate. Thankfully these states do not require folks to also have gender-affirming, AKA “sex reassignment surgery,” to make this change. Many states have unclear policies, and 14 states still require folks to have a court order and proof of surgery before a binary gender marker can be changed. And when it comes to driver licenses, there are eight states that require proof of gender affirming surgery before someone can change their gender marker on their driver’s licenses. There are 19 states, plus Washington D.C., that allow a third gender to be placed on their driver’s license and do not require documentation to do so. And to make this extra overwhelming, rules vary between states, documents, transgender, nonbinary, and intersex individuals.
Are you confused if not frustrated yet too? So are transgender folks. And we’re tired. This bullshit wasn’t in the manual. Also, there isn’t a manual. Transgender humans are humans who want rights cisgender people have. Instead we need to provide medical documentation from our doctors that confirm living as our (trans)identity is in fact the healthiest and best way for us to live, even though the American Medical Association reports the gender on IDs should be “as reported by the individual and without need for verification by a medical professional.” Everyone’s transition is unique and personal and surgery or any medical intervention isn’t necessary to be transgender. Because folks are obsessed with genitals, surgery is forced so good luck being able to afford it or find an insurance provider that will approve the procedure.
The White House contact form has been adjusted to let folks choose their pronouns, including gender neutral options. They need to make it a federal law to add that same option to passports, Social Security card, birth certificates, driver’s license and any other form of ID. The way things are now is overwhelming at best. It’s also unsafe for transgender folks to have their IDs not in line with their gender identity. No transgender person should be outed, threatened, ridiculed or abused because they are forced to check a box that does not match either their name and/or their gender expression. There is risk in being detained at borders, the airport, or when boarding cruise ships.
The ACLU has started a petition called They The People: Access To Accurate IDs Now to get the White House to see the urgency in the need for transgender and nonbinary folks to be able to self-assign their gender as well as have access to a gender neutral X option. When transgender folks can accurately label their gender, we can then be counted and given access to money and support we desperately need. When we are not included in the demographics, we are ignored and forgotten.
I — we — have every right to be able to navigate our lives without risk of harassment. We should also be able to feel good about what information we are presenting to the world. When I am forced to check the F on forms, I feel like I’m lying. I am. Yet, too many people and organizations rather I live with the discomfort of lying to myself and the world than have to deal with their discomfort of getting to know me and understand that I am not a threat to anyone.
I’m going to mark the X on my driver’s license renewal because I deserve to be seen and counted. I know there is risk in doing this, but my integrity and humanity is worth it.
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