Gender

Legal TRANSition

Legal Transition

Part of my role as a mother to a transkid is to help her navigate the transition: social (presenting as the gender of her identity) , medical (aligning her physical body with her gender identity), and/or legal (amending her legal documents to accurately identify her gender identity). The legal transition was something I assumed we had years to figure out but as trans adults began sharing stories of their amended passport applications being denied under Trump’s regime,  we turned our attention to conquering this mountain of bureaucratic minutia.

“But she’s so young. What if she changes her mind?!” While I’ve already spoken to this oft vented concern from people who are well-intentioned yet ignorant here, it’s worth remembering that the legal transition is all completely reversible! Think about it: no old, white, conservative, man (crotchety judge or politician) is going to try to stop someone from aligning their legal documents with their natal sex (biological sex at birth).

As we have been doing every step along this journey, we are trusting our child and honoring her needs. For her, the very real fear that she could be denied the legal right to basic documents that officially identify her as she knows herself to be (and as she presents herself to the world) if she waits led to a strong desire to move forward with her legal transition. The thought of being forced to present an incongruent driver’s license—outing her as transgender and opening her up to potential discrimination at moments both small and big in life, understandably triggered crippling anxiety.

And so I researched. I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent person. I have time, money, and connections at my disposal (all the privilege). I even spent years working through legal documents in a courthouse in college (super interesting work, btw). And yet, this sh*t is hard to figure out. It’s my hope that inviting you into our process will help ease the navigation for other trans families out there.

First up, clearing the gatekeeping hurdle. We had to get signed and specifically worded letters from the therapist supporting her social transition and the physician supporting her medical transition asserting that our child has had “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.” You may just need these letters (one for each step below) from a medical doctor. You may not need them at all. It really depends on the personal leanings of the official whose desk your application lands on and the policy whims of our discriminatory and unstable president. I didn’t want to leave that hypothetical person any excuse to deny our application, so I included both at every step. It’s also worth noting that “appropriate clinical treatment” is intentionally subjective. Do you have to be taking cross-sex hormones to legally transition? NO. Do you need to be attending weekly therapy to legally transition? NO. “Appropriate” is for you, your child, and their health providers to define. Gatekeeping trans bodies and identities, just for the record, is bullish*t. Requiring an expert to sign off to make who you are valid is bullish*t. It’s based on an inaccurate conceptualization of being transgender as being sick or crazy, which is, you guessed it, bullish*t. But I digress . . .

Next up, was a gathering of her existing legal documents. If you’re an organized minimalist like myself (ya, I’m kind of bragging, but I walk you through this too right here), this step is a cinch. We pulled out her:

  • Birth Certificate
  • Social Security Card
  • Passport

After that, it was time to name our baby. But unlike the last time we named our baby, she now talks and has her own sassy opinions and preferences. Our child actually kept her first name because we chose to give our children gender neutral names. Calling your child by a different first name than the one you gave them at birth, especially if you have no say in the name, which is common when a teen comes to you in great distress and with a clear knowing of who they really are, can be hard for loved ones around the child. Thankfully, my hippie nature naming ways allowed us to side step that hardship and our Sky is still Sky. But her middle name was another story. She was the only child to be namesaked after a family member and so, despite her love for her grandfather, that name was on the chopping block. To honor the ritual gift of a parent naming their child AND her right to self-identify, we settled on the compromise of presenting her with a list of 20 or so names that we would be choosing from had we known she was female at birth. She eliminated the names that didn’t resonate with her, chose her 3 favorites, and lived with each of them for a few days, trying them on. In the end, she chose a middle name that fits her beautifully.

The prep work in order, it was time to transition.

1. Name Change

The first step was a legal name change with our county of residence. We googled our county + name change and found the Petition for Minor Child Name Change form online, printed it, and filled it out (citing “transgender” under “reason”). We also read on this page the time by which petitions must be filed and the daily hour during which name change petitions were heard (file by 11 and hearing at 1, so we grabbed lunch in between). We all (both parents must be present) went to the courthouse and turned in:

Next, we went into the courtroom and Sky was called up by the judge. He was kind and supportive and asked her to state for the record the reason for her name change, as delicately as he could. She confidently articulated that she was transgender and her birth middle name did not align with the gender she knew herself to be. He congratulated her with a big smile and we all left the courtroom to wait for the certified copies of the name change order.

2. Birth Certificate

We printed the Affidavit to Amend a Record for the state of CA, which is where my kid was born. It’s important to note that you must amend the birth certificate through the state of your child’s birth (not your current state of residence). Some states are more trans-friendly than others, so while the process was easy for us left coasters, I am aware that this is a privilege not afforded to everyone. We mailed in the following documents:

3. Passport

We printed the US Passport Application from the State Department’s website and filled it out, got a new passport photo taken (at Costco), and scheduled an appointment with the passport office at our local city hall. We all came in (both parents must be present) with:

  • US Passport Application DS-11
  • Passport Photo
  • Certified Name Change Order
  • Certified Amended Birth Certificate
  • Original Signed Letter from Gender Physician (required)
  • Original Signed Letter from Gender Therapist (not required)
  • Parents’ Photo IDs
  • Check for US State Department for $95 (passport book + card)
  • Check for City of Residence for $35

4. Social Security Card

We printed the Application for Social Security Card from the Social Security Administration’s website and filled it out. We went into the nearest Social Security Administration office with:

  • Application for new Social Security Card
  • Amended Passport
  • Certified Name Change Order
  • Certified Amended Birth Certificate
  • Original Social Security Card
  • Parent Photo ID
  • Original Signed Letter from Gender Physician (not required)
  • Original Signed Letter from Gender Therapist (not required)

We did not need to pay any money (this step is free). My child and I were required to be present to verbally certify the truthfulness of what we wrote in the application but both parents were not required to be present (hubby was off the hook for this one). We got searched by security, took a number, and sat waiting for about an hour and a half in a packed waiting area with guards periodically dictating for people to “Silence your phones or you will be removed.” So just anticipate a long wait and bring some ear buds or a book. When we were actually called, the man helping us processed everything quickly and happily with a lot of smiles and even a few “Congratulations!” We were told to expect the new social security card with the same social security number in the mail in 5-10 business days.

5. Driver’s License

When my child is ready to get her driver’s license, she will apply just like her cisgender friends, with her aligning legal documents in hand. She’ll be cruisin’ down the road with a female DL in her wallet and this rite of passage gives her so much more than the freedom of transportation. Because a driver’s license is the primary form of identification in our society, it will give her the confidence and peace of mind to live fully as her authentic self. Yes, a pocket-sized laminated piece of paper is that impactful.

But for the sake of covering all the bases, I’m including the process for all the Washington parents out there helping their kids who already got a driver’s license pre-transition. You can accomplish this step by bringing the following into a Driver Licensing Office:

  • Original Driver’s License
  • Amended Birth Certificate or Amended US Passport
  • Fee

Or by mailing in the following:

“Congratulations, it’s a girl . . . or a boy,” proclaims Uncle Sam! (We’ll set aside the marginalizing limitations of the gender binary for this article.) For those keeping track, it’s been 2 days off work for my husband, $380 in fees, and countless hours of paperwork for me. The look of relief on my child’s face knowing her future is a little easier and brighter was worth every minute and penny spent.

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