Identity Documents
Anand Kalra
OLD DRIVER’S LICENSE, NEW STATE

“Before I had any documentation that matched my public presentation and my gender identity, it was uncomfortable and could be scary—and it was a disincentive to apply for certain types of jobs. But then in California I was able to get a driver’s license with a new name and gender.

“There was definitely a psychological affirmation that yes, this is who I am, this is what I look like, and I feel comfortable passing this around with friends. Whenever anyone says, ‘Let me see your driver’s license picture,’ I feel good doing that. 

“I live in Michigan now, and so far I’ve been very lucky because the places I have gotten work have already had gender identity as a protected class in the nondiscrimination policies.

“But I can’t go in and get my Michigan driver’s license by taking my California license and my passport or my social security card to the secretary of state’s office. The laws here are different, so I would have to go and get my name officially changed and get my gender marker changed on my social security account. There’s the financial barrier there, and then just the bureaucracy of it is enough to make me want to throw my hands up in the air.”

Identity Documents

Carrying identification that reflects your genuine, real-world self is basic—whether you’re transgender or not. That’s what IDs are for. So imagine if every time you tried to travel, open a bank account or start a new job, someone harassed you about your ID. Is it fake? Are you pretending to be someone you’re not?

To read our FAQ about IDs, click here.

When a transgender person’s ID is called into question, whether on suspicion of lying or out of an inappropriate interest in finding out whether they’ve had surgery, it amounts to harassment and discrimination and, in many cases, a violation of privacy. Forty percent of National Transgender Discrimination Survey1 participants who presented ID that didn’t match their gender presentation were harassed, 15% were asked to leave an establishment and 3% were assaulted. There is no set medical formula for transitioning. The Standards of Care established by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) state that for some, transition involves simply living in accordance with one’s gender identity, while for others there may be medical interventions required such as hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery. All this needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis between a trans person and their doctor. These facts are beginning to influence ID policy. WPATH urged in 2010 that governments and other bodies “move to eliminate requirements for identity recognition that require surgical procedures.” Indeed, every single U.S. federal agency with the exception of the Department of Defense (as of August 2014) has changed its policy to be in sync with the medical community’s standards for transition. About half the states are modernizing their birth certificate and driver’s license policies. This fact sheet is intended to answer questions about changing the gender marker or name on your identification and to bring you up to date about some of the work advocates are doing to help transgender people obtain accurate identity documents that will make their lives easier.