The other day my son, who is five, announced to no one in particular but generally in my direction that he could use the pink crayon since he was home and nobody would see him. Boys, he explained, aren’t allowed to like pink. I wasn’t surprised. Despite my efforts, the Rules of Gender and Color have been shaping my son’s world since he first opened those baby blues.
Normally, I would have jumped on the opportunity to get him thinking a little deeper about the Rules of Color, but I had just watched an interview with the fabulous Laverne Cox so I decided to tackle Gender instead. “You know, some people are born with boy bodies but they are really girls on the inside. Do you think they are allowed to use pink?” “Yes,” he replied with certainty, “any kind of girl can use pink.”
First off, I feel obligated to tell you that I’m simply not going to research the medical side of this subject and then attempt to give you some half-ass advice on how to physically modify your body. I’m not a doctor. I will note, however, that I see a direct line between the hyper-genderized modern childhood (where you are either Pink or Blue) and the popularity of plastic surgery procedures that hyper-genderize adult bodies (did you know that spare tire liposuction is one of the top procedures for men? G-d forbid men be soft. And we all know what most women are doing under the knife). That may be beside the point, and I don’t want to understate the real need a person who wants to change sexes may have for sex reassignment. Certainly, it is a medical fact that many people with gender dysphoria find enormous relief from a multitude of psychological issues after they complete their transition. I just wanted to point out that modifying one’s body to more loudly announce one’s gender is a culture-wide phenomenon.
But enough of that, nature decided whether or not to give you a penis, and as I’ve said before, nature’s laws aren’t fodder for a legal blog. It is human law that defines the social repercussions of your gender assignment. Human laws are my playground. So, let us explore the legal repercussions of the designation of gender. (And, I’ll get to your question, just hold your horses.)
We think that assigning gender is a useful tool in society’s tool box. Gender helps with crowd control in that it is a way to divide people into groups. Teachers can line children up into girl’s and boy’s lines, for example. Colleges can keep track of what type of people they are admitting. But, as useful as it can be, anytime we make use of grouping people into categories the downside is that people don’t always fit neatly into groups. We end up with societal problems known as the horrible Isms (as in racism, sexism) and its evil twin Phobias (homophobia, xenophobia). Isms and Phobias lead down the slippery slope to other societal problems such as depression, low self-esteem, and hate crimes. Due to these downsides, we as a society must always consider whether the category’s usefulness outweighs the potential problems. For example, we often apply the term “African-American” to an American who has black skin, but how useful is it really? Does using the term “African-American” to describe President Obama, who was raised by the white half of his family and who’s absent father was African, really help us understand who he is? “African-American” seems fitting for someone who emigrated from Africa to America, but what use is it to group recent immigrants from Africa together with people who’s ancestors may have lived in the United States since before is was founded?
It is important that society, and its governments, adjust the categories it uses for people to fit the actual people in society rather than the other way around. According to the experts, gender is simply an internal feeling of being either female, male, or some third option. Usually, it is directly associated with sex, a biological classification. But even with sex, like with my African-American example above, there are people who just don’t fit neatly into a category. Sometimes, a baby is born with a body that isn’t clearly male or female. In the past, doctors and parents would choose a sex for the child and perform some operation in an attempt to make it so. However, current research has led to a growing medical consensus that diverse intersex bodies are normal—if relatively rare—forms of human biology and, in many cases, there isn’t a medical need to “fix” anything. Governments are adjusting to this perspective. In 2013, Germany became the first European nation to allow babies with characteristics of both sexes to be registered as indeterminate gender on birth certificates. Australia and New Zealand also both allow one’s legal sex to be “indeterminate” or “intersex.”
If you have found yourself in a gender category that is an ill fit for you, unfortunately, your only option is to work with the laws of the society you live in. You follow the legal steps for changing your legal gender from one sex to the other or, if your local government does not have a gender option that fits you, you must petition your representatives to add that option.
Now, (finally) to the legal steps in California that you requested and so patiently waited for:
- Find a doctor who is willing to sign documents stating that you have undergone “clinically appropriate treatment” for gender transition and that you have “completed” sex reassignment. What that treatment constitutes is between you and your doctor.
- Apply for a court order to get a name change and gender change. You can do both at the same time. If you’re under 18 you will need to have a parent or legal guardian do it for you. Make many copies of your court order.
- Take your court orders to the Social Security office and change your records. Your Social Security card does not list your gender, but it is a good idea to get your gender marker changed in their system.
- Take your court orders to the DMV and get a new driver’s license. You will need form DL-329.
- Mail your court order (in some cases just the name change order will do) to every one of your banks, brokers, rewards cards, membership organizations, and anyone else with whom you interact.
- You may also use your court order to request the California Department of Vital Records (VR) to issue you a new birth certificate. To change your name and gender, or gender only, you will need to fill out form VS-24 (for name change only, the form is VS-23). The form can be obtained by calling VR at 916. 557.6073 or 916.445.2684.
- To change the gender marker on your passport, you need to provide a letter from your doctor that says you have had “clinically appropriate treatment” for gender transition. The letter must be on your doctor’s office letterhead. If you are requesting gender change, you must use form DS-11 and apply in person, even if you would otherwise be eligible to renew by mail.
I think that covers it. If you want a first person account of someone who has navigated this bureaucracy blizzard before you, check out this guy’s blog.
If you are looking for a non-profit that assists transgender people with legal issues check out http://transgenderlawcenter.org.
And, just because I love my readers enough to give them sexy photos to look at, here is a list of transgender models, including Andrej Pejic (photos below), a Serbian-Australian male model. In 2011 Andrej ranked no. 18 on the models.com Top 50 Male Models list, and no. 98 in FHM magazine’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World 2011 according to some website I read.