Documentation Change 101
When changing your gender, sooner or later you will need to change your documentation. This is how I did it. The caveats: I did this in Texas, and I have no idea how that translates into getting it done in any other state. I did not change my birth certificate because at the time of my changeover, doing so in Texas was a tough process that involved using an attorney. Now it's much easier and can be done with the same court order changing your gender (see below) and a state form VS-170 available on the on Texas Vital Statistics website. However, I did change my name, my gender identifier, my passport, my driver’s license and my Social Security card. I am not an attorney and what follows here is NOT legal advice, only how I went about doing it. I did not use an attorney, but only because I couldn’t afford one. For those who can afford an attorney, call Phyllis Frye in Houston, Texas. Her office number is 713-227-1717. She has a set rate for changing all the documentation for transgendered clients, normally in the several thousands of dollars range. If you have that kind of money, stop reading now and call Phyllis to set up an appointment. You’ve got enough to deal with without taking on any more hassles. Finally, I’m operating on the assumption that you already have the documentation listed above and wish to change it. That’s what I did and therefore that’s all I can tell you about.
This is the order that I followed in getting my documentation changed:
1. Name change
3. Gender identifier change
4. Driver’s license
5. Social Security
Here are the reasons I recommend this order: To change your driver’s license or birth certificate, you now need the official name and gender changes. These are done via court order. To change your SS card, you need an official name change and either a new passport or official gender change. To get a gender identifier change, it is highly recommended to have a name change and new passport. To get a passport change, you need a name change. And all of these require a doctor’s letter.
The entire process took several months for me but that was only because of my schedule, funds availability and having to sometimes wait for governmental machinery to slowly grind on. Depending upon the speed of the U.S. Department of State and the State of Texas, it could conceivably take weeks instead of months. Regardless, allow yourself time and don’t get frustrated when things seem to drag on forever. You’ll ultimately get ‘er done. Or get ‘im done, whichever.
Here are the things you will need to gather to complete this entire process:
1. Doctor’s letter
2. Petitions and orders
3. Fingerprint card
Details about each of these are below. And for all the paperwork and applications you fill out and/or complete and/or receive, MAKE A COPY for yourself! There’s no telling when you just might need it later on.
The most important piece of paper you will need is a letter from the doctor overseeing your transition. With the exception of your name change, everything else depends on that document; if you don’t have one, you won’t get anywhere. The doctor can be any specialty but it carries more weight if the doctor is an internist, endocrinologist, gynecologist, urologist or psychiatrist. The letter needs to be on the physician’s letterhead, which must contain the physician’s full name, address and telephone number. The letter or letterhead also must contain the doctor’s medical license/certificate number, the issuing state of the license/certificate and the doctor’s DEA registration number. The following form should be used for the body of the letter, as it contains the information needed to certify that you really are changing your gender. Substitute the appropriate data for the underlined portions. Your name in this letter should be the name you want to have post-transition -your new name. Some doctors may want to write their own letter, but the verbiage here must be in the letter in some manner. Be advised that the more extra stuff that is in the letter, the more it may distract from the main message, which is that the doctor is verifying that you are actually changing your gender.
To whom it may concern:
I, Doctor Harley Areal Dock, M.D., a practicing physician specializing in gynecology, certify that Ms. Wanda B Femm with the DOB xx/xx/19xx and SSN of xxx-xx-xxxx and Texas Driver’s License number xxxxxxxx is transgender and is a patient of mine currently under my treatment at my clinic for the neuroendocrinological condition commonly referred to as transsexualism. She has received the proper clinical and irreversible medical treatment for transition to her new female gender, and I currently continue to serve as her physician overseeing her care and treatment.
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States that the forgoing is true and correct.
Doctor’s Signature, M.D.
Doctor Harley Areal Dock, M.D.
To add a bit of authenticity, have the doctor’s signature notarized if it’s possible, although that’s not a firm requirement. If the doctor is willing to sign two identical original letters, do it, if only as insurance against loss or damage to the only original.
Petitions and Orders
In order to change your name or your gender identifier, you must file a petition with the court (usually the state district court) clerk’s office in the county where you live. The petition asks the court’s judge to issue an order granting you the change you petitioned for. This is normally done on the court’s uncontested docket, although you will have to check on what the details are in your county. You will give the judge your petition and the order you wish to be signed. The judge can modify the order you submit but normally doesn’t. Once the judge signs your order, you file it at the county clerk’s (NOT the court clerk's) office and it becomes official. Which court you will go to will depend on the rules in your county, also, but in most counties it's the state district court. You’ll probably be in court with a bunch of other folks petitioning for other things. The most common is divorce followed closely by name changes. It is entirely possible to ask for more than one thing in a single petition, such as a simultaneous divorce and name change. It is possible to file for a name and gender identifier change in the same petition, but I found that it worked out better for me to do them separately. Doing it that way costs more though because you have to pay twice to file two petitions, but it’s less hassle in the long run.
Name changes are very common. You don’t really need any more reason to change your name other than “Because I want to”, but the reason you use in your petition should reference the fact that you will be changing your gender. Something like: “I am undertaking a new life in the female gender and wish to change my name to match my new gender.” (Use “male” gender if that’s the direction you’re heading.) Everything else that goes into the name change petition is self-explanatory. There are a number of websites that take you through the process of changing your name, including filling out and filing the petition, so I’m not going to detail those steps. You can Google “Name change Texas” and get a number of hits, but one of the sites I recommend is TexasLawHelp.org
The Petition and Order forms for name change are also on the above site but are Adobe PDF files that can’t be changed. You can print them and fill them out by hand, but if you want to type your entries for a more professional appearance, send me an email and I’ll send you the form templates in Word document format.
Changing your gender identifier is the same basic process as changing your name: fill out your petition, submit the petition to the clerk, go to court with your paperwork, get a signed order from the judge, you’re done. Follow the steps detailed on the website above for that process. However, the gender change is not nearly as commonplace as the name change, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware of the negativity that can sometimes surround anything you do related to changing your gender. Judges and court personnel aren’t immune to that negativity, although I will say that 95% of the people I dealt with didn’t show me anything but respect and courtesy, and some were downright enthusiastic and more than willing to help. Be aware that although Texas Civil Statutes do specify a process for name changes, they do not directly address changing gender. Most judges have simply extended the name documentation change to include gender, also. However, rather than refuse to issue a gender change order, some judges will tell you that they can't change gender because they do not have the authority to do so. At that point ask them if prior action by other judges would establish a precedent, because a majority of judges have issued such orders over the years. All I can tell you is to turn in your petition and hope for the best. I have the forms in Word document format for the gender change Petition and Order that I’ll be happy to send to you if you email me asking for them.
When you submit your petition for gender change, bring the originals of all your other change paperwork. You will have to show them to the court clerk but they will most likely copy them and return the originals to you. You will need to submit a copy of your doctor’s letter. If you have completed your name change, submit a copy of that order. If you have completed changing your passport, submit a copy of the ID page in your new passport. You may need to submit a copy of your driver’s license. Even if the court clerk’s representative doesn’t specifically tell you to turn in the above copies, it’s not going to hurt to do so. It’s all just more evidence that you’re serious about all this. And it’s one of the reasons I recommend getting the name change and new passport before going after the gender identifier change. Finally, when you get your name change and gender identifier change orders, get at least two certified copies made of each when you file the order at the county clerk’s (not court clerk’s) office. The copies are usually $1 per page.
Both a name change and gender identifier change require you to submit a copy of your fingerprints. Many law enforcement agencies and some passport and security agencies will do this for you for a nominal sum. I’d recommend Googling “Fingerprint services” for your city/county or calling the sheriff’s department in your county. If the sheriff’s office doesn’t do it, they can usually tell you who does. If you submit your name and gender change petitions separately, you will need two fingerprint cards.
Applications / Forms
In addition to the forms for the court Petition and Order, you can also obtain the forms for changing your Social Security card and Passport online.
To obtain a new passport with your new name and gender, if your current passport is more than a year old, you will need to fill out a Department of State Form DS-11, which is the original application for a new passport, even if you already have a passport. The form to change your passport, DS-5504, can only be used if your current passport is less than one year old. (NOTE: The links to all government forms can change, but the following should at least get you in the ballpark.) The Department of State’s rules on filling out and submitting a passport application are here:
The new rules on transitioning gender change for passports are here:
The DS-11 form, along with instructions on filling it out and submitting it, are here:
Basically, you need to provide the Department of State with the DS-11, two pictures (be sure to read and follow their rules about the pictures), your name change order and your doctor’s letter. Send in the originals of the order and letter. They will be returned with the passport. It took me about two weeks to get my passport with normal processing. Your actual mileage may vary.
The DS-5504 form and instructions are here:
The Social Security application form (SS-5) is here:
When you open it you will see that it’s a PDF file but data can be entered into it and it can be printed or saved. Fill it out, print it and take it to your closest Social Security office along with your new passport and name change and gender identifier change orders. You can find the office nearest you here:
Be prepared to wait. Bring a book or something else to do to pass the time.
The form to change your driver’s license will be handed to you to fill out at the license office. It will take about a minute to complete it. At a minimum, you will need to bring the originals of your name and gender change orders. The clerk will copy them and give you back the originals. It wouldn’t hurt to bring your doctor’s letter and new passport, too. They will be taking your picture for your new license, so look nice when you go. You can also change your voter registration while changing your driver’s license. Check the box on the form and all your new license data is transferred to your voter registration card. Also, waits at the driver’s license offices can vary from none to a couple of hours. Come prepared to spend some time. You will get a temporary paper license with a black-and-white copy of your new picture when you leave the office. Your actual new license with the color photo will take about 6 weeks to arrive in the mail. If you changed your voter registration, it will take about one week to arrive. If you don’t know where the closest driver’s license office is, you can find it here:
Now for the bad news: only one of the processes above is free. You won’t have to spend any money to get your Social Security card changed, but you will have to invest some time. I waited at the SS office for an hour and a half to get to see someone to process my paperwork. The actual processing of my paperwork took 5 minutes.
Not including notary fees (because most banks will notarize for their customers for free) or copying or postage or gas or parking expenses, here are the costs:
Filing the petition: approx. $250 (varies by county) per petition.
Copies of orders: approx. $10 for 2 copies of both orders.
Fingerprint card: approx. $15 per card.
Passport pictures: approx. $20
Driver’s license: $11
If you change your name and your gender identifier separately, your total cost should be under $750. And you can spread that out over time instead of coming up with it in a big lump sum up front.
So, that’s it. Hopefully this will help you in getting your documentation to match your new gender. If you have questions about my experience, I’ll be happy to answer them. If you have legal questions, I can’t really be of much help. I can point you to the following website where you will find a current copy of the Texas Constitution and the Texas Statutes.
Name changes are covered in Chapter 45, Subchapter B, Sections 45.101 – 45.106 of the Family Code.
If you need to contact me, my email is JamiWard@weirdness.com. I will be happy to send you the templates for both the name and gender change petitions and court orders.
UPDATE: I have a further post on this topic here.
In addition, there is now a commercial online service (not a state agency) that can help with changing a birth certificate. You can find them here.