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Friday, February 25, 2011

Injustice at Every Turn: Part VII: Identity Documents

--by Robyn

Scarlet Letter
Injustice at Every Turn (pdf) is a 122-page report of data gathered in 2008 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality concerning quality of life issues for transgender people living in this country.

Possessing accurate and consistent identification documents is essential to basic social and economic functioning in our country. Access to employment, housing, health care and travel all can hinge on having appropriate documentation. Yet, for many of the respondents, obtaining identity documents that match their gender is a major hurdle.

Previous "turns" have covered the basic data about who transpeople living in America are in Who we are -- by the numbers, Part I: Education, Part II: Employment, Part III: Health Care, Part IV: Family, Part V: Housing and Part VI: Public Accommodation.

One last piece to come concerns treatment by police and incarceration.

59% of respondents had secured an updated driver's license, while 11% had been denied the opportunity to accomplish this. American Indians (37%) and Blacks (42%) were least likely to obtained a corrected driver's license. 81% of respondents who had had some type of transition-related surgery had been allowed to update their licenses, while 7% were still denied this opportunity and 12% did not try. Only 43% who had not had any sort of surgery were able to update their licenses, even though most states had abandoned surgery requirements.

Of those who visual conformed ("passed") to their target gender, 76% were able to update this form of identification, while only 60% of those who did not conform were granted this opportunity. Among those who had not had any surgery, Latino/as were most likely to have updated their licenses (45%), while American Indians and Asians were least likely to have done so (31%). Among this group, it was easier to change gender on a driver's license if one was wealthy and had a high level of educational attainment.

My worst experience involved how the police saw me and what my Pennsylvania driver’s license listed as my sex was when I was in New Jersey. I was held and verbally abused by two officers for a burned-out headlamp for about 45 minutes.
Many states require, at the very least, some form of surgery...and in some states a court order to change birth certificates. And in a few states, even that is not sufficient. 24% of respondents had changed the gender marker on their birth certificates. Some did not even try because they either knew that they didn't satisfy the legal requirements or could not afford to hire a lawyer in order to obtain the required court order. Whites (25%) and Latino/as (23%) were most likely to have had their birth certificates amended, while American Indians (7%) were least likely. Those who had some form of surgery were over 6 times more likely (39%) to have received an amended birth certificate than those who had no surgery (6%). 38% of those with no surgery hadn't even made an attempt to acquire a new birth certificate.

I cannot get my birth certificate changed in Illinois unless I have a penis! This is wrong! I look like, act like and am seen as a man by everyone around me until I have to show my Driver’s License, which still says Female. The picture on my license is me with a beard!
Visual conformers (70%) were more likely to be granted an amended birth certificate than visual non-conformers (57%), regardless of the amount of surgical intervention they had had. It was also easier to get a new birth certificate (among those who had some surgery) if one was wealthier (48%) and white (41%) or Black (37%).

The Social Security Administration keeps a record of gender even though cards do not display this information. The SSA policy is that gender can be changed only after completed sex reassignment surgery, although the policy does not specify what kind of surgery. Before that policy was adopted, some people (like me)managed to get updated records without proof of surgery. Only 49% of those who had transitioned had updated their Social Security record. 12% were denied a change, 37% had not tried and 3% said it was not applicable (meaning they either had no social security card or did not want to update it). 51% of MTFs had updated these accounts, as compared to 44% of FTMs. On the other hand, it proved easier for FTMs who tried to change their SSA account information to do so (89%) than for MTFs (77%). Least likely to have changed this record by race were American Indians (35%), Asians (38%) and Blacks (38%).

From 1002 until June of 2010 the Department of State required proof of sex reassignment surgery before changing gender markers on passports. The data were collected during this period and do not reflect the new policy. Only 26% of respondents reported updating the gender marker on their passport. 7% were denied and 68% either did not try or did not have a passport. 43% of those who had had surgery reported having an updated passport, while 6% were still denied. 5% of those without surgery reported having corrected the gender marker on their passport.

Of those who had actually tried to change their passport and had had some type of surgery, 87% reported success and 13% were denied. Of those who tried to change their passport without any type of surgery, 40% reported success and 60% were denied. Again, among those who had had some type of surgery, it was easier to get an updated passport if one was wealthier and had a higher level of educational attainment.

35% of those who tried to update discharge papers records were allowed to do so. Having had some type of surgery did not greatly affect the outcome.

39% of people who had transitioned updated their health insurance records, while 7% were denied and 41% had not attempted to do so, out of fear that doing so would lead to future denial of preventative and necessary care for their sexual and reproductive health (i.e. someone listed as male is likely to be denied coverage for a mammogram).

I have not attempted to change my gender ID on my health insurance policy because I am afraid of discrimination if my health insurer knows I’m transgender.
46% of current students (at the time of the surgery) had updated their student records, while 11% were denied and 38% had not tried.

88% of those who tried to change the gender on their professional license or credential were successful, while 12% were denied.

Only 21% of those who had transitioned reported that they had been able to update all of their IDs and records, while 46% had been able to update some of their records and 33% indicated that none of their IDs and records matched their current gender identity. American Indians (49%), Asians (44%) and Blacks (41%) were most likely to have none of their IDs and records in their current gender.

When I tell people my birth name or show IDs with my birth name, people at first don’t believe me. Often when I am trying to buy something, people squint at my ID and usually let me buy it, but I can tell they are not sure that is really who I am.
Sample members were asked to report what happened to them when they were required to present incongruent ID documents. 40% reported being harassed ansd 3% reported being assaulted or attacked. 15% reported being asked to leave the establishment. African American respondents (50%) and multiracial respondents (53%) were more likely to be harassed, and 9% of African American and Latino/a respondents reported being assaulted (as compared, say, to white respondents (at 37% and 2%, respectively). Transmen were more likely to be harassed (50%) than transwomen (33%), while both were assaulted at a rate of 3%.

These are hard times, I know, but there is still no reason for me to not be able to find adequate employment. I am very passable until the employer runs my driver’s license. I have to work as a Drag King for now and hope to at least make my mortgage payment.
  • Gender markers on all identity documents and in all records, at every level of government and by every institution that records gender, should be determined by the gender the person identifies as. This includes:

    • Federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Office of Personnel Management

    • State Bureaus of Vital Statistics

    • State Departments of Motor Vehicles

    • Employers and professional licensing organizations and associations

    • Educational institutions of all levels

    • Health systems and health insurance companies

  • All entities should evaluate whether there is a legitimate programmatic purpose for collecting gender information and putting this information on identity documents; if not, gender markers should be removed.

  • Sensitivity training is urgently needed for staff who administer the changing of IDs and records, to ensure that transgender people are treated respectfully and IDs and records are updated appropriately.

  • Research should be funded to further assess the impacts of gender-incongruent identity documents on transgender people’s social and economic security; studies should be constructed to explore potential race and income discrimination at agencies that issue identity documents.


  1. Papers? Papers? We don' need no steenkin' papers!

    From Zorro, The Gay Blade, I believe...although it could have been from The Three Amigos.

    Actually, in this country, yes, indeed you do need papers. I say this as someone who was detained by police twice in my hippie days because of inadequate documentation.

  2. Oh...and in my own case, I changed my SSA account with no problem, even though I had had no surgery, in 1992...and wasn't even asked my gender when I applied for a driver's license in 1993. The clerk just filled in an F. My college records at Portland State University were changed...but not my graduate records at the University of Oregon. I did not attempt to have my service records changed and didn't see the point in having my birth certificate amended.

    And I've never had a passport.

  3. Thanks for the thorough analysis of this report Robyn, you are the best!