Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Changing Your Gender, Changing Your Name

We have not really talked about it here because cool heads working behind the scenes seem to have a handle on it, but Maryland may potentially introduce a bizarre new law that will make it very hard for transgender residents to get the correct gender designation and their new name on their drivers licenses. Here's Equality Maryland's explanation of current and proposed laws:
Current Policy: To change the gender marker, an applicant must provide a physician or psychologist’s report to confirm that the applicant is in active treatment. The MVA requires annual re-evaluations until the applicant "meets requirements for permanent gender change." If you are using a name other than your birth name, you must bring the document that initiated the change of name, such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree or court name change order and your current License.

Proposed Policy: The new policy would require an amended birth certificate. This requires going through the court system. Maryland code states that they will issue a birth certificate reflecting the proper gender only upon receipt of a certified copy of an order of from a court indicating that the sex of an individual born has been changed by surgical procedure and whether such individual's name has been changed. You cannot change the sex on a birth certificate simply by providing proof that you are undergoing medical treatment or procedures for gender reassignment.

The proposal would have created additional hoops and legal fees for transgender Marylanders who are looking to update their driver's license. Having a legal identity document that does not match a person’s gender exposes them to potential risk not just of embarrassment, but of harassment as well. UPDATE: MVA Cancels Dangerous Policy Change

From the same page, a quote from the MVA:
"At this time, MVA is not effecting a change to that policy. However, written legal advice received from the Office of Attorney General clearly states that MVA's current policy does not meet all statutory requirements and we are therefore continuing to work with the Office of Attorney General before making a final determination on whether a policy update is appropriate."

You see that these policies affect not only the little box that says "M" or "F," but changes of name as well. Is difficult enough already to make the transition, and the proposed new regulation will make it even more difficult. Keep your eyes open as this situation evolves. Even the Attorney General says, in this same letter, ""MVA believes that the current policy on gender designation which has been in practice for almost a decade is secure and the procedures we have adopted ensures reasonable accommodation for individuals who are making a gender transition change."

The new policy was supposed to go into effect at the beginning of January, but the state has decided to delay it while they look into it. You can't take anything for granted here, it is understood that politicians are not afraid of inconsistency when it means avoiding controversy. We'll keep an eye on this situation as it develops.

The New York Times has an article this week that focuses on a most important aspect of gender transition, and that is changing your name.
Katherine used to be Miguel. Olin had a girl’s name. And in October, Robert Ira Schnur, 70, became Roberta Iris Schnur, a Manhattan retiree with magenta lipstick and, she noted the other day, chipped silver nail polish.

“I wasn’t like other men,” she said.

Theirs are among hundreds of names a Manhattan court has changed over the last few years for transgender New Yorkers. That tally, specialists in the relatively new field of transgender law say, may make the borough’s workaday Civil Court one of the country’s biggest official name swappers — male names for female, vice versa and ambiguous.

Changing a name might seem like a minor matter for those who are changing their gender identities and, for some, facing challenges like finding knowledgeable doctors, trying hormones and experimenting with painful hair-removal procedures. But many who have gone through the switch say a name change sends an important message to the world, a message solidified and made official with a court’s approval.

In many courts around the country, what were once risky or shocking name-change requests are becoming more routine as the sting of gender taboo has lost a little of its edge. But in few places has this shift been more dramatic than in New York, where two recent and little-noticed rulings helped clarify the murky area not only of the law but also of modern gender identification. They have contributed to Manhattan’s becoming a capital of Joe-to-Jane proceedings. A rare network of some 200 lawyers now works on such cases filed in the Centre Street courthouse, and nearly 400 of their transgender clients so far have, more or less, become someone else. For Transgender People, Name Is a Message

Hopefully over the next few years we will see bureaucratic obstacles swept out of the way so people can adjust to society in a way that is straightforward and preserves their dignity. We need to make sure that Maryland does not take a big step backward here, it appears so far that the MVA and Attorney General understand the situation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds reasonable to me to require an amended birth certificate. How can you justify having your birth certificate say one thing while your license says another?

January 27, 2010 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My birth certificate has my maiden name but my driver's license has my married name. There's never been a problem with the difference.

January 28, 2010 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've re-evaluated my position. It is wrong change a permanent record like a birth certificate. If the person ever wants to switch back, then at least the information will be correct once again.

January 28, 2010 6:12 PM  

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