The Importance of Having the Correct Name and Gender on your Documents
Gender markers are based on physical and biological characteristics that determine what sex we are assigned by healthcare providers when we are born. They are usually a combination of chromosomal and hormonal factors accompanied by the appearance of the genitals. This is generally represented as an ‘m’ for male or ‘f’ for female. It has very little to do with gender identity, and many individuals who go on to undergo gender transition will want to attempt gender marker changes on their official documentation.
This gender marker will follow you for the rest of your life or until such a time that you can have the gender marker legally changed. Usually, it only comes into question when completing official documents requiring you to state your sex or where your sex is already indicated, such as your birth certificate or driver’s license. However, in some places, gender marker changes are challenging, if not impossible, to actuate.
Needless to say, this can cause some distress for individuals who are experiencing gender dysphoria or are gender non-conforming. Still, it should be noted that not everyone who is transgender feels the need to alter their gender marker.
Gender Identity and its Relationship with Name and Gender Marker
In some cases, our assigned sex (and gender marker) is not congruent with our preferred gender identity. The sex identification done through the use of a gender marker can thus be problematic.
While gender change is on the rise due to heightened awareness of gender identity diversity, legal gender change is still difficult, if not impossible, in most parts of the world. So, many people experience gender identity-related anxiety due to incongruence between the gender displayed on documents compared to their actual gender identity.
Identifying information about biological sex is vital in the medical community because individuals with specific physical sex characteristics need to receive different medical treatments; their bodies react differently to treatments. So it is crucial for medical documentation and other medical records to display information related to physical sex characteristics to ensure that people receive appropriate medical treatment when needed.
The census information is perhaps the most significant impact that an assigned sex or gender marker can have outside of medicine. Still, many have been asking more recently why it needs to be displayed on the birth certificate. There are movements in place to remove the gender marker from a birth certificate in certain parts of the world but keep it in the registry and in medical documentation, thus allowing individual freedom while still allowing government agencies to keep the census for statistical purposes.
We need to acknowledge that although not all transgender individuals experience dysphoria directly related to the gender marker that appears on their official documents, it can cause stress for some.
Another major thing that might affect you if you struggle with gender identity is your legal name. Many individuals will change their legal name on a birth certificate or other identity documents long before they start the process to change the gender marker. This is often because a name change is more accessible than a gender marker change.
Of all your legal documents, your birth certificate is the one that originates first and will be the hardest to change. Usually, several different things need to be evident before any place would consider altering a birth certificate. Specifically, when we talk about a gender marker, they will require either a doctor’s letter or a court order. Requiring both those things is rare but not unheard of.
Furthermore, some places will have a surgery requirement, meaning that the physical sex must have been surgically altered. The court order or doctor’s letter that you do use for a gender marker change expressly must state whether you have undergone surgery or not.
These are the three main points that may or may not be necessary when trying to amend or change the gender marker on your birth certificate.
A birth certificate constitutes an official document that confirms the circumstance of your birth. Many places in the world require a confirmation from a doctor or midwife on the birth certificate. In addition, it helps to identify you before you reach the age where additional identity documents are required. Personal identification documents are vital as they enable you to access essential services, prove where you were born, how old you are, etc.
In this article, we will only address laws in the US and Thailand related to the process of changing the gender marker on a birth certificate. You might need to conduct further research into your local laws. Also, bear in mind that these laws can change over time.
In most cases, there are more hoops to jump through to change the gender marker on your birth certificate than on other documents, but this is not universally the case.
Although this is not universal, most places are more lenient with gender marker changes on a driver’s license. In most cases, you will have to have identity documents and birth certificates already changed before you can attempt to make changes to your driver’s license, although this will also not always be the case.
A driver’s license is a document that proves that you passed a motor vehicle driving test appropriate to your district and thus have qualified to drive certain types of motor vehicles in your area. Again, there is a lot of debate as to why a gender marker is needed on this type of document, and some countries are moving to remove gender markers from this sort of document entirely instead of adding more options to choose from.
Other Legal Documents
Logically, your birth certificate and driver’s license are not the only documents you will ever come into contact with. However, they will be the most prominent for most people.
When it comes to other documents of a legal nature, they will likely be subject to what displays on your identity documents. Any individual differences will need to be investigated in accordance with your location.
Generally, the argument is that government agencies and hospitals can keep census records related to your gender marker independently without it having to be listed on your identity documents.
Additional documents that may include information about your gender marker are employment documents, social security records, voter registration, a passport application, and medical documentation.
Legal Name Change
In general, any person in the US can change their legal name with the help of a court order. This should theoretically not be dependent on a specific reason for the change. However, there is always a risk that some states, for example, possibly Tennessee, could have laws against issuing court orders for a legal name change associated with transgender individuals.
We need to remember that gender-affirming surgery or other gender identity changes are not the only reasons people change their legal name. It is also common for adopted individuals to change their legal names on their identity documents. For many people, simply getting a new driver’s license, ID document, etc., is satisfactory, but some people might want to take it a step further and get their birth certificate changed as well.
Generally speaking, this is possible in most places. However, you would need to submit several supporting documents, including the court order for a name change, to the appropriate agencies to get a new birth certificate. Still, for the most part, it is possible to obtain an amended birth certificate for a legal name change related to gender reassignment or adoption. It is, however, not possible to get an amended birth certificate for marriages or divorce.
The process of obtaining a new birth certificate for a name change will differ depending on where you are in the world. In some areas, you might even be required to pay additional fees related to altering the birth registry as well.
Here is an outline of state laws on changing the gender marker on your birth certificate.
An indication is made for whether a doctor’s letter, court order (or both or either) is required, whether there is a surgery requirement and whether the state allows for a gender neutral option (indicated with an X gender marker).
You will note that Tennessee is the only state that allows for nothing at the moment. No name change, no gender marker change, etc. It might be more challenging to obtain in other states, like Texas, but it is not entirely impossible.
Ohio allows for change, but Ohio courts cannot issue court orders; you need to get one out of state, which is problematic since most states only issue court orders for people born within their state.
Maryland allows for either a court order or a physician’s letter.
This information was compiled from different sources. Some of them differed on what is required for the same state, so what is represented in this table might not be 100% accurate in practice; however, it corresponds with most sources consulted.
Gender Marker Change in Thailand
The Incongruence between Social Acceptance and Legal Transgender Equality
Currently, there are no laws in Thailand that allow for the correction of gender markers on legal documents.
This almost seems counterintuitive because Thailand has been a refuge for people struggling with gender identity issues for many years. There is a significantly large degree of social acceptance for a gender-diverse population, and Thailand has been seen as a ‘safe space’ for a long time to live for transgender populations.
However, this transgender equality is not represented in their legislation and does not exist everywhere in their society. It is also evident in areas where discrimination does take place. When there is discrimination against transgender individuals in Thailand, it is often severe, pervasive, and public. Everything from rigid enforcement of school uniform laws (up until university level) to access to healthcare can be avenues for severe discrimination.
While the rate of sex reassignment surgery in the country is high, there are still concerns over access to proper health care for the transgender population. In addition, because the law is not on the side of the transgender individual, there is no protection against discrimination or abuse.
A transgender person in Thailand, regardless of whether they have undergone sex reassignment surgery, cannot even change their legal name, let alone request a correct gender marker on their documentation. As a result, they are literally stuck with the name and gender they were assigned at birth for the rest of their lives.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to change the gender marker and name separately or change my name and gender together?
This would depend on your location and what your local laws and procedures entail. It might be more cumbersome and take longer to change your name and gender together, but it could work out cheaper, and when it’s done, it’s done. So it’s best to do some research about your local regulations and decide based on that.
If there is a surgery requirement and you have not yet gone very far in your gender transition, you could possibly change your name first as it is often simpler. Then you can deal with the gender change at a later time once you have undergone sex reassignment surgery.
If my correct gender is displayed on my birth certificate, is it necessary to also change my driver’s license?
This might also depend strongly on local legislation. It might not be a requirement, but it also might involve you having to explain your situation under certain circumstances when birth certificates and driver’s licenses are both checked. Also, bear in mind that you will be using your driver’s license more often than your other identity documents.
If my gender marker on documentation does not bother me and I am secure enough in my gender identity, is it still necessary to change it?
No, it is not necessary. For example, suppose you are secure in your gender identity and do not experience anxiety or dysphoria related to the gender marker displayed on your documents. In that case, there is no reason to change it.
Your name and gender identity are very personal attributes, and if you are comfortable with your arrangement as it is, then you do not need to change anything. If you want to advocate for other people’s right to do so, then you can simply become an ally in those causes. A name and gender marker change can be expensive and time-consuming, so no one should be forcing you to make changes if you do not want to.
If I already have a court order for changes to birth certificates, do I need a new court order for changes to a driver’s license?
This will also depend on local legislation. Usually, the same court order can be used for a name and gender change on all documents, but there might be some places where a separate court order is needed for either a name or gender change or a separate court order for changes to different documents.
You might also be required to get a court order from a national court and a local court.
If I changed my name and gender marker on my birth certificate and other government documents before I got my driver’s license, would the correct gender and name be displayed on my driver’s license?
Generally, the answer is yes, but there might be exceptions that do not allow gender marker change displayed on a driver’s license. These cases are rare, but it might be a good idea to research local legislation just to be sure.