Having your legal name and gender marker match your gender identity on your birth certificate and driver’s license is a crucial part of transitioning. The good news is that California law makes it easy to correct these documents. Find out what to do if you are transgender in California to assume your new legal identity.
Why Transgender Californians Need Legal Name Changes
Being transgender in California, you may cringe every time someone asks for your ID. Your friends and family members may have accepted your transition and welcomed your new name and gender identity. You may present as your true gender identity at home and at work. Some of your friends and coworkers may not even know that you were born a different gender. But legally, you still carry the name and gender marker assigned to you at birth.
For those in the process of transitioning, your government ID can out you as Trans* and raise more questions than you want to answer to a clerk at the grocery store or police officer at a traffic stop. Even if you have been presenting as male or female in keeping with your gender identity for years, your legal name and gender marker on your driver’s license and other government records can create problems and force you to discuss sensitive topics with relative strangers. It could even lead some people to believe that you are using a fake ID or aren’t who you say you are. Then, when it is time to renew your license and get a new photo taken, you can be left with the uncomfortable choice of whether to closet yourself at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
California Recognizes Nonbinary People at DMV and on Vital Records
In late 2017, the state legislature passed the California Gender Recognition Act (California Senate Bill 179). This law, which went into full effect earlier in 2019, is designed to streamline transgender residents’ process to have their names and gender markers changed. It also created a third “nonbinary” gender designation. The law defines “nonbinary” as an “umbrella term for people with gender identities that fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly either female or male.” This can include transgender individuals or those with intersex traits.
Now, for the first time in state history, citizens can choose “M, F, or X” as their gender marker on key government documents including birth certificates, driver’s licenses and state identification cards. California isn’t the first to roll out nonbinary gender markers. Oregon, Washington D.C., and several countries already offer some form of third gender on their legal documentation.
How To Change Your Name and Gender Marker in California
Before 2018, the law required a transgender resident to disclose confidential and personal medical information about their treatment for gender transition before they could legally change their name or gender marker. Their treating physicians had to sign affidavits saying that they had undergone “clinically appropriate treatment” before transgender residents would be allowed to be legally recognized by their preferred name. Now, the California Gender Recognition Act has eliminated those procedural hurdles, making it easier for transgender people in California to change their legal name and gender markers.
Changing Your Name
Your legal transition as a transgender person in California starts with a Petition for Change of Name (this can also include a change of gender marker if you want it to). As long as you are trying to change your name to match your accurate gender identity, and not for any fraudulent purpose, the court can grant your petition without having to publicize it, or forcing you to attend a hearing. You will still get a notice of hearing from the court, but unless someone objects in writing at least 2 days before, the judge will enter the name change order without you having to appear at a formal hearing.
If someone does object, it will be up to them to show a good reason — other than your gender designated at birth — why the judge should refuse your request. Unless they do that, the judge will grant your request and give you an order to be filed with the state registrar. Whether you have the hearing or not, be sure to get certified copies of the order from the courthouse to change your government IDs and financial records to use your new legal name.
Changing Your Gender Category on Your Birth Certificate
You can ask the court to change your gender category along with your name as part of the same petition. Until January 1, 2019, this still required a Physician’s Declaration. Now, instead of your doctor signing an affidavit about your treatment, you will be the one promising that the request is based on your desire to have your birth certificate accurately reflect your gender identity. You may choose between male, female, or nonbinary options. Unless someone objects in writing, raising concerns other than your gender assigned at birth, the court will order the State Registrar to issue a new birth certificate with the accurate gender category.
Changing Your Driver’s License or State ID Card
Once you have your order changing your name in hand, you can take that order to the DMV to update your driver’s license or California identification card. When you apply for or renew your license, it must have your legal name on it. That’s why you should complete your name change petition first. However, once you have that order in hand, you will be allowed to choose your gender category: male, female, or nonbinary, and receive your corrected driver’s license or state ID. You are not required to provide any documentation supporting your choice. Assuming you otherwise qualify for a state driver’s license or ID card, it will be issued with your chosen gender marker: M, F or X.
Get Compassionate Help Making Your Legal Transition
By making it easier for Transgender and nonbinary residents to get legal name and gender marker changes, California is honoring your gender identity and giving you the dignity you deserve. The new process for changing your name and gender marker on your birth certificate, driver’s license, or state ID may be simpler, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it alone.
At ADZ Law, LLP, we can help. We will help you through the process, making certain the right forms are completed and sent to the right places. We represent transgender individuals in San Mateo County and the surrounding region of California. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help you.