Changing one’s sex marker on a driver’s license once involved hours of legal research, doctor’s appointments, paperwork, and the humiliating experience of working with often judgmental government officials. Now, these struggles been significantly alleviated with a new Michigan law. This new legislation enables residents to change one’s sex marker on a driver’s license with a single form and all of nine dollars. In an exciting development for the transgender community, Michigan residents can now update their sex marker at the Secretary of State with comparative ease.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced a new rule on November 18, 2019 that would make it easier for transgender people to change the sex marker on their driver’s licenses. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
With the new Michigan Secretary of State Sex Designation Form, Michigan residents will simply need to supply the personal information listed on their current driver’s license, sign a statement indicating which sex marker they would like listed on their new driver’s license, submit the form to a Secretary of State office, and pay a filing fee of nine dollars (ten for a state ID card). The updated sex marker only affects an individual’s driver’s license or state ID card, and not any other state, municipal, or federal identification. It should be noted that this form is not a name change form, and individuals seeking a new or updated name on their driver’s license must present legal documentation of their name change, such as a marriage license or court order. Additionally, it is important to note that only male and female sex markers are available on Michigan driver’s licenses and state ID cards at this time.
Trans individuals have always faced legal, societal, and medical discrimination within the United States. While legal recognition of a trans individual’s updated gender identity and/ or sex does not eliminate all struggles faced within a transphobic society, it can significantly improve a trans individual’s life for many reasons. Showing one’s identification can create barriers for trans individuals on a daily basis when their gender presentation and/or identity does not “match” with their legal sex marker. This struggle can be especially difficult when seeking healthcare or applying for jobs. Additionally, trans people can face embarrassment or humiliation when showing their ID in a more everyday context. Something seemingly simple, like presenting an ID card to purchase alcohol, can cause confusion or shame when one’s gender presentation does not “match” with their legal sex marker. With updated legal identification, trans people have more of a choice in disclosing something so personal as their transgender identity.
Before this change, there was no clear pathway for trans individuals to change their sex marker on their driver’s license or their state ID cards. Many processes for changing one’s sex marker on legal identification require surgery, which creates a cost barrier for many trans individuals. Gender affirming surgery is very expensive and time-consuming, and many trans individuals do not consider gender affirming surgery to be necessary for their own personal transition. For me personally, legally transitioning so that my legal sex marker matched my gender identity proved to be a difficult challenge. Because there was no way to change one’s sex marker on their driver’s license in Michigan without sexual reassignment surgery, I instead decided to apply for a new passport with an updated gender marker. In the United States, to change one’s sex marker on their passport, an individual needs a statement from a medical professional stating that one has “had appropriate clinical treatment for transition from male to female or female to male” for a ten year passport (for adults). One can also obtain a two year passport if they are deemed to be “in the process of getting appropriate clinical treatment for transition from male to female or female to male”. Because the passport is a federal level of identification, that means one can change their sex marker on their driver’s license by presenting their newly updated passport, as I did.
However, the price for a passport can be burdensome, especially as most individuals do not need a passport unless they are actively planning on leaving the country. The new option for trans individuals to change their sex marker on their driver’s license in Michigan greatly reduces the amount of paperwork, cost, time, and potential medical intervention necessary for legal affirmation of their identity. Please visit travel.state.gov for more information on how to change one’s sex marker on their United States passport.
While the trans community has celebrated this new change to Michigan law, it is not the end of the fight for trans acceptance within Michigan, or within the United States. For example, this law only allows legal recognition for male and female genders, thus excluding those who do not wish to be identified with those terms. Additionally, the trans community still struggles for equal opportunity and treatment within Michigan. Though able to change the sex marker on their driver’s licenses, trans individuals need to undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to change the sex on their birth certificate, which creates more financial burden for trans individuals seeking to legally affirm their gender transition. While this victory should be celebrated, it is also important to note that the trans community in both Michigan and the United States must still fight for equality in society, medicine, and the law.
It’s about more than just driving: The ability for trans people to change their driver’s licenses to accurately reflect their gender represents increasing legal recognition of trans existence. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.