Legal Advice: Identity Change

Answers to your real-life legal questions with Yetta G. Kurland

Dear Yetta,

I recently transitioned to my true gender, and now I want to ensure that all of my identity documents accurately reflect my gender. Can you let me know what to expect?
Dear Orlando,
As I’m sure you know, there are good reasons to make sure that all your identity documents reflect your name and gender. However, the process is not without complications, and you should be prepared to put some time and effort into figuring out what‘s required to get a particular document corrected.
Some documents, like passports and social security cards, are issued by the federal government; while driver’s licenses and birth certificates are issued by the state—and in some places a city may issue identify documents as well.
While the process for changing federal documents is fairly standardized, each state has its own requirements, and these requirements can vary according to what document you’re seeking to change. You may have to provide more documentation to get a gender-confirming birth certificate than you would to get a new driver’s license. Some states won’t allow for a change of gender on government-issued identity documents, and most states, even the progressive ones, still require documentation of medical treatment before changing your documents.
Also, you may need to juggle the requirements of two or more jurisdictions. For example, you typically apply to the state where you live for a driver’s license, and to the state where you were born for a birth certificate. Luckily, in many places these laws are becoming more permissive. New York State, for example, recently changed its law to allow a gender change on a birth certificate by providing documentation of clinical treatment, rather than requiring surgery. However, New York City, which issues its own birth certificates, still requires proof that the applicant has undergone surgery. So a New York resident could have a correct state-issued driver’s license, but the city-issued birth certificate still bears their gender assigned at birth.
The process of changing identity documents is necessary for many people, and can also be a source of aggravation. You can hire an attorney to handle the paperwork, and your local LGBT community center will also have resources for you.
Good luck,
Email questions to or call 212-253-6911.
*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.


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