I am 23 years old and I try not to do anything that requires any form of identification. The pandemic has provided one small reprieve — there are no more meetings with friends at bars or restaurants where I would have to hand my ID to a server or a security person to check my age.
Whenever I need to hand over my ID, hidden in the very back of my wallet, the dread gathers in my stomach, wishing myself invisible before the person can skim the ID, see the sex category and glance up at me, with my flat chest and soft facial hair, confusion and, occasionally, understanding moving across their face.
I am forced to out myself to strangers with regularity because I do not possess the means to change my legal name and gender marker.
Every day, I open my wallet to pick up coffee, or buy groceries, or use any credit card, clock into work, or check my bank account, and I have to stare at my deadname — the name I was legally given but is no longer mine.
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During his 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden’s platform affirmed that trans people should have the ability to change their gender markers. But so far he has done nothing and trans children and adults’ lives being threatened. The administration needs to take decisive action to protect trans people, and the least they can do is allow us to name and correctly gender ourselves.
Currently, to update the gender marker in the federal social security system or on a federal ID like a passport or immigration documents, the person has to submit a letter from a medical doctor about their gender transition.
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The Biden administration needs to issue an executive order that would allow transgender and non-binary people in every state to change their identification documents to match their gender identity without the requirement of pages of written testimony from medical and healthcare professionals. Transgender people should be able to change their federal gender markers, and states should have to match that change.
Even some places that allow trans people to apply to courts for name changes through self-attestation, like Washington, D.C., still require documents, like a letter from a medical professional, in order to change their gender marker. For D.C. residents, a step-by-step guide provided by LGBTQ clinic Whitman-Walker Health notes that there may be some difficulties in obtaining an updated driver’s license at the DMV before the applicant’s social security card has been updated.
The process for me could take up to six months, a Whitman-Walker Health lawyer told me. That means at least six more months of covering the screen at work when I clock in and clock out, of hiding my license in the back pocket of my wallet and hoping I don’t have to do anything that will require it.
None of my legal documents match who I am, and because of that, there is always a risk. Without the correct identification, mundane tasks become nearly impossible. I was nearly unable to get a new phone at T-Mobile because the clerk didn’t believe I was the person who was registered under the account. Even though I had changed my online account to say “Noah,” I had no ID to prove it. My current ID, credit card, and health insurance card have my legal, former name.
The clerk had to call corporate while I stood there, shame heating my face. It took two hours, other customers streaming in and out while I waited for a PIN to be sent to my phone so they would believe it was my number.
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I knew that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 would require my ID. I work part-time in a mall and am constantly exposed to other people, but I still dreaded my appointment to get vaccinated. I signed up under my chosen name, but I still had no documentation with “Noah” on it, and my experience getting a new phone just a few weeks before made me feel sick at the thought of going through it again.
Some friends had told me that IDs weren’t being checked, only confirmation numbers, which I had ready and available. When I got to the facility providing the vaccines, however, I was met with confusion.
The person who took my ID, which I reluctantly handed over, told me it was a good thing I brought that confirmation number, because I had registered myself under a different name. Maybe I should have put down my legal name to begin with, knowing that I might have to face the situation that I did, but I didn’t want to deadname myself.
This is a choice many trans people are forced to contend with whenever they want to gain access to anything that requires ID — whether or not deadname and misgender themselves, or risk someone else doing it and turning them away. We live in a world custom built for cisgender people.
Structural changes are long overdue. In my experience, gender is more than just the binary that society imposes on us, and trans people know who we are. I shouldn’t have to fight administrators over pieces of paper to affirm that. No trans person should.
Noah Grey Rosenzweig is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow them on Twitter: @ng_rosenzweig