Part 3: Legal
For most transfolk, choosing a name to reflect your true gender is an important part of the transitioning process. I believe that picking a name goes beyond just sorting through all the legal mumbo jumbo and telling people to call you something different. Choosing a name for yourself is a symbol of your independence--a sign that you are taking control of your life and becoming the person you were meant to be. It can also be one of the most fun parts of transitioning. I mean, how many people out there in the general population had the opportunity to choose their own name? Not many! What a cool opportunity!
Perhaps you already have a name in mind that has great significance to you.
Or, if you're like me, take some time to go through lists of baby names and narrow the list down to your top choices. Check out www.babynamesworld.com/, for example.
Just remember, changing your name is like getting a tattoo. Pick a name you'll want for the rest of your life. While it may be tempting to officially name yourself Blueberry-Cantaloupe Pizzazz, after your favorite smoothie flavor, how exactly will that look on a resume? Having said that, you're making this choice for you! If you really, really love the name Mortimer, then go for it, even if you already have two cousins with that name and Grandma might be a little confused. Take your time and have fun!
[Interesting trivia: Legally, you cannot change your name to a number, like "7," BUT you can change your name to "Seven." Though why anyone would want to be legally named Seven is uncertain.]
This is currently the Maine name change law:
§ 1-701. Petition to change name
If a person desires to have that person's name changed, the person may petition the judge of probate in the county where the person resides; or, if the person is a minor, that person's legal custodian may petition in the person's behalf, and the judge, after due notice, may change the name of the person and shall make and preserve a record of the name change. The fee for filing the petition is $25. [1997, c. 18, §2 (amd); §6 (aff).]
The Pine Tree Legal Assistance website has detailed information about how to go about changing your name in Maine, as well as a list of probate courts throughout the state.
The court publishes a legal notice in your local paper saying that you want to change your name from A to B. This is so that if someone wanted to contest your name change, they could show up in court for your hearing. Chances are, this won't happen. Who reads the legal notice section of the paper anyway?
Congratulations! You have a new name!
You change all your necessary documents to reflect your new name. (see next section)
You don't have to have undergone any medical treatment or surgery before you can change your name. Anyone can legally change his or her name as long as you aren't doing it to evade the police or avoid paying debt.
When transitioning, one of the first things you'll probably want to do is change your legal documents to reflect your new name and gender. Documents you may want to consider changing are: birth certificate, social security record, passport, driver's license, school transcripts.
If you are simply changing your name, just showing the court order verifying your name change should do the trick. You may also need to provide ID for your old identity in some cases. Officially changing your gender can be a little more tricky, and laws vary by state for some of these documents.
Birth Certificate: According to www.maine.gov, you should fill out form VS-7 "Correcting a Vital Record in Maine." This form must be notarized. You must also provide a court order stating your change of name, and a notarized letter from a physician stating that you have had surgery in order to change your sex. (It is unclear what type of surgery this refers to--i.e. for FTMs it may be possible to change your birth certificate if you have had chest surgery, but not genital surgery. If your doctor writes that you have undergone "irreversible surgical procedures" to correct your physical sex [or something along those lines], that should be enough. Most SRS surgeons will be used to preparing these kinds of letters, and will hopefully know how to word things.) Bring all of this paperwork along with a $25 fee to the Office of Vital Records at 244 Water St. in Augusta, or send to:
State of Maine Dept. of Health & Human Services
Vital Records Section
11 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0011
The state will issue you a new birth certificate, indicating the appropriate gender. Your original birth certificate will be confidential--only you and/or a legal representative will have access to it, unless there is a court order.
The phone number for Vital Records is: (207)287-3181, or toll-free at 1-888-664-9491.
Passport: According to the National Center for Transgender Equality,
To change your name:
Fill out form DS-5044 ("Passport Amendment/Validation Application"), if you have a current passport that was issued to you less than one year ago. (You do not have to pay a fee.)
If you have a current passport issued more than one year ago, fill out form DS-82 ("Application for a U.S. Passport by Mail"). You will have to pay the same fees as if you were getting a new passport.
Provide a certified copy of your name change court order.
Provide your current passport.
Mail documentation to:
Using the United States Postal Service:
National Passport Processing
P.O. Box 13290
Philadelphia, PA 19101-3290
Using another mail delivery service:
National Passport Processing
ATTN: Department 13290
1617 Brett Road
New Castle, DE 19720
To change your gender:
Provide proof of citizenship and identity (a birth certificate works for proof of citizenship).
Provide a current photo - must be a passport photo, which you can have taken at many post offices and places that develop film.
Pay the $85 fee.
Letter from a physician stating that you have had or are planning to have surgery. (You can get a temporary passport for one year if you "are planning" to have surgery. Remember, plans can always change!)
Charleston Passport Center
1269 Holland Street
Charleston, SC 29405
You should also enclose a letter requesting a new passport, or risk getting your old passport back with a stamp that shows change of gender.
I think you can change your name and gender at once by mailing everything to the Charleston, SC address, but I haven't verified this.
Complete form SS-5
Provide documentation of your identity in your new name (passport, driver's license, state ID, etc).
Provide documentation of your former identity (it's ok if the document is expired).
Show proof of your legal name change (court order).
If you wish to officially change you gender, you must have a physician's letter stating that you have received surgery.
All documents need to be originals. (If you go to the SS office in person, they should be returned to you immediately.)
Driver's License: After searching through Maine law, I can't find an official rule about what is required to change gender on your driver's license. I have heard from a few sources that you must have a letter from a physician stating you have had SRS surgery; however, I asked a clerk in Augusta's Registry of Motor Vehicles, and she said that you need a physician's letter stating that you "intend" to have surgery sometime in the future. She was very clear that you do not have to already have had surgery. So, I'm not sure what the "official" policy is, and perhaps it might even vary by what the worker at the RMV believes. If you haven't already had surgery, it would be worth a try to bring in a letter of intention and see what happens.
(Note: Driver's license policies vary by state, so check with a local RMV/DMV if you are not from Maine.)
Also, if you are changing to a Maine license from another state, it has worked for some people simply to check off the gender box that applies to you - if you're lucky, no questions will be asked and you'll have your appropriate gender on your new Maine license (this worked for me).
School Transcripts: If you have transitioned after attending school and need your transcripts for employment or applying to another school, it would probably make things easier to change your name (and gender, if applicable), on your transcript. Policies vary by school, but there is no reason that they shouldn't change at least your name if you have a court order. To change gender, they might require a physician's letter, or they might just accept a letter from you explaining why you need the gender designation to be changed. Check with your registrar's office. If you are running into trouble, see if your school has some sort of "diversity committee" faculty member who might be willing to help you. A school counselor might also be useful. Also, showing up in person may be more effective than sending requests through the mail.
If you have changed your name and/or gender on transcripts from a school in Maine, let me know and I will post the information here.
Colby College: I changed my name and gender on my transcript in 2004ish. I did go through some hassle from the registrar's office in changing my gender designation--after sending several letters back and forth, I enlisted a diversity committee faculty member to intervene for me, and they finally changed it, without requiring any documentation from a physician. (Colby has a new Registrar now, who is hopefully more open-minded and sensitive to the needs of transgender students.)
Finally, don't forget to change your name on credit cards and bills, if you have already legally changed your name. (Good luck trying to stop getting junk mail for your old name, though--I still get some after almost five years!)
As of 2005, Maine law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations, housing, employment, education, and right to sue. (source: Transgender Law and Policy Institute and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a great document on Transgender People and the Law on their website. It includes information about laws related to transgender people and employment, housing, schools, the family, health care, criminal law, immigration, and prisoners' rights.
The Transgender Law and Policy Institute also has a lot of useful and interesting information regarding trans legal matters.
Some of the highlights are listed below. Note that this is not a comprehensive listing and should not be construed as legal advice.
Maine law prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of “sexual orientation,” which in this case legally includes gender identity and expression. This covers discrimination in any academic, extracurricular, athletic, research, occupational training or other program or activity. It also protects students during the admissions process and in obtaining financial aid. Additionally, the Transgender Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) reports that several Maine Universities have non-discrimination policies that explicitly include gender identity and/or gender expression, including the University of Maine System, Colby College, and Rockport College.
While Maine law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in education, there is no explicit provision regarding school safety. Hate Crimes legislation includes violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation, but does not include gender identity and gender expression as protected classes.
Maine schools have a long way to go in respecting the rights of gender variant individuals. TLPI recommends improvements in the following areas with respect to transgender individuals and colleges and universities: healthcare, residence halls, bathrooms, locker rooms, forms, and records and documents. (see http://www.transgenderlaw.org/college/index.htm#practices for more info)
In December 2005 in Maine, LD 1196, "An Act to Extend Civil Rights Protections to All People Regardless of Sexual Orientation" went into effect. One effect of this piece of legislation is to forbid “employers from refusing to hire, or discharging, or discriminating against the employee with respect to any employment matter, including hiring, tenure, promotion, transfer, compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment” on the basis of a person's “actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression.” Certain religious entities are exempt from this legislation.
While Maine law prohibits same-sex marriage, it allows for recognition of domestic partnerships through the statewide Domestic Partner Registry. Although domestic partnerships ensure an amount of legal recognition of a committed relationship, the rights associated with them are far more limited than those afforded to a married couple.
Regarding children: Maine law allows individuals to petition to adopt children regardless of marital status. Joint or second-parent adoption is also legal regardless of marital status and sexual orientation.
(c)Maine Transgender Network, Inc., 2009