Legal Gender Change, the International Version

Last summer I sent an email to the Transgender Law Center and asked for referrals to a trans-friendly immigration lawyer in San Francisco. The lawyer I met with was very perceptive, super LGBT friendly. (It is always very affirming to walk into a place and not be afraid of being completely honest, and moreover be respected for who you are.)


I was born in Mexico, and thus, were I to change my legal gender – or rather, when I change my legal gender – it would have to be done there. (Otherwise I would have done it in the US already, since I am ironically well acquainted with the laws here.) Afterwards, that change has to be reflected in all my US paperwork, which is everything a US person might have and more: passport and visas, social security, insurance, credit cards, work documents, driver’s license, cellphone records, and let’s not forget my precious airline miles program, in addition to all my international paperwork. Thankfully this is not the first time the lawyer has done this sort of thing, so he told me it was all very much possible. As far as I was concerned, that was good enough.

Wait – aren’t I forgetting the very first part? How the heck do I change my legal gender in Mexico? Off to do my research then.

Turns out it is luckily relatively straightforward, thanks to a new law, which is only valid for people born in the DF, the capital city. And lucky me, that’s where I was born. Otherwise I’d be really really screwed. The new law essentially states that neither surgery nor hormones are a requirement to legally change your gender; instead, the affirmed gender need only be validated by a psychologist or “sexologist.” But new law or not, I have had surgery, I have easy access to a trans-friendly therapist, and I’ve had some sort of HRT regimen to booth. So, legally, I have a damn good case. Very lucky me.

Legal gender change in Mexico: check. What happens next?


My situation is a bit complex. I also happen to be a citizen of Germany (long story…) with a German passport. Moreover, all of my legal US documents are tied to this passport, a mess I am trying to sort out. The catch is – well, have you read about Germany’s laws regarding a legal gender change? Yeah, that’s the catch. Essentially, Germany has one of the most outdated and, quite frankly, insulting and dehumanizing laws regarding legal gender changes.

For starters, your first name has to gendered – that is, you can’t be Alex, you must be Alexandra or Alexander. Until 2008, the person had to be over 25 and unmarried. Up until recently in 2011 (after I began researching this), you had to be sterile and have undergone genital surgery. Still in effect, your change of name may be voided if you conceive a [biological] child. Not to mention that in my personal case, I’ve only every been in the actual country for like 48 hours.

International Wo/Man

According to this and several others lawyers, my split nationality doesn’t matter. I can have two passports: one says female, one says male. Big deal!

The thing is, “legal gender” is a social construct, and only as valid as the piece of paper it is contained in. Moreover, each person has a plethora of pieces of paper legally declaring their gender, all of which employ different definitions of gender and follow different guidelines to effect a change of gender. Our very existence deconstructs the very fabric upon which society is supposedly built. So, like many transgender people, I will end up with disparate legal gender(s).

What about a legal name change? Well, I just need to decide on a name!

10 thoughts on “Legal Gender Change, the International Version

  1. ¿Y no puedes cambiarte el nombre en México, lo que no afectaría en Alemania ni en EEUU, y luego en EEUU, lo que sólo afectaría a EEUU, si no he entendido mal?

    1. Es correcto – tengo que cambiarme primero el nombre en Mexico, luego en EEUU. Precisamente por eso todavia no lo he hecho – porque no he tenido oportunidad de ir a Mexico por cosas de la visa, etc. Pero estoy planeando un viaje, prontamente al final del verano.

  2. wow. just, wow. what an interesting (though aspects of it are, of course, horrifying, like the laws regarding trans people in germany, some of which i was previously familiar) situation. it’s exhausting just reading about all that you’ve got to do.. makes me so anxious as i think about the eventual beginning of my own process of transitioning out of my assigned gender and sex.

  3. Ok, I just found this! Introduction to Identity Documents from Immigration Equality.

    Apparently I can get a court-ordered name change and gender marker change in CA even though I am a non-citizen, and then update my immigration documents with the court order. I might actually do this while I wait to go to Mexico and get the process done there. (The page seems relatively new, since when I did my research a year ago I didn’t find this. And I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before.)

    (Note that for CA court-ordered gender change, surgery is required. However, keep in mind that a court-ordered gender change has different requirements than when applying for a Driver’s License and/or US Passport gender change.)

  4. geezez…it made me laugh not because it is funny but because of an ironic situation. Born in Mexico, holding Mexican and German passports, living in U,S and trying to change your gender. What a journey! What a story!

    I am looking at my life and shaking my head. A lesbian from Europe, married to an American, and living in Canada. No matter how I look at my life, it is not even close to as much “fun” as yours.

    However, things happen for a reason and because you need them. Everything that you experience makes you a better person, brings new awareness, helps you grow and see life differently.

    Hang in there! Things will sort themselves out.

    1. Your situation sounds similarly complex (without the gender change I guess). We are International Debonairs!

      I find it a little ironic (and fun) that LGBT people can somehow bend state, national and international laws.

      It seems we take the same philosophy of life – things happen for a reason, and your history is what makes you You.

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