Legally Transgender

Last Thursday November 1st I had my official Court Date in the state of California, wherein I legally changed my name and gender. This small legal victory been a long time coming for me, even though it was set in motion just recently when I discovered that I could file a court order even as a non-US citizen.

Legally Male



Gathering the requirements was relatively simple. I had top surgery in February of 2011, and surgery is required for a court ordered gender change in CA. While I had a letter from my surgeon, my lawyer suggested it follow the exact wording on the CA forms in order to avoid complications. My surgeon was actually very happy to update his template and send me a new letter, but it took over a month to sort all out. Next was printing out all the forms, which gets very confusing very fast.


The day after my surgeon’s letter arrived, I paid a visit to the court house to file it. The clerk pointed out that I had filled out all the forms incorrectly (or rather, failed to fill most of the fields, 90% of which are your name and address over and over). Luckily people are quite nice in San Francisco, so she highlighted all the missing parts and gave me a while to do it properly. Moreover, she provided a life saving tip on where to post my newspaper ad for the name change (the newspaper I had chosen apparently has a tendency of “misplacing” the ads, while the one she suggested posts it and automatically files the record with the court). Last, the sticker shock: $450 fee (plus the $45 for the newspaper ad).


During the two months I had between filing my papers and presenting myself in front of the judge, I dreamt up every possible scenario for rejection. Stewing in my mind were miniscule errors that would throw everything off course, like “the surgeon didn’t sign on the actual form” or “I probably forgot to fill something in” or “the judge is going to get hostile for no particular reason.”

Despite being the most nervewracking, going to court was actually the simplest part of this whole ordeal. When my (old) name was called, I stood in front of the judge, answered “yes” affirming I am who I say I am, and was set to go.

Legally Me

I am now legally Micah and legally male, at least as far as the United States is concerned. Now comes the really exciting part: PAPERWORK!


I made a list of all the major documents where I need to update my name and gender. So far – a week later – I’ve completed a grand total of: 2.

Endless list of Documents

Court Order in hand, I immediately went to the Social Security office a few blocks away and got that squared away. For some reason the attendant insisted that my surgeon’s letter was necessary, to ensure that “the sex change has been completed and all that” even though that is redundant, since the court order required that in the first place. This was my first encounter of many with people’s ignorance of what a legal gender change entails.

It Never Ends

I’m currently “live-blogging” the saga on my Facebook page in case you’re interested in the juicy details, like me trying to use a fax machine, or hearing the ever-usual awkward she/he pronoun confusion. Trust me, it gets juicier.

So far it’s been equally amusing and annoying, but overall it’s a hassle I’ve been oddly looking forward to.

29 thoughts on “Legally Transgender

  1. I’m really surprised they have required surgery. From the people I’ve talked to one only has to have a letter showing “appropriate medical treatment” in CA. Coincidentally, everyone has taken to assume surgery (I could overhear the clerk in the back insisting to someone else that I had gotten “the surgery” when she was trying to get a fee exemption for me) but I also have papers that show I’ve gotten surgery just in case.

  2. The important thing to remember about legal gender (and change thereof) is that each document has different requirements. Here’s a rough summary

    • For a CA court order, you need surgery.
    • For Social Security, you need surgery.
    • For Driver’s License in CA you need a “medical certification”
    • For US passport you need “medical certification”
    • For USCIS (visa, immigration) you need “medical certification” and they explicitly state that they DO NOT require surgery of any kind, and that officials should NOT ask for documentation regarding surgery.

    So technically I could’ve changed my gender on my DL and visa, but I opted to wait until I had the name change, which was more important to me. And the only way to get a name change is through a court order, so I got the gender change to go with it.

    (That and I’ve been having issues with getting a CA State ID and Driver’s License. California takes an eternity to verify your legal presence if you are not a US Citizen, which means that after 14 months of dealing with DMV bureaucracy I have yet to receive a CA ID. My only valid, non-expired, government issued identification at the moment is my (non-US) passport. Which is a problem now that I’ve changed my name on all my US documents but not my passport.)

  3. The form for this is confusing because my name’s been legally changed already and I’ve had an operation that might count for changing my gender, but all I need is to have my birth certificate reissued. I was born in California, though I currently live in New Mexico, so do you have any idea what forms/procedures to go through for that?

    1. You could get a court-ordered gender change in New Mexico (but check that state’s requirements first). This essentially gives you clearance to change your gender pretty much everywhere, except your birth certificate. But unlike other countries, you rarely use your birth certificate for anything in the US, and most people get by with changing every other document except that one. (Also note that whatever surgery you might have had, you need to get a physician’s letter approving this was gender reassignment surgery.) If you do want to change your birth certificate, you will need definitely to change it through California, which is usually done through a Court Order. I’m not sure of the exact procedure if you live out of state, but I know of several people doing exactly this.

      Here’s a good resource about Identity Documents from the Transgender Law Center It’s also a good idea to consult with a lawyer when things start to get complicated.

    2. I was in almost that exact situation, I was born in California but don’t live there anymore. Basically what I did was fill out all of the paperwork for getting my birth certificate changed, included my name change document, included my surgeon’s letter, and then included a copy of my drivers license to show them that my sex has been legally changed on stuff even though I haven’t had a court-ordered gender change. That worked for me, but I’m not sure if you’d need to include your ID or not or what to do if you haven’t had your gender legally changed on any documents.

  4. Congrats! I went through the legal name change process in NYC which ended up costing me about $150 when I was done with the fees, publishing, copies of court order etc, but I did not do the gender marker. Getting the court order for the name change was unexpectedly moving. In NYC it is pretty easy to fill out the paperwork, they have a free on-line program that walks you through it and prints out the document. Social Security and DMV were also pretty straight-foward (no pun intended), but it is really time consuming to get everything else to match, and it required more patience than I have by nature.

    Keep working at it, even though changing your name on all your accounts has to be the dullest experience of being trans. But slowly getting all your mail in your real name is a lot of fun (except for the bills).

  5. Congrats congrats congrats!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    On a MUUUCH tinier level, I remember the hassle of changing documents after my divorce. I was absolutely astonished at the number of random office clerks who apparently needed to see my actual signed-by-the-judge divorce decree. Twitch…


  6. Congratulations! Post-legal-name-and-gender-change paperwork (can I say post-gender paperwork? it isn’t exactly accurate but I like how it sounds) is kind of overwhelming, so I think it was a good idea to prioritize only a couple of things. I admit that I’ve only updated my info in 2 places of the 7 or 8 on my list.

    1. Yeah, I assume when I lose momentum I’ll update the remaining documents as needed.

      In the meantime, on top of this I am dealing with getting my visa transferred (and amended w/ new info at the same time) and getting approved for a CA driver’s license, which is turning out to be an even bigger nightmare.

    1. The laws in Europe are usually quite different from the US. It’s actually surprisingly easy to do all this in the US, once you meet the requirements. Let me know how it goes!

  7. Congrats on getting your paperwork! It’s probably nice to have it official, even if they’re basically giving you paperwork for something that was already yours. XD

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