Where You’re Born Matters (at least if you are Transgender)


I’ve been researching legal requirements for changing the gender marker on my birth certificate. In some states they accept a letter from a doctor saying you have been surgically altered to the opposite gender. For MTF the “alteration requirement” varies from facial feminization to orchiectomy and vaginoplasty. For FTM the “alteration requirement” varies from chest reconstruction to total hysterectomy (I’m not aware of any state requiring phalloplasty or metoidoplasty).

Once the good citizen renders said proof (and pays the fees of course), some states seal the old certificate and issue a new one with the updated information. This allows the certificate bearer to keep their gender journey private. Other states provide an “amended” certificate – the original information remains on the re-issued certificate and updated information is added to the margin. How swell – that won’t raise any eyebrows when compelled to present it in touchy situations with folks like, oh, employers.

The result? If you are transgender, by accident of birth changing your gender marker on your birth certificate may require you to (1) prove you’ve been sterilized; and (2) not really provide a “new certificate” at all!

I won the lotto (and the bonus round). I was born in WV and they don’t want the spectacle of “pregnant men” running around crowing about their WV roots so I get to provide proof of removal of reproductive capacity and in return get an “amended certificate” for my trouble.

On a personal level it doesn’t matter much. I transitioned way past my prime so the state isn’t really taking away my reproductive freedom. I have an established career at a company with enlightened diversity policy. I am “out” by personal choice so having an amended birth certificate is ok – for now – unless I need to present it at some point in the future where such information would put me at risk. You never know.

But on a social level, transgender folks born in WV face draconian laws when seeking to change a document that is a gatekeeper to jobs, security clearances, travel, professional licensure, driving privilege, voter registration, et cetera. Unless they yield to the state’s mandatory sterilization requirement, they don’t get an amended certificate. And, even if they go along with sterilization, the amended certificate will “out” them in situations where discrimination is likely and potential impact devastating.

Does this sound like America? I mean, hell, it’s not like this is Sweden where the whole damn country requires sterilization of transgender citizens that want the state to “reconsider” their gender. To top it off, Sweden’s transgender citizens seeking state recognition of their gender also have to be unmarried and are not allowed to bank their sperm or eggs! Check this out.

If, however, we’re speaking in the current “states rights” libertarian lingo, I guess the WV law is “American” as it gets. This scares the hell out of me – not for me, but for the transgender generations to come. By mere accident of birth, transgender folks cannot “vote with their feet” and participate in the gift of the federalists’ mini laboratories of democracy. Moving to a more trans friendly state is not an option for solving their birth certificate dilemma.

3 thoughts on “Where You’re Born Matters (at least if you are Transgender)

  1. I’d been reading about Sweden’s appalling law recently. The whole notion of requiring proof of sterilization and/or an amended birth certificate is just terrible. As you say, you’re luckily to be transitioning at an age and life situation where you’re at less risk. I’m watching a number of young transpeople in their early 20s (friends of Anna mostly) wrestle with these issues. I’ve known some of these kids since they were quite young and most of them are still at an age where their parents’ response is a big factor as well.

    It seems so unjust to me to throw all of these dangerous obstacles on top of the whole issue of figuring out the path that meets one’s needs. This issue seems to be well behind gay rights in the public eye although hopefully beginning to catch up. I feel like the result of this election will really set the tone of which way the country goes and it scares the hell out of me.

  2. I have a feeling that on this gender trip (or journey if Oprah schooled), there will be quite a few of these ‘peeling an onion’ variables.Where you live is always a constant in those of lower education and socioeconomic status as they don’t dig out but you are now getting a small taste of their life. I’m glad you have the freedom to experience just and fair worker’s rights. Breathe it in deeply and appreciate it.

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