legal-transition
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Legal transition can be as individual an experience as transition overall. Your location, personal history, and your financial situation, among a million other factors, will influence the process of changing your legal name and gender marker. But I believe there is something to be gained by putting a first-hand account under the microscope.

Keep in mind that this is intended to be something of a living document that I will update as my legal/administrative transition goes on.

For context, I am going through the legal transition process in San Diego, California, U.S.A. and I was born in Virginia (also in the U.S.). A lot of this process is similar to other more progressive leaning states, and there is plenty of overlap when dealing with institutions like the Social Security Agency or the credit bureaus. More conservative states often have more complicated procedures for handling legal transition. Every state and country handles things differently, so it may be interesting to get a view into what legal transition is like in one of the supposedly “most accomodating” places in the world.

When it comes to finances, I was making the most money I ever had when I started this, so I had the room in my savings to shell out for the fees. I also consider myself extremely lucky that my boss was flexible, so I was able to adjust my schedule to accommodate the court and DMV hours. Another advantage to consider is that I own a car, so I did not have to plan around public transport availability and schedules.

I actually started the legal transition process back in August of 2020. I had just gotten a new job under my new name, and I wanted to start the legal process ASAP. After spending a week or so researching the process of a name and gender marker change I couldn’t get much of anywhere. I couldn’t find a comprehensive, updated, step-by-step guide to getting this done. But eventually I found out that I had to start with filing a series of forms (download these below) NC-200, NC-110, NC-125/NC-225, NC-230, and CM-010 with the California State Civil Court system. A couple of days after I finished filling out the paperwork, I lost my job, so I put the process on the backburner. Ain’t that always the way?

Come January 2021, I had a new job that paid more than any other job I had ever had. I started saving as much as possible, but I still wasn’t comfortable starting the process. While I could afford the filing fee, I wasn’t sure how much everything else would be, so I didn’t file the paperwork until I got my second stimulus check. I filed on March 12, 2021, leaving work early and charging the $435 fee to the stimulus card, because the court wasn’t accepting cash the day I went.

When I got to the court clerk’s desk at about 3:20pm, the clerk said that I had made it just in time because they closed the desk at 3:30pm. I arrived that late because I was unfamiliar with the parking situation around the civil courthouse. I also wasn’t sure which courthouse I needed to go to (there are 2 within 1 block of each other, neither of which is labelled in a way that is easily read from the street), and nowhere online did it say that the clerk’s desk closed at 3:30pm.

Think about that for a moment. If I hadn’t received the stimulus, if I hadn’t had a flexible boss, if I hadn’t had a car, if I had run just a little slower between the courthouses, or if I had only had cash, I would have been S.O.L. I would have had to do it all over again some other day. Infuriating!

The Wait

Then began the longest wait of my life. I waited over 100 days for a judge to check a few boxes and sign on the dotted line. I know this was in the middle of the pandemic so there was a huge backlog of paperwork for the legal system to process, but this affected my entire life.

This name change was the only reason that I was having to remain in the closet at work because my workplace only allowed me to use my “legal name” for access to their systems, including email, and every login. I technically could have brought the issue up to my superiors, but I now know this certainly would have resulted in me simply being forced to use the deadname for my access while having everyone around me know that I’m trans. It was explained to me after I came out that this is the only “accomodation” they “could have made”.

Then would have come the constant misgendering and deadnaming by email because cis people don’t read. I know cis people don’t read because even after my email address was changed to my full, proper name and I had my pronouns prominently displayed, I was still misgendered by someone who knew me by my deadname…ugh… My ultimate point in saying all of this is that I was exhausted, and I didn’t have the energy to fight that fight everyday. It was honestly easier being constantly misgendered. (I asked people to call me by the initials of my real name, so I didn’t have to constantly be deadnamed verbally, only over email, and on official forms, which was a small victory!)

After over 100 days, and dozens of phone calls, I logged into the online civil court filing system and was able to see that the decree had been signed. So I asked my boss to let me leave early the next day to pick up some copies of the decree. This parking situation was much easier because I was made aware of some parking meters down the road that is directly adjacent to the civil courthouse. These cost $2 for 2 hours of parking time, non-renewable. So, a reasonable rate, but not helpful for some court appearances that may require more than 2 hours, such as if your application requires a court hearing (it generally doesn’t in California).

If I had needed to take the available public transport, I would have had to get off work more than an hour early, and take most of that time to ride the few miles to the courthouse, hoping along the way that I get there in time to make line before the clerk’s office closed. And my office at the time was located directly above a major transport station!

Luckily, I was able to make it with time to spare. I waited in line for about 15 minutes, and then paid $81 for 2 certified copies of the decree, which comes out to $40.50 a piece.

But, it was so worth it. It was a little unreal, at this point. I sat in the car for a minute or two, held those copies, and just stared at my real name. Right there, in black and white, was my real name and my real gender. It definitely wasn’t a confirmation of anything; it was just such a relief.

The Social Security Card

I had a heck of a time trying to figure out how to get the legal transition process going with the Social Security Agency because the United States Social Security Agency opted to completely close every single field office in the country at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also have a pretty inscrutable online presence that serves only to obfuscate rather than illuminate the process. I will attempt to lay it out here.

  1. DO NOT attempt to make an appointment with the SSA via phone. They will not be helpful even when they do answer.
  2. DO fill out page 5 of Form SS-5 (download below), put the filled out form and a copy of your court decree into a manila envelope with your name and address on it, then drop the whole thing into the drop box at the Social Security field office servicing the area that includes your residential address. This is usually the one that is closest to your address. This is important, as your request WILL NOT be processed at any other field office. You may need to attempt a phone call if, like mine, your local office does not post it’s drop box availability hours online.
  3. DO NOT put sensitive identification documents in the mail, or even a Social Security drop box. (I mean, you can put this stuff in the drop box, but you’ll have to do without your identification while they process your request and send your documents back to you via USPS. So, do this at your own risk.)
  4. DO wait until the Social Security office calls you to set up an appointment for you to produce your identification. Because the hours appointments are offered overlap with business hours, you will more than likely need to take time off of work to do this.
  5. DO remember to take your name and gender marker change court decree, and your current photo I.D. with you to the appointment. Please remember that the SS office does accept work, school, state, and federally issued photo identification, as long as it is not expired.
  6. DO be aware that the staff at the Social Security field office is trained to ask for your preferred honorific, meaning ma’am, or sir. So if you go by anything other than these two, you should be aware that this could be a source of unexpected pain or awkwardness.
  7. DO expect to wait the full 10-12 business days after your appointment to receive your new card in the mail.

The Driver’s License

Immediately after I got my SS card in the mail I made an appointment with the DMV. Luckily, I didn’t have to take any time off for this, but the only available appointments were between 9am-4:20pm M-F, so if you work during these hours, you will need time off.

I filled out form DL-44 through the CA DMV online system (link below), and got a code to give to the DMV clerk. It cost $38 for the processing, and it took 10 business days to come in the mail. Also keep in mind, that I was not able to apply for the Federal REAL ID compliant driver’s license because I am not currently able to obtain a birth certificate with my real name and gender marker on it. So, I am currently unable to travel internationally or on a plane. I recently learned that you may be able to skirt this issue if you already have a current passport under your deadname. Mine is expired, so I can’t use this to obtain a new passport or federally compliant ID with the appropriate name and gender marker.

Birth Certificate

I happened to have been born in Virginia, and Virginia requires you to get a “licensed health practitioner” to sign a paper that certifies that you are “receiving medical care for gender transition”. I genuinely flipped my lid when I found this out. I am deeply offended that as a grown adult, I have to beg a cisgender medical professional to “certify” that they think I am trans enough. It’s ridiculous, it’s unnecessary, and it is deeply transphobic. So, if you were born outside of California, you will need to review that state’s or country’s regulations on birth certificate changes.

Even though I do receive healthcare from a licensed health professional, I only see my doctor through telehealth because these appointment are $150 cheaper than in person appointments. I would literally have to pay $250 to get someone with a State License to sign a piece of paper. I currently don’t have much of a plan to get this signed, but I would like to get it done by the end of this year, 2022.

If you find yourself in the position of needing a letter for your birth certificate, or for your insurance to cover your medical treatments, you may want to look into GALAP. GALAP is an organization that has created a directory of queer friendly medical providers, many of whom are queer themselves. All of these providers have stated they are willing to provide these types of letters in as little as one meeting. I looked in San Diego County and there were 3 providers but all were out of my price range and located quite a distance away from me.

If you were born in California, lucky you. You can update your birth certificate by turning in a certified copy of your name and gender marker change decree, and a completed form VS 23 (download below) to your local county registrar’s Office of Vital Statistics. Keep in mind, this should be done within 30 days of your name change decree being signed by the Court.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

First Things First

The first and quickest things I changed my name on were my email address, my lease for my apartment, and my credit card. These were the easiest because all I had to do was request the front office of my apartment building make the change on the lease, and Discover made the process for the credit card extremely easy. Discover allows you to send in a secure message in their mobile app to make the request along with an upload of your ID, Social Security Card, and court decree. It took about a week to get the request processed and another few days to receive my new card in the mail.

I set up my new professional email almost immediately after I settled on my name. I think that was one of the first things I did to celebrate! This new address went on my resume, my LinkedIn, and other professional online accounts. Then came the process of removing the deadname email addresses from the accounts I use everyday. I had to go through all, and I do mean ALL, of the online accounts I use and change what addresses could be changed. This process has taken well over a year of intermittent dedication. And I still keep the old address open just in case something random, like an old tax situation, arises. I may get rid of it in a few years when I safely feel I will no longer need it.

After I went through and changed all of my accounts to the new address I decided to close some of the deadname accounts for good. To close a Google account they require you to provide and alternative email address that is not a Gmail one. I used an app called ProxyMail that generates a temporary email address and inbox that works well for this purpose.

Immunization Record

San Diego makes it fairly easy for you to change your name on your immunization record. All you have to do is call the San Diego Immunization Registry customer service phone number, and request the change be made. They will not be able to replace your CDC issued COVID-19 vaccination card, but they will send you a copy of your full immunization record on which should be any COVID-19 vaccinations. This should function in exactly the same manner as the CDC card. SDIR will require you to email them copies of your driver’s license, name and gender marker change court decree, and fill out a short form to document the request. However, once this is complete, your records should be fully updated and mailed to you.

If you live outside of San Diego County, you will need to contact your County’s Immunization Registry or Public Health Office, and ask about their procedures for updating your name and gender marker.

Bank Accounts and Credit History

I was dreading having to meet with someone in person to change my name on my bank account, so again, I put it off. That is, until I desperately needed the name changed because I was trying to purchase a vehicle. I couldn’t risk not being able to make the purchase because the name on my ID and bank account didn’t match. Ultimately, the process was long, protracted, and at times, ridiculous.

A lot of banks make you set up an appointment to meet in person in order to change the name on the account, and Chase Bank is no exception. I got lucky because during the appointment the staff were very respectful. They didn’t misgender me once, and I really appreciated that they did their best to avoid using my deadname. I was in and out of the bank within 15 minutes, and was so happy when I thought it was finally done.

A complication arose about 3 weeks after this meeting. It seems the bank’s system didn’t update my name on one portion of the account information, which I found out and tried to have corrected by scheduling a meeting with a banker in person. I was told this would supposedly be corrected after the next complete statement cycle, so 7 weeks from when the correction was made. I waited well over 7 weeks, and 2 statement cycles. The name was still not corrected.

I made a third appointment to get this corrected, only to be told that I will have to open a new account and close my old one. The banker who assisted me and their manager claimed this was due to some glitch in their system preventing them from removing my deadname from the account. They could add a name, but for some reason could not remove one. Therefore, my only option is to open a new account.

I will probably be going with a different bank from now on, if I can get any of them to verify my identity. I attempted to open a bank account with Wells Fargo in January of 2022, and was denied because they could not verify my identity. They also could not elaborate as to the reason why.

My Legal Transition DID Affect My Credit Score

Another hiccup I encountered is with the credit reporting bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. These are different than your creditors, as these are the agencies that establish your credit history and score.

These agencies did not register my new name on my deadname’s credit report, and instead established a new (blank) history and empty score for my new legal identity. This is called a split credit report, and it is a very bad situation to have. I mailed in a dispute letter to have this corrected, including with it paper copies of supporting documents (ID, SS Card, and decree). This, apparently, was not sufficient “evidence of address or identity”, so I had to resubmit all of my disputes and include a copy of a different type of supporting document such as a work ID, or a pay stub along with a copy of my Driver’s License, and court decree.

Eventually, my file was corrected to reflect the proper name and I recently received confirmation that the old name no longer has a credit score attached to it. My score initially fell 60 points and has so far recovered 40 points over these past 7 months. This 20 point drop is more than likely best attributed to the hard credit inquiry the car dealership performed on my credit even though I paid for my car in full with cash.

From my research into the matter, a split credit profile does not seem to be a standard problem that a lot of trans people encounter. It may be the luck of the draw if the credit bureaus do this to you or not. However, knowing the way these systems operate, I have a feeling it is easier to verify your identity if you have a more complicated credit history than myself. In my view, the more complicated the credit profile, the more data points with which to verify your identity. Therefore, the bureaus have a better chance of adding your name to your credit history without issue.

Health Insurance

I had a heck of a time trying to get in contact with my health insurance to make them aware of my legal transition because I lost my insurance card. Finding the phone number to call to report changes was more difficult than expected. Ultimately, I was forced to use my old Covered California online account under my deadname. Even though I went through the website, I had trouble understanding where and how to change the names properly. You have to change it twice, once for the Covered California online account, and once to report it to your health insurance.

I then found out that because I had a state sponsored (Medi-Cal) plan through a private company (Healthnet), Medi-Cal did not report my name change to Healthnet. So the local county office had the name correct, but the actual insurance provider did not! I only found this out when I was deadnamed and misgendered by a Healthnet representative during a random phone call from them. I still don’t think they have changed the name. But I recently lost my insurance coverage so this shouldn’t be a problem moving forward.

Advertising Mailers

As for advertising mailers, I recently learned about DMAchoice.org. This website is a tool, offered by the Data & Marketing Association, which lets you remove a name and address from certain marketing lists. You can include your social security number, and your email address, but you are only required to provide a name, date of birth, and address, which is what I opted for. There is a $2 fee associated with this service.

You can also opt out of pre-approved credit and insurance offers at OptOutPrescreen.com. I tried using both of these in order to prevent pesky marketing campaigns from mailing materials to my deadname. It has been over 3 months since I filed both of these requests and I have stopped receiving credit offers and junk mail to my deadname, except from my bank (see the bank section above for more on why this is happening).

Updating School Information

I have attended 2 separate community colleges and I have yet to get my records updated with either. This is honestly the last thing on my list because it has the least (if any) effect on my life. However, when I do decide to finish this up I know one college has an online form you can submit along with the same documents as above (Driver’s License, Social Security Card, and court decree). From there the school should simply update the records to the correct name and gender marker, no further action needed on my part. I hope the other school is as simple as this one should be.

I will also eventually need to update my high school diploma, but I have no idea how I would go about it. I will likely end up calling the school district and seeing if anyone can give me some direction on how to do this.

From the first time I researched the process to now:

Obviously, your costs and mileage will vary.

I hope sharing my story with legal transition has helped you in some way. If this has, leave a comment down below letting me know and you might enjoy learning more about how to find reliable sources of information on the trans experience, or how to support a transgender coworker.

CA DMV Online Portal – you will need to make an account to use this