The transition process for transgender people, particularly transsexuals, might involve an expensive combination of surgeries, hormone-replacement therapy, and lesser tasks like perfecting one’s vocal tone or handwriting style. But one of the most pervasive proofs of a previous life doesn’t involve a physical change at all: it’s in the name.
I spoke with Erik, a student in the Greater Boston area, about what he calls “the frustrations encountered in the world when your common name and appearance say one thing, while your legal documents say another.”
“My birth name doesn’t even feel like me — it’s like a separate person,” says Erik. “And, really, in all fairness, it is. My birth name represents something, and someone, that I am not and can never be.”
Psychological implications aside, all sorts of problems arise when your name doesn’t match your appearance. “Try buying booze when your ID says [your birth name] and [F for female], while you’re standing there with a boy’s haircut and three days of stubble,” he explains.
Unfortunately, erasing evidence of a former name can become a game of bureaucratic whack-a-mole. Amy, also a student, has already finished most of her transition process, including the name-change debacle, and does not remember the experience fondly.
“I had never realized just how many things one’s name was tied to,” she told me. “I had to change my driver’s license, my Social Security card, my bank account, school information — anything that still had relevance to my life that I put that old name on needed to be changed. For a while, it seemed like the old name would be haunting me forever.”
The first step to the process is a court order for a name change. You can download the necessary forms from uslegalforms.com, or fill them out at your county’s government offices. You’ll need to run the name change in a newspaper and publicly explain your situation before a judge.
Once you’ve obtained the court order, you can update your Social Security card and your driver’s license. As for the former, you’ll need to download form SS-5 from the official Social Security Web site, or use the site to find the nearest branch office. You’ll also need to provide evidence of your old and new names, such as the court order and other forms of ID.
As for your license, you can research Massachusetts’s policies at mass.gov. Make sure you know which forms of ID you’ll need to bring before you wait in the long RMV line. The new license will cost you $25, and once again you’ll have to await its arrival by mail.
You’ll also need to speak with your bank, place of work, and your school for the last few significant changes. If you’ve already graduated, most schools have request forms for new diplomas. You should also google your old and new names to make sure you’re aware of all of the places they appear online.
Unfortunately, in Massachusetts, you can’t get an entirely new birth certificate; the document will merely be amended. Amy explains the difference: “All they did was strike a line through the old name, enough so that [it] was still visible, and wrote in the new name above it. I was hoping for something that at the very least made it unable for someone to see the old name.”