Some people use a name that is different from the name their family gave them. Just like people often go by nicknames, you can use a name and pronouns (such as he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs) that you choose even if they are different from your legal name and gender. However, you can also change your legal name and gender so that your gender identity is officially recognized on your identity documents.
Identity documents (or “IDs”) are legal documents that can be used to prove you are who you say you are. In the United States, identity documents that people often have are a birth certificate, a state ID or driver’s license, a passport, and a Social Security card.
There is no way to change all your identity documents at once. This is because different agencies are in charge of each type of identity document, and each agency has their own rules for how to change the documents they issue.
Changing Your Name
In order to change your name on your ID, you need a court order, which is a legal document signed by a judge that officially recognizes your chosen name as your legal name. You can then bring a copy of that court order to change your name on your various IDs.
Changing Your Gender Marker
There are two ways to change your “gender marker” (the part of an ID that says that your gender is “M,” “F,” or “X”). The most common and efficient way is to get a court order recognizing your gender change and to use that order to change your gender marker on your various IDs. A court order from your state is respected by all the agencies in your state that issue IDs, making it easier to change your state IDs. If you want to change your birth certificate, but were born in a different state from where you live, you may need to meet the requirements for changing your gender marker in the state where you were born. Although many states accept a court order, you should reach out to an LGBT or trans-specific advocacy organization in the state where you were born to find out if there are particular requirements you should be aware of before starting the process of correcting the gender marker on your birth certificate in the state where you live. Those organizations are likely going to have really helpful information to guide you through the process. If you are unable to get a court order, some agencies allow you to change the gender marker on an ID without a court order. For example, in some states you can change the gender marker on your driver’s license just by signing a form stating what your gender identity is. Other states may require a letter from your therapist or doctor confirming that you are seeking treatment for gender dysphoria.
A court order is a legal document that officially recognizes your name and/or gender change. You can get a court order that only changes your name, only changes your gender, or changes both. You can get your name and gender marker change orders separately, but it will likely cost more as you may have to pay the court filing fee twice.
To get a court order, you will usually need to fill in a form called a “petition.” You then send, or “file” the petition in the court in the county where you live. You usually need to pay a fee to file the petition. The cost varies depending on where you live (usually $150-$450). Many courts will allow you to not pay, or “waive,” the fee if you can show that you can’t afford to pay. To request a waiver of the fee, you will have to complete additional forms and provide proof of how much money you make each month.
A judge might grant your petition based on the form alone. Alternatively, a judge might ask to speak to you about why you want to change your name and/or gender.
If they want to speak to you, they will ask you to come to a “hearing,” which is a set time that you must go to court to answer the judge’s questions. For more information about what to expect at a hearing, see Name and Gender Changes for Minors.
If the court decides to grant your petition, they will sign an order or official statement changing your name and/or gender that you submitted with your petition. You can then use official copies of the order, which are called certified copies, to change your name and/or gender marker on most identity documents. Courts often charge a fee for certified copies of court orders. You should call the court before the hearing to find out how much each certified copy will cost so that you can bring enough money for the certified copies.
Some states require name change petitions to be published in a newspaper or other public forum. If you live in a state that requires publication, you can ask the court to excuse, or “waive,” the publication requirement because it discloses your trans status, which is private information and could expose you to discrimination and mistreatment. You can also ask the court to “seal” the record of your name and/or gender change, which means that the court record won’t be publicly available for other people to look at.
If the judge denies your request to waive the publication requirement or seal the court record, you may still be able to preserve some of your privacy by publishing the notice of your petition in a newspaper that is not distributed in the area where you live. You just need to make sure that the newspaper you choose is on the list of court-approved newspapers. Also, you should consider publishing the notice in a newspaper that does not post their legal notices in the online version of the newspaper. That can reduce the number of people who may see the notice.
The National Center for Transgender Equality’s ID Document Center has more information about procedures for filing a name or gender change petition in each state here.
Name and Gender Changes for Minors
To start the process, your parent(s) or guardian(s) usually has to file a petition with the court on your behalf to change your name or gender marker. If you are over the age of 18, or legally emancipated from your parent(s) and/or guardian(s), you can petition for a name and/or gender change court order by yourself.
When a trans person under 18 is involved, the court will often set a hearing to decide whether to grant a legal name or gender change. A hearing gives the judge an opportunity to ask you and your parent(s) or guardian(s) questions about the petition and why you want to change your name and/or gender marker. The judge may just want to confirm that you meet all the basic legal requirements for a name and/or gender marker change, such as living in the county where the court is located. But you won’t know what a judge may ask until you get to the hearing. Given that many judges are unfamiliar with the trans community and issues affecting trans youth, attaching letters from people such as your medical providers, teachers, family members, or friends to the petition may help answer some of the judge’s questions before you get to court. These documents should explain to the judge why it is important for your name and/or legal gender to affirm your gender identity.
If the judge asks you a question that you are not prepared for, or feel uncomfortable answering, you and your parent(s) or guardian(s) should consider asking for a continuance. A continuance reschedules the hearing to a later date and time, giving you time to allow you to talk to or hire a lawyer, or to bring the court additional information to answer the judge's specific question. There isn’t a specific way to ask for a continuance, but you should use the word “continuance” in making your request to make sure the judge understands what you’re asking for.
The judge will use the information you provided in the petition and at the hearing to determine whether your petition meets the requirements for a name and/or gender marker in your state. Typically, if your legal parent(s) or guardian(s) consent to the name and/or gender marker change, the judge will mainly be looking to confirm that your petition meets the basic legal requirements for a name and/or gender marker change.
If your legal parent(s) or guardian(s) disagree about whether you should change or name and/or gender marker, a judge will use a legal standard that involves deciding what is in “the best interests of the child.” The parent or guardian who is supporting your petition will have to submit evidence demonstrating why the name and/or gender marker change is in your best interests.
For more guidance about what to do if one or more of your parent(s) or guardian(s) are not affirming your gender identity, see Non-Affirming Care Environments.
Driver’s Licenses/State IDs
Name Change: In order to change your name on your driver’s license or state ID, you usually need to provide a certified copy of the court order for your name change to your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Gender Marker Change: Different states have different standards for what types of documents you need to give them to change the gender marker on your driver’s license or state ID. This can be different than what you need to change the gender marker on your birth certificate. In many states it is easier to correct the gender marker on a driver’s license or state ID than on a birth certificate. In some states, you are required to get a court order to change your gender marker on your ID. In other states, you can choose either to get a court order, or to submit certain other documents to the agency in charge of issuing IDs in your state. However, as noted earlier in Changing Your Gender Marker, getting a court order is often the most efficient thing to do from the beginning, because a court order can also be used to change your other identity documents.
In Alaska, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington D.C., you can change your gender marker either by providing a court order, or simply by signing a document stating what your gender identity is, with no medical documentation required.
In Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan,* Missouri,* Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah*, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico, you can provide either a court order, or a health care provider’s letter either stating what your gender identity is, or stating that you have received some type of transition-related care. Each of those states likely has different requirements about who can write this statement (for example, a physician or a mental health provider) and what language the statement requires (for example, certifying what your gender identity is, or that you have received “clinically appropriate care for gender transition”).
In Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas, you must provide a court order in order to change your gender marker.
In Indiana, Iowa †, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Vermont, you need to provide a health care provider’s letter stating that your gender transition is “permanent,” “completed,” or “successful.”
In Alabama, you need to provide a health care provider’s letter stating that you have received gender confirming surgery.
The National Center for Transgender Equality’s ID Documents Center has more information about the requirements for each state here.
*In Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah, the easiest way to change your gender marker on your state ID or driver’s license is to update your passport first, because you can receive an updated passport by submitting a physician’s letter stating you have received clinically appropriate care for gender transition. See Passports.
† For Iowans who were born outside of Iowa. Iowans who are born in Iowa are required to submit a birth certificate with an updated gender marker.
Name Change: In order to change your name on your birth certificate, you usually need to provide a certified copy of the court order for your name change to your state Department of Vital Records or Statistics.
Gender Marker Change: Different states have different standards for what types of documents you need to give them to change the gender marker on your birth certificate. This can be different than what is required to change the gender marker on your driver’s license or state ID. In some states, you are required to get a court order to change your gender marker on your birth certificate. In other states, you can choose either to get a court order, or to submit certain other documents to the agency in charge of issuing birth certificates in your state. However, as noted above in Changing Your Gender Marker, getting a court order is often the most efficient thing to do from the beginning, because a court order can also be used to change your other identity documents.
In California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington, you can change your gender marker by either providing a court order, or by signing a document stating what your gender identity is. You don’t need to provide any medical documents.
In Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, you need to provide a health care provider’s letter either stating what your gender identity is, or stating that you have received some type of transition-related care. Each of those states likely has different requirements about who can write this statement (for example, a physician or a mental health provider) and what language the statement requires (for example, certifying what your gender identity is, or that you have received “clinically appropriate care for gender transition”).
In Arizona, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Wyoming, you can provide either a court order, or a health care provider’s letter stating that you have received gender confirming surgery.
In Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia, you must provide a court order to change your gender marker. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Wisconsin, the court order must specifically state that you have received gender confirming surgery.
In Kansas, Ohio, and Tennessee, it is currently not possible to change your birth certificate. However, several lawsuits challenging these laws are currently happening.
The National Center for Transgender Equality’s ID Documents Center has more information about the requirements for each state here.
In order to change your name on your passport, you must submit a certified copy of the court order for your name change. To change your gender marker on your passport, you must submit a letter from your physician stating that you have received “appropriate clinical treatment” for gender transition, or a court order correcting your gender marker.
If you are under the age of 16, you need the consent of both your parent(s) or guardian(s), and you must file a Form DS-11 to change your passport. If a parent or guardian is not present when you apply, you must also submit a Statement of Consent (Form DS-3053) from your parent(s) or guardian(s). The forms you need to change your name and gender marker on your passport are available on the U.S. Department of State's website. The National Center for Transgender Equality has more information on how to change your passport here.
Name Change: To change the name on your Social Security card, you need to submit an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5), proof of citizenship or immigration status, proof of legal name change (such as a court order), and proof of identity.
Gender Marker: Changing your gender with the Social Security Administration (SSA) is important even though your gender doesn’t appear on your Social Security card. SSA keeps records for everyone who has a Social Security card and other groups, such as your employer or banks, may check your gender against SSA’s database. To change the gender marker with the SSA, you’ll need to provide one of these documents:
- A court order directing legal recognition of the new gender;
- A medical certification of “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition” in the form of an original signed statement from a licensed physician (i.e., a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.));
- A 10-year passport with the new gender marker (only available if you are over 16); or
- State-issued birth certificate with the new gender marker.
If you are under 18 and you are not emancipated, you will need the permission of your parent(s) or guardian(s) in order to change your Social Security records. More information about the documents required are on the Social Security Administration website.
Currently, transgender people are not allowed to openly serve in the military. However, all American citizens and documented immigrants aged 18 to 25 who are assigned male at birth must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of turning 18. Registration is required by the government as a way of preparing for the draft. Many federally funded programs, including financial aid for college, require that people register for Selective Service. As a result, if you are a transgender person who was assigned male at birth, you should register for Selective Service when you turn 18, regardless of whether you have transitioned or corrected your identity documents.
If you are a transgender person who was assigned female at birth, you should get a letter stating that you are exempt from Selective Service. The way to do this is by submitting to Selective Service what is called a “Request for Status Information Letter” form that states you are transgender. Selective Service will then send you a letter confirming you don’t have to register for Selective Service. You can access this form by contacting the Selective Service at (888) 655-1825, or on their website.
Non-binary Gender Markers
An increasing number of states and cities legally recognize non-binary gender identities. In Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York City, Oregon, and Washington D.C., you can get a non-binary gender marker on your state ID and/or driver’s license. In California, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York City, you can get a non-binary gender marker on your birth certificate.
Currently, you can’t get a non-binary gender marker on a federal identity document like your passport.
If you do get a non-binary gender marker on your state identity documents, you should be aware that you could experience difficulties if the gender marker on your state and federal documents don’t match (for example, if your state driver’s license says “X” but your passport says “M”), particularly when travelling by plane. Many airlines no longer require you to state your gender when you book a flight if you are flying within the United States. You also do not need to bring any ID in order to fly if you are under 18 and traveling with a parent or guardian.
A big reason that some people want to change their name and gender marker on their IDs is so that they won’t be “outed” as trans when they are asked for ID. This can be an effective strategy for day-to-day situations like interacting with a police officer, a bartender, or a landlord. However, it is important to acknowledge that in the United States, there is currently no way to absolutely guarantee that no one will ever know that you are trans. Even if you do change all of your identity documents and get a court to waive the publication requirement or seal the record for your court order, it’s possible for people to find out. Your prior names and other identifying information are likely to be available in a number of places, such as old school records and credit reports. Also, there may be instances where you will be asked to disclose prior names, for example as part of a job application. Although there is a general right to privacy, which includes private and sensitive information, courts have not yet determined the full scope of that right. Every trans person needs to make their own personal decisions about whether changing their name and/or gender records is right for them.
Medical Standards for Transition-
Since 1979, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health has published the internationally recognized Standards of Care ("SOC") for trans people. The current version of the SOC has been adopted by many major associations of healthcare providers, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society, and others.
Social transition, puberty blockers, and/or hormone therapy can all be medically necessary for transgender youth. You should speak with your healthcare providers about which treatments are more appropriate for you, given your specific medical needs and history. The SOC does permit top surgery for transgender males under 18, but does not recommend genital surgery if you are under 18. You can find the most recent version of the SOC here.
Conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy” and “ex-gay therapy,” is the medically discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Conversion therapy has been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization in the United States as not effective, and has been shown to increase depression, substance abuse, and suicide risk for LGBTQ youth. Licensed practitioners have been banned from performing conversion therapy on minors in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.
If you are experiencing conversion therapy, either from a licensed provider or from other adults in your life, you should contact NCLR’s legal helpline by phone at (415) 392-6257 or (800) 528-6257. You can also contact the helpline by e-mail at email@example.com.
Most of the time, if you are a minor you need a parent’s or guardian’s consent for transition-related care. If your parents are not married, you may need the consent of all your legal parent(s) or guardian(s). There are some exceptions to that general rule. For example, many states allow minors above a certain age to consent to their own mental health care. Whether you can consent to the care you need will depend on the laws in the state where you live, including if you are legally emancipated.
For more guidance about what to do if one or more of your parent(s) or guardian(s) are not affirming your gender identity, please see Non-Affirming Care Environments.
Some states have laws banning discrimination in insurance coverage based on gender identity. The states include California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C.
In addition, some states do not have explicit laws banning discrimination in insurance coverage based on gender identity, but they have agencies that have issued “insurance bulletins” stating that they interpret existing state laws to already ban gender identity discrimination in insurance. These states include: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, and Pennsylvania.
To get access health care, you can either pay for it by yourself, or get the care you need “covered” by your health insurance. In practice, most people can’t afford to pay for health care without health insurance coverage. To figure out whether your health insurance covers the type of care that you need, start by finding out what type of insurance you have.
Minors usually get health care coverage through their parent(s) or guardian(s), although you could also be receiving care through Medicaid or another state program. You can ask your parent(s) or guardian(s) for help in getting a copy of your insurer’s member handbook and medical policy listing the types of care they cover. You and your parent(s) or guardian(s) can then work with your medical provider to get the type of care you need pre-approved, or “pre-authorized,” by your insurer. The National Center for Transgender Equality has published this guide on how to get your care covered.
If your plan doesn’t list or excludes the type of care that you need, it is possible to appeal that omission or exclusion with your insurer, and also to challenge the exclusion legally. It can also sometimes be possible to change your health insurance coverage.
In practice, it can be easier to get some types of transition-related care covered than others. It can be easier to get coverage for hormones, blockers, top surgery, and bottom surgery. But it can still be difficult to get other procedures covered, such as facial feminization surgery and voice therapy. Insurers are also increasingly covering some procedures for non-binary people, such as top surgery for transmasculine people.
The Affordable Care Act bars discriminating on the basis of sex in providing health care. The Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination based on transgender status.
Trans people have the right to be treated with dignity and to have their gender identity respected while receiving health care, regardless of the name and gender listed in your medical records. This means that your health care provider should not be misgendering you or singling you out for being transgender. It also means that your health care provider should provide the care that you need no matter what gender is listed in their medical records. You are entitled to whatever care is medically necessary for you, regardless of what your gender marker says.
Your provider should not be refusing to provide you care because you are trans. This is still true even if your provider claims that they cannot treat you because of their religion.
Your health care provider should also not reveal your trans status to other people unless it’s medically necessary for them to know you are trans.
If you are looking for resources to help educate your parent(s) or guardian(s) about transgender youth, The Transgender Teen and The Transgender Child, by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney, and The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity, by Darlene Tando, are books that provide helpful information for parent(s) and guardian(s) about the importance of affirming the gender identities of trans and GNC youth.
Bisexual+: Describes a person who has the potential to be attracted to people of more than one gender.
Cisgender: Describes people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.
Gay: Describes a person who is attracted to people of the same gender. While the term is often used to refer to men who are attracted to men, it is also used to refer to women who are attracted to women.
Gender Confirming Surgery: Surgical procedures that help to align a transgender person’s body with their gender identity. Gender confirmation surgery is sometimes called “gender affirming surgery” or “sex reassignment surgery.”
Gender Dysphoria: Discomfort or distress caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth.
Gender Expression: A person’s presentation or communication of their gender to others, through hairstyles, clothing, physical mannerisms, alterations of their body, or name and pronoun.
Gender Identity: A person’s core and hard-wired sense of their own identity as a boy/man, woman/girl, something in between, or outside the male/female binary. Everyone has a gender identity, which may or may not align with that person’s sex assigned at birth.
Gender Nonconforming (GNC): Describes a person who does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes.
Gender Transition: A process by which transgender people align their anatomy (medical transition), identity documents (legal transition), and/or gender expression (social transition) with their gender identity.
Intersex: A general term used for variations in sex characteristics in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that appears atypical. Some intersex traits are discovered at birth, while others may not be discovered until puberty or later in life. Just like other people, an intersex person may identify as male, female, or non-binary, and may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight. Being intersex does not mean that a person does not identify as male or female.
Lesbian: Describes a woman who is attracted to women.
LGBTQ: An acronym that refers to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Some people add other letters to this acronym to specifically include other subgroups within the LGBTQ community, but this is the most commonly used form.
Non-binary: Describes a person whose gender identity is neither man/boy nor woman/girl. People who identify as non-binary frequently also identify as transgender. The terms “genderqueer,” “bigender,” or “agender” also describe gender identities that fall outside the gender binary.
Queer: An umbrella term that describes a person who does not identify as straight or cisgender. The term has negative connotations for some people, given its historical use as a slur. Many people have reclaimed the term, often to expand upon limited sexual and gender-based categories.
Transgender/Trans: Describes a person whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex. A transgender man is a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies as a man. A transgender woman is a person who was assigned male at birth, but identifies as a woman.
- Transmasculine: An umbrella term describing individuals who were assigned female at birth but align more closely with the male side of the gender spectrum. A transmasculine individual may identify with many aspects of masculinity but not describe themselves as "a man".
- Transfeminine: An umbrella term describing individuals who were assigned male at birth but align more closely with the female side of the gender spectrum. A transfeminine individual may identify with many aspects of femininity but not describe themselves as "a woman".
Transition-related Care: Also known as “gender affirming health care.” Medical treatment that affirms someone’s gender identity, as experienced and defined by the person. Treatment may include, but is not limited to, social transition, puberty blockers, hormones, and gender confirming surgeries.
Sex Assigned at Birth: The designation of an infant’s sex at birth, usually by a medical professional, based on the child’s external genitalia. A person’s sex assigned at birth may or may not be congruent with the person’s gender identity.
Sexual Orientation: An attraction to others that ranges from attraction to only men or only women, to varying degrees of attraction to both men and women, to attraction to neither men nor women.