Getting a passport while the getting's still good
November 14, 2016 7:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm transgender. My only ID that doesn't match is my birth certificate. Therefore, I need a physician's statement to get a passport with the correct gender on it. The letter I travel with currently (to explain things to the TSA if necessary) is dated 2015. There is no guidance on the State Dept website or from the NCTE on this. Should I: a) get a new one from my current doctor, adding 2+ weeks to the whole process? b) use the one I have now? "Complete" means complete, right, or is that too logical for the government?

I can change my birth certificate, but it will add 10-14 weeks to this process, and I estimate that since states control their vital records requirements, and since California has my back in general, I should be OK to wait on the birth certificate until after I get the passport application in during the Obama administration's remaining window of time.
posted by blnkfrnk to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are transgender and your identity documents don’t reflect who you are, it is a good idea to update your documents — including any state-issued IDs, passport and Social Security record — before the new administration takes office. We have a whole Know Your Rights section on this topic.

Change your birth certificate.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:49 AM on November 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't have an answer for you, but I do have some thoughts:
  1. Are you sure getting a new letter will take weeks? If your doctor is knowledgeable about trans issues — or if you explain to them that this is an urgent matter of personal safety — they may well be willing to expedite a new letter for you, especially since it's basically a form letter and it doesn't require a physical. Call and ask.
  2. If you can't get a new letter immediately and need to decide what to do next, it might be worth talking to a lawyer who is familiar with the process. I've seen a lot of lawyers on Twitter volunteering to do this stuff pro bono, though who knows how swamped they are.
  3. If your doctor does make you wait for a new letter and you do submit your application with the letter you currently have, you should also request a new letter right away. That way, if the application is rejected because your letter is too old, you will already have your new letter in hand by then and will have shaved a week or two off the process of reapplying.
  4. I think you're right that you should do the passport now and the birth certificate soon-but-not-as-a-first-priority. Definitely don't wait for a new birth certificate before beginning the passport process, since it isn't a prerequisite. (For others who may not know: The passport gender change process is controlled by the federal government and will definitely change for the worse in January. The birth certificate change process is controlled by the states and it is very unlikely that it will change right away in a blue state.)
Good luck and good for you for taking care of this. <3
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:13 AM on November 14, 2016

Change your birth certificate.

Respectfully, this is not the advice given at that link, and for good reason. The OP should focus right now on things that affect his day-to-day life or that will be changing after the inauguration. A birth certificate change is not one of those things.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:30 AM on November 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm confused about why you are worried about your current Physician's Statement. I took an (admittedly brief) look at the State Department's website and I see nothing that says anything about the "age" of the physician's statement.

If your current letter says that appropriate magic words "...(Name of patient) has had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition to the new gender (specify new gender male or female)..." and you submit your DS-11 with your passport photo, birth certificate, drivers license and any legal name change stuff you need, you should be fine.

Submit ASAP and stop waiting for documents.

Then get your new birth certificate ASAP so you'll have all your ducks in a row.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:37 AM on November 14, 2016

I'm not an expert on the subject, but I'm currently helping a loved one navigate these exact waters. Get the passport first, and do so as soon as you are able. If it's possible to reach out to your Doctor's office to expedite the letter, I'd do so, as processing + getting rejected + reprocessing may take longer than it will take the rules to change.
posted by okayokayigive at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The physician letter needs to have very specific language for it to be accepted by the passport office. If your current letter matches that language it should be fine, otherwise you are going to need a new one. I have a blank copy of the correct letter (going through this exact same thing right now). MeMail me and I will be happy to send it to you.
posted by zebra at 9:28 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I went through this process a few weeks ago; I was changing both my name and my gender on my passport.

I think it was on account of changing my gender that I had to submit my passport application at a post office; the time between making that appointment and actually having that appointment was the longest part of the process, something like three weeks. I had it expedited.

About a week and a half after I sent it in, the passport office called me; there was something wrong with my doctor's letter. (They thought the signature on the letter was printed, not signed). I had to call to fix it; they gave me the option of sending in a new letter. (I didn't have to do that; I asked them to look at the letter again and they realized it was an actual signature.)

(For what it's worth, I was given an actual person's number; when I called to fix it, I had no hold time.)

This is to say my advice would be to send the application as soon as you can, and also get the new back-up letter from your doctor; in the case that the date on the letter does matter, you'll be able to correct it right away.
posted by you could feel the sky at 12:12 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Like others have said, the thing that matters is the wording of the doctor's letter and it's likely that what you have doesn't tick all the boxes. Get your doctor to use the template available on the State Department website. They have a history of being picky about wording and bouncing letters that a reasonable person would believe meets all the stated requirements. It's much easier for everyone if the doctor fills in the blanks. Make sure they use the "has had appropriate clinical treatment" wording--this is the difference between a standard, 10 year passport and a 2 year passport.

The advice to change your birth certificate first is just wrong. It's completely orthogonal to the process of changing the gender marker on a passport.
posted by hoyland at 1:19 PM on November 14, 2016

Thanks-- I have plans to change my birth cert, but I am in week one of what is probably a 10-14 week process and I don't have that time.

My old letter meets the standards exactly; the office used the template provided by the state department. It's just a year old.

I guess I'm getting a new letter; I have to walk in and wait for that, and then I think they mail it to me, hence the delay.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:53 PM on November 14, 2016

Explain to them the situation and ask if you can come by the next day to pick it up, or something. Your doctor's office seems to be relatively trans-friendly and so should be hopefully be aware of the urgency of the issue.
posted by tivalasvegas at 5:24 PM on November 14, 2016

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