As the Trump administration withdraws Obama-era protections for transgender people in the military, public schools, and the workplace, California has rolled out state identification with a third gender option.
The state DMV began processing IDs with an “X” marker last week, recognizing the non-binary reality of gender. The agency estimates that more than 54,000 people will take advantage of the new law and change their gender category this year.
Until now, Californians seeking to change their gender on state identification were required to obtain a doctor’s declaration, a substantial barrier that often means years-long waiting periods in other parts of the country. The new law also removes the requirement that they undergo clinical treatment to change the gender on their birth certificate and instead requires a sworn affidavit.
Still, for Alon Altman, a Google employee who is genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns, it’s hard to believe the process could finally be this easy. They fought for their right to change their ID for years, and even lobbied the California Legislature to pass SB 179 in 2017. By setting a reminder in October to snag an appointment in 2019, Altman became one of the first individuals to receive a temporary license marking ‘X’ for gender at the Santa Clara DMV on Jan. 2.
They came prepared with the necessary forms already filled out and with a printout of the entire text of the bill. The latter proved unnecessary.
“I was like, finally, an actual official document that reflects my true gender — I am what I am,” Altman tells SF Weekly. “I think most people don’t even think about it.”
But for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, having the correct gender on a government-issued form is life-changing.
“Whether going through airport security, voting, or applying for a bank account, everyone needs an accurate ID to safely navigate life,” Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said in 2017. “Yet outdated laws and other barriers have blocked almost 70 percent of transgender people from updating any of their identity documents, and one-third of transgender people have been harassed, assaulted, or turned away when seeking basic services.”
In preparation for the implementation of SB 179, DMV staff went through sensitivity training. Altman says one agent was initially unsure what to do with the form but a simple click on “yes” to accept moved the process along.
But for others, the gender change on IDs is just the beginning. Jamie Culpon, a friend of Altman’s who is also genderqueer, accompanied them to the DMV and also received a temporary license with the gender marked “X.”
Culpon must return to the DMV after the official card arrives in the mail to finalize a name change. Although the IRS has Culpon’s updated name, their Georgia-issued birth certificate and passport do not.
That leads into the next needed step for non-binary people — federal reform that includes a third gender option for a passport. (Altman prefers no gender markers but says that ‘X’ is a great indicator nonetheless.)
Pakistan, Canada, and New Zealand are among some countries that allow non-binary passports but the United States is just getting started with domestic identification. Washington D.C and Oregon were the first jurisdictions to offer a gender-neutral option for identification in 2017. Minnesota and Maine followed in 2018, while similar legislation in New Jersey takes effect next month.
“A lot of the people in the Bay Area get complacent,” Culpon says about LGBTQ rights, adding that they’ve faced harassment in queer groups for being “too trans.” But simply put, the 2019 changes have them “wicked fucking stoked.”
Altman is flying out of town in a few weeks and hopes to first receive their official California driver’s license to test the waters. While they are not sure what the reaction will be, the first experience of not being incorrectly identified as male or female was a relatively smooth start.
“It was surprisingly straightforward for dealing with the DMV,” Altman says.