Social Security Administration Announces Progressive Gender Marker Change Policy
I was so excited last Friday while attending the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference to get a text from the office back in DC about the announcement of the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s new gender change policy, a change towards which trans advocates have been working for more than seven years. By now, you’ve probably seen the Facebook posts from friends getting their records successfully changed, but it may not be clear what the impact of this change actually is. After all, the Social Security card itself doesn’t have an “M” or “F” on it. So why is this news so great?
SSA’s gender marker change policy is now modernized in line with the State Department’s passport policy and the policies of many states around driver’s licenses. Rather than requiring a specific surgery or type of medical transition for someone who wants to change the gender marker, SSA now only requires a physician’s letter stating that the person has had “appropriate clinical treatment” for gender transition (you can also use a passport or birth certificate with the updated gender marker). That phrase is not defined, so if a doctor will sign off and say that you’ve had the treatment you need, you’re good to go. The SSA doesn’t need to know any of your private medical information, and you can have a GP or a specialist write the letter.
The process, so far, seems to be relatively simple. I’ve heard about a few snafus (and if you do have trouble, please let NCTE know or file a complaint with SSA) but for the most part the news has been positive. Folks are getting their gender marker changed with little fuss at their local Social Security office, and staff have been polite and respectful. If you’re in a state where you can’t get your driver’s license changed, you can get a passport first and then use that to change your records with Social Security, or you can use a physician’s letter or a court order. (The passport process will require you to get a physician’s letter anyway, so you may not want to bother with that, but some folks like to have multiple forms of identity with the correct gender market just in case). Detailed instructions on how to change your Social Security record are available in this resource.
Having an accurate Social Security record cuts back on a lot of hassle for trans people. It’s another form of identification that can be used to prove the validity of binary trans folks’ gender to the gender police that exist in every institution, and it’s also another form of ID that folks can use to avoid getting outed when they turn in their I-9 to an employer. SSA has confirmed that changing the gender marker will not affect anyone’s benefits, including spousal benefits. What it will do is allow older trans people to get an accurate Medicare card (automatically issued each year, but you can apply for a new one as soon as you get your Social Security record updated).
In the broader context of trans identification more generally, this means that we only have one major federal agency left on the list of those that do not have a liberal gender change policy (the Department of Defense). We still have a ways to go with driver’s licenses (a little more than half the states) and birth certificate policies (only two so far have a really good one) but we’re on the right track. Congratulations to everyone who’s gotten their Social Security record changed this week, and a big thank you to all the advocates who worked on this issue!