Ask Aunt Fran: Legally female

Hi. Welcome back to Ask Aunt Fran, where you come up with all sorts of questions about gender transition and I come up with an answer. Or two …

Anyway, if you have a question you’re curious enough to ask me — and I’m definitely curious enough, if you haven’t noticed — well, email me at (or my personal address if you know it). All answers will be anonymous, unless you prefer the notoriety.

And remember: I’m not a doctor or therapist; my answers are based on my personal experiences, and no two transgendered persons’ personal experiences are quite alike, just like you non-transfolk …

This week I had a veritable flood of old college friends come back into my life, which was a wonderful thing (and I’m still trying to figure out how they found me — the Witness Protection Program is totally useless). Anyway, one of my friends, who doesn’t live in this state, had a question for me:

“What was necessary for California to legally recognize you as a female?”

You mean, besides bribe money or clicking my heels three times or watching all of Schwarzenegger’s films in one sitting from start to finish without going to the bathroom?

Well, click the magic link and find out …


We’re slowly becoming a more enlightened country — very slowly in some places, to the point of being glacial, but nonetheless getting there. And that includes changing the gender on identifying documents.

A big moment came in June, when the State Department relaxed its rules concerning gender change on passports. Previously, a person had to have undergone the full sexual reassignment surgery (in the old parlance, a sex change) before getting the little letter changed. The new guidelines are based on the recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and brought America in line with several other countries regarding gender and passports.

And several states — but not all; check with your DMV — also allow residents to change their gender markers on their licenses without the surgery. That includes my current one, California.

In my instance, I coordinated changing my name and gender on the license at the same time.

The name-change process here takes seven weeks. I started at the end of July. I went to one of the Superior Court buildings in Fresno. I had already picked up the forms there ($1 copying fee) months before in anticipation of the day I’d be ready to take the plunge. I returned with the completed form, the $355 filing fee (yes — expensive out here) and chose a newspaper in which to file the required legal notice.

In California, a legal notice has to run for four consecutive weeks in a newspaper in your county — daily, weekly, doesn’t matter. The court gives you a list to choose from, with the most up-to-date ad rates. Here in Fresno County, the most expensive was the place that laid me off, The Fresno Bee, which would’ve been $510 for four weeks. The least expensive was the Fowler Ensign (and that’s pronounced “en-sign,” not the naval “en-sin”), a weekly produced by the Sanger Herald people — $35 for four weeks. Guess where I went?

The court date is scheduled for three weeks after your last legal notice runs. That gives the court time to check and see if you’re a sex offender or parolee. (I’m neither, by the way …)

The gender change, meanwhile, requires that your doctor fill out DMV Form DL 329. The doc has to designate that your gender identification and demeanor are male or female, and whether the gender ID is complete or transitional. Since I’m not having the surgery, that would make me transitional — meaning I’ll have to have the application renewed every five years or the little letter will revert to M. My doctor had a DL 329 on hand that she filled out on my last visit in late August.

My court date for the name change was Sept. 16, a Thursday, in another Superior Court building in downtown Fresno. I spent all of a minute in front of the judge, who — because I had all my paperwork in order, and wasn’t a bad person — approved my change like — snap! — that. He told me I had to wait up to a week for the court order to come in the mail, but I had it two days later.

Two days after that, the following Monday, I went to my nearest Social Security office to change the name on my card. I needed to do that before going to DMV because California is one of the growing number of states that link driver’s license IDs to SSI IDs. It was a painless process, with a nice young woman clerk, and I was ready to roll the next day.

I went to the DMV nearest me and expected a little wait that afternoon, but not Calcutta at rush hour. There had to be at least 200 people waiting for one thing or another. I took a number, then took a DL 44 — a name-change form — and stood at a desk and filled it out. Luckily, I brought a book to fill out the rest of the time.

It took two hours, but I finally went to the window and gave the clerk my DL 44, my DL 329, my boy license and a copy of the court order. The clerk, who obviously had never done a gender change on a license, needed to call supervisors over four times to get everything straight.

And the fee kept changing — it was originally $25, then $31, then, ultimately, free, because my license wasn’t expiring.

It took a half-hour, but I was finally done — forms completed, my new photo taken; I was given a provisional paper license and my old boy license with a hole punched through the date. And on Oct. 7, two weeks and two days later, the new license arrived in the mail, complete with the name change and the little letter change to F where M used to be. Done.

Well, except that I got a form letter from DMV in Sacramento a few days later saying that my form was incomplete — namely, all of DL 44 was checked off on the form. Meaning, after all that, someone misplaced my name-change form and I would have to go back and fill out a new one.

But I’d be damned if I was gonna stand in line two more hours for their fuck-up. I told that to the contact in Sac — only much more nicely — and she called the Fresno branch to arrange a time for me to come in and go straight to a window. And there, one of the supervisors (who remembered me) apologized, walked through my DL 44 with me and would fax it immediately up to Sac. Then, as a final measure, she took my boy license. I wanted to hold onto it as a souvenir, but she told me they had to take it.

“That was a pretty ugly photo, anyway,” I said.

“You look much better now,” she told me with a smile. “I like the look.”

That was a great way to end the legal process.


2 Responses to “Ask Aunt Fran: Legally female”

  1. seth Says:

    Ok I’m about to apply for my provisional lisence and I was just wondering will it have to be female as right i’ve been on T for a year and a half and look nothing like a girl i’ve had my name change and everyone refers to me as Mr but my birth certificate still has female on it I just really dont want the shame of having to walk round with that burden in my pocket any info would be a huggeee help thanks.

    • franoramaworld Says:

      Hi Seth. It all depends on where you live (and I have a feeling it’s outside the States with the spelling of license; the UK?). You would have to check with your province/shire/national authorities, wherever your license is issued. (I can’t imagine Britain is that conservative about it, but maybe I’m wrong …)

      Here in the U.S., every state does it differently. Some are more right-wing ignorant than others. I was born in New York but live in California. Here, the laws re: gender change on documents are more liberal than most states. Here, as mentioned in the blog, you don’t need to get the birth certificate changed — which is something I can’t do (yet) in New York.
      It didn’t affect me getting the gender change on my Cali license, though, as all you need for the change here is a DMV form signed by a doctor saying you’ve had some sort of physical modification.

      Wish I could tell you more, but you’ll have to find out the laws where you live. Good luck with it …

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