Social Security change for transgender people

Disclaimer: This is legal talk, not legal advice. Laws vary by state, and some of the information discussed on this page may not be applicable in your case. It is up to you to confirm any information herein by doing your own research.

After getting a court order for name change, I would recommend getting your Social Security card changed next. This section assumes you already have a Social Security number and are merely changing the name and (hopefully) sex. If not, this may not apply to you.

It usually takes about a week to get a new card, so the sooner you get going, the better. Some states require a Social Security card for a driver's license name change, but in others (such as Illinois) you can get a driver's license changed with nothing more than your old license and an acceptable document indicating your name change (such as a court order).

You will probably need your Social Security switched over to change any employment and financial information. In addition, my employer won't let me switch any work documents until I have my new card actually in my possession.

While some applicants have had success changing their gender designationwithout incident, others, especially those who have not undergone vaginoplasty or orchiectom, have had to try at another office at a later date. One reader writes in 2013:

I would like to share my experience in having my gender mark changed with SSA without having SRS completed. This was accomplished here in Texas so if done here it should give hope being that Texas is such a conservative area to live.  It began with having my legal name  change as is always the first step.  Once that was completed I drove directly over to SSA to get my new card.  The first time I tried I was rejected and told that I would need an SRS letter from a surgeon specifying the procedure as well as having my name and DOB. The mistake I made is that I specified to the lady handling my case what I was there for. She had no idea how to handle this and spent a great deal of time looking up the info. She finally had to ask a suoervisor what the process was. She came back and told me that I needed a letter regardless of what my court order stated. I was completely shattered and heartbroken not to mention a bit humiliated because of they way she responded once she knew I was transgendered.  This all happened in San Antonio, Texas.  I thought it being a much more populated area things like this were more common and wouldn't raise too many eyebrows.  I was COMPLETELY wrong!  I drove home with my tail tucked between my legs thinking of how I would ever get this accomplished. I regrouped for a day and tried to think of a new approach. This time I would go to DPS first, get the F on my license then SSA without saying a word about gender or anything. I downloaded the SS5 form from SSA, filled it out at home(of course checking the female box) them headed to SSA. I dressed in conservative professional business like manner and headed up there around noon. I gave the lady my forms engaging in small chit chat, she looked over them while inputting the info. She handed me  a paper with everything she had input and asked if everything was correct. I immediately scan down and see that she has me listed as female. Can't remember if it was f or said female either way I confirmed and she handed me a receipt.  I did this in the city of Abilene,Tx which is a very conservative area of Texas. What I learned from this process is that it doesn't matter where you go its more the luck of the draw of who you end up getting to review your documentation. I believe the most important factors that helped me were, having documentation stating I am female(drivers license) and presenting myself in a conservative business like dress/makeup attire.  It may not work the first time but try,try and try again because it could just be the person you are dealing with. Just hold yourself in a confident professional manner and it will work out.  Good Luck and hope this helps out. 

The process is simple.

1. Fill out the form (Form SS-5)

This form is available at any Social Security branch office. To find the nearest office, call 1-800-772-1213 (7 am to 7 pm). They also have a cool search page at their website:

http://www.ssa.gov

It lets you type in your zip code and shows a map with your nearest office marked, as well as its address and hours.

There is also a downloadable copy of Form SS-5 at the Social Security website:

http://www.ssa.gov/replace_sscard.html

It's a valid copy of the form, acceptable for official use. It's a .pdf file, which can be opened in Adobe Acrobat. This can then be printed and filled out at home, then mailed or taken to your branch office.

You will need evidence showing your old and new names. Social Security requires original documents or certified copies made by the county clerk or other official whose duty it is to keep the records (hence the extra copies I got). Photocopies and notarized copies are not acceptable.

Common acceptable documents include:

  • Court order for name change (this is my recommendation)
  • Clinic, doctor, or hospital records (You might be able to use a letter from your therapist, for example, but to be safe and official, get the court order.)
  • Driver's license (if you can do this prior to Social Security in your state)

The following are usually used to establish former identity:

  • School ID card, record, or report card
  • Marriage or divorce record
  • Military records
  • Adoption records
  • Church membership or confirmation record
  • Health insurance card
  • Insurance policy
  • U.S. government or state government employee ID card
  • U.S. passport

At their site they say: "We will NOT accept a birth certificate or hospital record as proof of your identity. We will accept other documents if they have enough information to identify you. Remember, we must see original documents or copies certified by the county clerk or other official who keeps the record."

You write in your chosen name and below that your name at birth. If you have a certified copy of your court order, you can just mail it in. Otherwise, you may need to present original documentation or certified copies in person.

2. Wait for your new card to come in the mail

The whole thing took one hour, then eight days before it came, and cost nothing.

I wanted to cover an issue you do not currently address. Stealth and your Social Security Number. Maximum stealth would require a new ss# as well as new first and last names. Most people are unable to change their ss#.

Even if first & last names are changed, using the same ss# can lead to discrepancies that can come back to haunt you years later. Let me share just a couple of ways this has happened to a friend of mine. When opening a new bank account, the banks run a social security trace. This a background check to see if other names are or have been associated with your number. Immediately after opening a new checking account my friend's bank was putting extended holds on her deposits & treating her weird. She assumes that the bank thought she might try some kind of theft like writing bad/fraudulent checks. Another example, she recently had lab results come back to her new physician for a minor skin biopsy. The lab report that came back had incorrect name and sex information identifying her as a male, since they had a preexisting entry for that ss# already in their system from years earlier using information from another doctor. Both the bank and the doctor's office kept the discrepancy to themselves, but they treated her differently from that point onward. Obviously this is not desirable.

If you can't change your number, then you can minimize using it. I have noticed that preventative measures to prevent identity theft simultaneously maximize your privacy and minimize your history outing you. As identity theft is a generally known problem, any request you make that is consistent with prevention will be considered reasonable. Restrict your ss# to a "need to know" basis. Only your employer, accountant, bank, investment broker, and IRS need your ss#. Insist that all others use an alternative number for identification or enrollment. Don't write or print your number on checks. Do not allow your number to be used in on your insurance card or student id card. Insist that insurance companies and schools to use an alternate number for identifying you.

Transgender workers sometimes have different gender markers in
employer records than what the Social Security Administration (SSA)
has in their database. When this occurs, those transgender employees can be the focus of no-match letters from SSA. The National Center for Transgender Equality has prepared a document on dealing with no-match letter issues:

http://transequality.org/Resources/NoMatch_employees.pdf


Driver's License

See my expanded section on how to change your driver's license in your state.

Changing your driver's license is often not enough for legally binding matters and is not a substitute for a court order for name change.

Note that some states are now linking their records with Social Security records, so you may need to revise your Social Security information before you can get a license or state ID changed.

States differ, so you will have to contact your local bureau to find out what procedure and identification is required in your case. You will probably need to present some or all of the following ID:

  • Birth certificate (old name)
  • Social security card (new name)
  • Two forms of other ID, showing your new name, such as utility bills or medical records.
  • While my local bureau did not give me a list of acceptable ID, I presume they would accept the same documents as Social Security.

The following is from from Common Law Name Changes for Transsexuals, Copyleft 1995 Gary Bowen. My name and gender were changed concurrently on my Social Security Card and Driver's License without any problems. If you have trouble, please refer to the information below:

Social Security Gender Change

When you fill out the application for name change, mark the box of your choice for gender. You can be brave and hope they process it through without bothering to cross check the gender with the old records (it might happen), or you can provide them with an explanation. Add a note to the application telling them that you are a transsexual in transition and that you want your new gender listed in the record. Supply the therapist's number for them to call if they need confirmation or have questions. Be sure and give your therapist a WRITTEN statement of permission to discuss your case for this purpose. A verbal permission is not adequate, should your therapist be challenged on it. This is for your therapist's protection; your medical records are private and they have no right to discuss them without your permission.

Assuming that Social Security accepts your gender change, the Social Security records can be used to change all subsequent records. If Social Security does not accept your gender change, you can ask your therapist to intervene upon your behalf. Other transsexuals have made their gender change with exactly the information provided here, if you are denied, ask your local support group for help. Beating them over the head with the fact that they have approved other people with the same level of documentation will prove a powerful argument compelling them to approve you too.

However, you can perform a gender change another way: through bodily evidence. Simply allow enough time for the hormones to alter your face to the gender you desire, then go into the Social Security office (or whatever agency you need ID from), and say, "Excuse me, there seems to be a mistake on my records..."

Changing your Driver's License and Social Security Card, in combination with your court order for name change, should be enough to switch over most official documents you'll need for day-to-day living. The only tricky thing may be if you plan to leave the United States: most people have found switching the name and (especially) sex on their passport and birth certificate to be more strict. Many have needed confirmation of SRS from a doctor.

Changing gender on Social Security cards is discussed in the section above. Transgender workers sometimes have different gender markers in
employer records than what the Social Security Administration (SSA)
has in their database. When this occurs, those transgender employees can be the focus of no-match letters from SSA.

Special note to young women:

A reader sent this good advice along on limiting the use of your Social Security number before and after transition:

I wanted to cover an issue you do not currently address. Stealth and your Social Security Number. Maximum stealth would require a new ss# as well as new first and last names. Most people are unable to change their ss#.

Even if first & last names are changed, using the same ss# can lead to discrepancies that can come back to haunt you years later. Let me share just a couple of ways this has happened to a friend of mine. When opening a new bank account, the banks run a social security trace. This a background check to see if other names are or have been associated with your number. Immediately after opening a new checking account my friend's bank was putting extended holds on her deposits & treating her weird. She assumes that the bank thought she might try some kind of theft like writing bad/fraudulent checks. Another example, she recently had lab results come back to her new physician for a minor skin biopsy. The lab report that came back had incorrect name and sex information identifying her as a male, since they had a preexisting entry for that ss# already in their system from years earlier using information from another doctor. Both the bank and the doctor's office kept the discrepancy to themselves, but they treated her differently from that point onward. Obviously this is not desirable.

If you can't change your number, then you can minimize using it. I have noticed that preventative measures to prevent identity theft simultaneously maximize your privacy and minimize your history outing you. As identity theft is a generally known problem, any request you make that is consistent with prevention will be considered reasonable. Restrict your ss# to a "need to know" basis. Only your employer, accountant, bank, investment broker, and IRS need your ss#. Insist that all others use an alternative number for identification or enrollment. Don't write or print your number on checks. Do not allow your number to be used in on your insurance card or student id card. Insist that insurance companies and schools to use an alternate number for identifying you.