SpeakOut - Arrested Development
February 3, 2008
by Jamie Tyroler
No, this isn?t about the canceled television show ? this is about a friend of mine who was arrested recently on charges of perjury while applying for a marriage license in Missouri.
February is usually known for Valentine?s Day, Black History Month, and Presidents? Day, which is usually thought of as a Monday when people get off from work and have no mail delivery. This year, for a couple in a small town in west-central Missouri, it?s a month of worrying about a trial.
I won?t get into all the details, not only to allow this couple some privacy, but also because of all the legal twists and turns. It?s a complex and, at times, very confusing situation.
My transgender friend, Mishell, had her name and gender changed legally a couple of years ago through a court order. Because of the different requirements of various agencies, she ran into quite a few obstacles as she tried to update her records. The Social Security Administration requires documentation of some form of gender-reassignment surgery. Mishell hasn?t had surgery because of health issues, so Social Security didn?t make the gender change.
Mishell had the gender on her driver?s license changed to female. Missouri, however, verifies the information on driver?s licenses and state-issued IDs with the Social Security Administration, so Mishell received a letter from the Missouri Department of Revenue, which issues driver?s licenses and
state IDs, stating that unless she corrected the gender on her driver?s license, her license would be revoked. So it was changed back.
The state in which Mishell was born has a requirement of proof of gender-reassignment surgery before changing a birth certificate, so her birth certificate still shows her as male. The
only legal document that shows Mishell as female is her court order.
Last month, Mishell and her partner, Anita, applied for a marriage license. Mishell was arrested because she applied for the license as male, which is the gender on her driver?s license, Social Security records and birth certificate. Because of Missouri?s ban on same-sex marriages, the county clerk felt that Mishell was trying to violate this law because she was trying to marry another woman.
Now keep in mind that the only document showing Mishell as a woman is a court order that wasn?t enough to change her birth certificate, Social Security record or driver?s license. This places Mishell into something like an episode of The Twilight Zone regarding her legal gender identity.
Unfortunately, this isn?t all that rare for transgender people. Various state and national departments have conflicting guidelines for changing one?s gender. Only a few years ago, people were able to get their documents changed by talking with a few supportive employees of the local driver?s license bureau and Social Security office. Some states didn?t have any guidelines for changing the gender on a birth certificate ? now most states do. Some states will issue a new birth certificate. Missouri and several other states will amend the birth certificate ? basically crossing out the gender at birth and having the new gender typed in.
After the attacks on 9/11, state and federal governments have been working on standardizing the various forms of identification. If changing gender on all forms of
identification requires gender-reassignment surgery, this could make it very difficult for many transgender people to have accurate identity cards.
There are many reasons why a transgender person does not have surgery ? other health issues, such as heart problems, or the cost of an operation, which is usually not covered by insurance. For female-to-male transgender people, the
genital surgery options often do not provide satisfactory results. There is also the issue of exactly what constitutes gender-reassignment surgery. For male-to-females, does
vaginoplasty (creation of a vagina) have to occur, or can a lesser surgery satisfy the requirement? For female-to-males, is genital surgery required, or does a hysterectomy or a
mastectomy satisfy the legal requirements?
Mishell is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, which also worked on a somewhat similar case a few years ago in Leavenworth, Kan. How this case will be resolved is anyone?s guess. I hope this case will go beyond a basic trial in a county court so that a legal precedent can be created for other cases and some of the confusing laws can be cleared up.
Some transgender activists predict that the policies of the Social Security Administration will be the standard for the nation. I hope not. As I stated earlier, many transgender people do not have any form of gender-reassignment surgery, for whatever reasons. The Social Security policies regarding gender changes could make it very difficult for those people. As this case progresses, I will try to keep readers updated.