Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Excellent news for the trans?

I just stumbled across this news item completely randomly, and am wondering if some transgender type person who's more politically connected than me might be able to illuminate the situation further. This is the first I've heard of it and my curiosity is piqued.

In short, it seems New York state has reached an agreement with Homeland Security to issue "enhanced drivers licenses" to U.S. citizens who live in New York. The licenses will, as far as I can understand, satisfy the identity document requirement for traveling to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, thus eliminating the need for a passport when visiting these countries. Interesting! It will cost more than a regular drivers license ($30 more, to be precise) but less than a passport and should be implemented as early as this August.

TRANS 101 SECTION (optional reading!):
For those of you who are not in the know, I will explain for you: if you are a trangendered person, the requirement for changing the gender signifier on your passport is bottom surgery--aka sex reassignment surgery, aka genital surgery (do I rly need to do trans 101 here? IDK!). For many (if not most) trans people, especially FTMs, this is prohibitively expensive and also often undesirable. So you are shit out of luck if you want a passport with the right gender on it. If you are reading this and are not an expert at trans politics, you should basically just know that the various laws dictating the medical requirements for changing gender on identity documents are INCREDIBLY STUPID AND ARBITRARY. They are also pretty classist and dependent on conventional models of medical transition that lots of folks don't want to follow for plenty of good reasons. In the case of passports is that it's nigh impossible for a whole bunch of (most of?) trans folks to leave the country without using an identity document that inaccurately reflects their gender. If you're someone who has a full beard and a booming baritone voice but your passport says "F"... you may just cruise on through customs (last time I left the country everyone who looked at my passport called me "mister"--whiteness FTW!)... OR you might find yourself in any number of extremely unpleasant situations with the customs folks. As a former anthro professor said to me, "At least you're not changing your name to Mohammed."

ANYWAY. Unlike passports, gender signifiers on New York State drivers licenses are super easy to change! There is no surgery or hormone therapy requirement at all, just a doctor's letter affirming your transness (which is a piece of cake to get from Callen-Lorde). If NYS drivers licenses now suffice for international travel in the western hemisphere, that is a HUGE change in the accessibility of documents that would help trans people safely travel outside the U.S. For someone like me who is pretty bougie and likes to go on vacation sometimes, that's big!

I am curious if there are any transgender experts who can confirm what the deal is with this legislation, because there are a few shady bits of the article, in particular, this other article states, "Applicants will have to bring identification and go  for a 10-minute verification interview or go through a two-step process that involves seeing two DMV agents." That sounds creepy. Also the requirement of birth certificates to prove citizenship for these licenses could also conceivably throw a wrench in the whole thing since they are also more difficult to get changed.

ANYWAY WHAT IS THE DEAL. AJ WANTS TO KNOW.



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