Transgender? The California DMV Has Some Questions From 1972 For You

My daughter is transgender. Like many of the kids in our area, where so many walk or use public transportation, she doesn’t yet have a driver’s license. When she turned 18, she needed a California ID. Sounds easy, no? Not for trans folks.

We had already gone to court and had her name and gender legally changed in the state of California. It’s an involved process. You need several official court forms and a letter from your doctor attesting that the petitioner is undergoing “medically appropriate treatment” for the gender change. California wisely leaves the definition of “medically appropriate treatment” up to the doctor and petitioner, as there are so many different options available now, and what is an appropriate medical approach for one person may not be appropriate (or even safe) for another. The filing fee is $435, and the court date is set after the clerk reviews all your completed documents, making sure everything is in order. You must appear in person on the court date, whenever it is. The court here groups all the name and gender change people together, and the judge we drew was a sweetheart, so our court appearance was a memorable day of various families and friends hugging, weeping, and laughing. The judge was clearly enjoying himself (“Don’t cry, Mom,” he smilingly said to me as I wept while he genially and casually changed my daughter’s life by affirming her identity.). We immediately went to Records and got several original copies of the court order, knowing we would need them.

Getting a new Social Security card was a breeze with the court order. We didn’t even have an appointment. We popped by, waited about 20 minutes, showed the very sweet woman behind the counter the original court order, and my daughter had her receipt in hand (and a warm congratulations) within five minutes of our number being called. The re-issued card came in the mail a week later.

Getting a new birth certificate was a breeze with the court order. We filled out the proper forms, enclosed a $23 check and one of the original court orders (which is why you need several– they keep it), and within several weeks, the new birth certificate came. My baby girl bearing my grandmother’s name. So precious to me, and much, much more precious to her.

Down the line, everything we needed was a breeze, smiles and congratulations, stamp, stamp, “That’ll be $27.50” and you’re done. The DMV was another story.

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Actual, unretouched photo of our DMV clerk

The DMV was our first stop after we obtained the court order, as I naively believed it would be one of the easiest and would facilitate getting the rest done. It’s just an ID, right? She definitely is who she says she is. I had her original, official birth certificate and social security card with her deadname, along with an original, official, stamped court order and the entire packet of paperwork the court made us file, including the doctor’s note. I had several pieces of mail proving her address and my own, along with my own ID proving that I was the person listed as her mother on her birth certificate. I was, as usual, over-prepared. Or so I thought.

What would be good enough for the social security office, for the California Office of Vital Records, for the school system, for the passport office, for literally every other local, state, and federal government agency, was not good enough for the California DMV.

The California DMV has its own form, you see. The DMV will not accept an official court order. Instead they demand a special DMV doctor’s note, called a DL329. What information does the DMV insist transgender people collect that is so critical that an official court order is deemed inadequate?

You must get a physician or psychologist to attest that your “gender identification” is “transitional” or “complete,” and that you have a (check one) male or female gender identification and a (check one) male or female demeanor.

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The DL329. 

First of all, the California DMV does NOT need to know whether my daughter’s “gender identification” is “complete.” What the hell does that even mean? Because it sure sounds like the California DMV is asking my teenage daughter if she’s had bottom surgery. When I asked about this, they said it was “because it’s used for ID.” I use my driver’s license for ID all the time, and I have never once been asked by anyone to prove I’m female with my genitalia. Additionally, transgender people are precisely the gender they say they are. What procedures they may or may not undergo to change their bodies is no more relevant to their identity than it is when cisgender people have them. People have plastic surgery all the time, and the DMV makes nary a peep about it. What reason could the DMV possibly have for demanding information about the “completeness” of someone’s “transition”? It can’t possibly be for identification purposes. It seems that the demand is there for no other reason than to harass and abuse transgender people.

This also demonstrates a woefully outdated understanding of gender. EVERYONE’S “gender identification” is complete, even if you change your gender daily. Whatever your gender is in any given moment, as you experience it, is a “complete” gender. You may, like someone of any gender, choose to have various procedures to be happier with your body, but there is no such thing as a “transitional gender,” and even if you disagree with that, there’s no reason for the DMV to have that information to issue you a state ID in a state with picture IDs.

Do you reasonably match your picture? Great. Your genitalia does not need to be involved in this. No, sir, please do not show me your genital– SIR. Sir, please put that away. Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the building.

I suppose I understand male and female “gender identification;” at least, I understand what they mean by it. What I don’t understand is why they need a physician to confirm it and why there are only two choices. At least 1 in 2000 babies are born intersex, and there are plenty of people who are nonbinary. But sure. I’ll give them this one, provisionally, if only because I need room in this piece for the immense, mind-boggling nonsense that is the DMV’s demand for a physician to assess the gender of your “demeanor.”

The California DMV forces you to ask a physician or psychologist to check a box attesting that you have either male or female “demeanor.” There are only two choices, and I have no idea what either of them mean. I’m a cis woman and I would fail traditional “female demeanor” every day of the week. What does the DMV want the doctor to confirm? That transwomen can walk in high heels? Move daintily? Defer to men? Say “I love my career, but nothing is more important to me than being a good wife and mother”? What, specifically, does the DMV think it’s asking for when it’s asking for a doctor to assess the gender of someone’s demeanor?

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What the DMV is picturing as “female demeanor” (source: puzzlewarehouse.com)

Remember that this is in addition to the court order that I had in my hand at that moment proving that the human standing in front of them was legally female. Think about this: The DMV insisted that we force a doctor to attest that my daughter had a “female demeanor” in order to get an ID that reflected her LEGAL gender.

What made this all so much worse was that the staff at our local DMV were openly hostile. This is the Bay Area, and, naively, so very naively, I had expected them to be professional. Of course not.

We eventually got her ID. My daughter had me and my husband to fight for her. Imagine having to face that– and much worse– alone.

California, you’re supposed to be leading the way in these issues. Instead, the DMV is allowed to force transgender Californians to undergo humiliating, abusive treatment for no reason at all other than that they can, and no one in the state government has ever cared enough to stop them.

 

 

 

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