Keri Renault

MVA: Driving Trans to a Dead End

Filed By Keri Renault | December 16, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Transgender & Intersex

Pre-operative transgender individuals can change their driver's license gender marker in Maryland without genital surgery. It was a pleasant discovery for me shortly after relocating to the east coast in 2008.

The department of motor vehicles requires supporting letters from a physician administering HRT and a gender therapist affirming the successful 24/7 transition of the applicant. The Maryland Vehicle Administration (MVA) also requires a personal letter explaining why a gender marker change would be of benefit to the transitioner. A medical advisory board reviews the letters and in reasonably short order grants a gender-revised license.

It only cost me time and postage. I received approval in about a week.

But Maryland's trans-friendly driver's license gender revision policy may hit a dead end soon, courtesy of bureaucrats at the MVA.

If a proposed update to existing gender revision policy is enacted as planned on January 1st, transgender Marylanders will have to petition for a court order verifying permanent surgical change of their birth sex. Living a successful, full-time, pre-operative gender transition will no longer suffice for receiving a gender marker revision to a Maryland driver's license.

In a nation woefully short on anti-discrimination laws for gender variant people, but long on harsh judgment, the ability to display a driver's license matching one's gender expression and identity is tantamount to public safety. Truer words are seldom spoken. Especially when it comes to public accommodations, spun as the "bathroom issue" by the ubiquitous, ultra-conservative opposition.

Could an ugly fundamentalist head be rearing itself again, this time at the MVA? I'm just thinking...

The proposed change to MVA's gender marker regulations exposes transitioning individuals to risk of ridicule, psychological abuse and the very real potential of physical violence. It's an unwarranted step backward in civil rights and human dignity.

Only 12% of all transgender individuals undergo genital surgery. Does that mean 88% shouldn't be entitled to a gender-congruent driver's license if they can state their case?

Some transitioners can't afford surgery while others don't need it to confirm their gender identity. Pre-op or non-op, both of these transgender segments express a congruent, authentic gender identity every day as their post-op brothers & sisters. A court order won't change the diverse, gender-variant facts of trans-life. However, the ability to change a gender marker with the MVA does and should continue to change transgender lives for the better.

What's the cost of a proposed court order anyway? As an example, in Anne Arundel County, it's $105 to file for a legal name change. That's doable--for some, dubious at best for others. Could filing a letter in court recognizing official "sex change" surgery cost much more if the MVA's rule changes?

Better start counting your rainy day coins.

The price tag of "sex change"-- SRS/GRS--is a cool $18-24K, making the proposed court-order an unconscionable 180 TIMES more expensive than your run of the mill court order. It's an eye-popping stat little known among myopic, cis-bureaucrats, but cost-prohibitively show-stopping for many in the trans-community.

Most health insurance companies exclude SRS/GRS from coverage. The MVA would be placing a grossly unfair economic demand on the majority of an already largely impoverished community.

On balance, Maryland's coffers gain hundreds, perhaps several thousand dollars from the few transgender citizens willing and able to oblige the newly proposed regulation. That's hardly worth the cost of implementation to replace the proven, time-tested guideline as it currently stands. Yet is could cost transgender individuals a lifetime of savings.

Or perhaps there's a more fundamental agenda at play behind the proposed rule change; a covert, special interest which often emerges from the shadows in the struggle for equality.

Shortly it will all be moot. January 1st looms around the corner.

The proposed MVA driver's license change is an unnecessary road block to the trans-community. It needs to be dismantled immediately, well ahead of the New Year. Long before any unsuspecting transgender citizens of Maryland have to face it head on, crashing into this life-threatening hazard of a rule change.

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Brandi parker | December 16, 2009 5:13 PM

Dear Keri as sympathetic as I am to the dilemma of pre-ops. I feel that proof of gender changing surgery should be required for a change of gender markers on drivers license and many other documents as well in every state. I'm of the opinion that the safety gates which were put in place by the Wapath for transition have been mistaken by many in the transgender community as flood gates and that many in the transgender community of which I feel is totally different then the Transsexual community. Those in the Transgender community have run a muck clinging to a Gender Identity diagnosis for which they don't have. I feel it's high time many States reel in the abusive practices like this one in Maryland that have let many slip under the wire who haven't had gender changing surgery but have been able to find a more then sympathetic Dr to write a shall we say fudged letter and bring things back in line with the Standards of Care. I do not feel non-ops should be allowed to change any documents as in my opinion anyone who refuses to have gender changing surgery for other then health reasons doesn't suffer from GID. Using the cost of surgery isn't anything more then an excuse in my opinion, The cost of transition should have been weight long before jumping down the transitional rabbit hole


Brandi, while I understand your desire to maintain the integrity of the gatekeeping function of WPATH, I don't see such easily defined distinctions between members of the gender variant community. Transition like gender identity itself manifests in uniquely individual ways. Little is black and white. Life is lived in shades of gray. The only absolute truth is that which the individual believes and has the determination to express. After all, gender identity lies within.

Empowering members of the gender variant community to move forward in living their authentic lives is doing the right thing to my way of thinking. Labels, lines in the sand and inflexible "old school" rules divide individuals instead of uniting a community in a universal cause: equality.

At the end of the day, gender transition is a self-diagnosed, self policed action. Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the very laws they've abused. Ironically, they'll do so by themselves.

I see expense as a very real roadblock to gender transition. One the MVA shouldn't be erecting. The cost-prohibitive nature of longterm transition (up to$100K as you well know) should not be dismissed as merely a prudent function of early-planning, like retirement funding, drafting a will or writing an estate plan. Many in the trans-community come from disadvantaged socio-econonic means. It's not atypical to be underpaid once transition commences, and--transition aside-- many have lost employ along with their lifetime savings during this devastating recession.

I wouldn't wish that plight on anyone, much less on a self-described transitioner. Instead, I hope each of us finds the ability to travel the path we feel compelled to follow, with the same privileges and protections that most American citizens take for granted every day.

Trans life is hard enough, why must it be made harder by the use of arbitary and sometimes pointless rules? Why not drop sex as an component of an id anyway, as now there are some that are more useful, such as retinal scans.

Good points, Roberta. Along similar lines, perhaps we should move toward gender neutral or unisex restrooms.

Brandi parker | December 16, 2009 9:47 PM

Keri While I respect your opinion I do not agree with them at all...which is fine as it's a free country but please known that while we both may share parts of the same heaping helping of discrimination I will in no way advocate on behave of those who refuse to follow the Wapath Standards and in fact will advocate against such as I feel they Dilute the entire validity of the Gender Identity Diagnosis. it is my opinion that those in the transgender community ie: the cders ,tv, non op and shemales only serve to confuse the general population they have latched onto the Gender Identity diagnosis and are the major reason we can't get more transsexual inclusive laws passed they are in my opinion the red headed stepchild of the GLBTT movement. I do not agree with you that

"The only absolute truth is that which the individual believes and has the determination to express."

Just because someone wants to be a certain gender and dresses as such doesn't make it so....... I'm not sure what you meant by this statement

" Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the very laws they've abused. Ironically, they'll do so by themselves."

I agree that transition is hard and an uphill fight from the very beginning, but I do not agree that money is reason enough to say on well I'll just dress like a women and that will make me one....not hardly...if someone has GID they are driven to have surgery to complete transition, they have a Female Gender Identity a female brain...those that do not want the surgery don't for a reason they have a male brain and a male gender Identity..these of course are just my opinions based on tons of research and years of involvement as a activist.


Then we'll simply have to agree to disagree.

Other than signing the Equality Maryland or HRC petition, is there anything else to be done?


Greg, apparently, there's been considerable lobbying effort afoot since August when John Acton, Maryland Assistant Attorney General expressed outrage with alleged "abuses" to the MVA policy. Efforts to maintain the current gender/sex marker revision policy have been ongoing, led by Equality Maryland and the Gay & Lesbian Task Force. Recently, HRC joined the fight as you noted.

Here's a link to the customizable, form letter, available as an action-step at the Equality Maryland website:

Other than that, each of these hard-working, understaffed LBGTQ organizations can use donations, especially at this time of year. Donation links are available on their respective sites. Contributions insure LGBTQ Americans will continue to be represented in the struggle for equality on all fronts. Without these advocacy organizations, lobbying is an uphill struggle to say the least. Thank you, Greg.

What would be the repercussions of taking gender off of the ID/DL completely? Does M/F say anything more about my identity than my current photograph does?

Many in the LGBTQ community would like to see gender designations removed from ID/DL's, acknowledging that gender is not only self-defined in an infinite array of expressions, but fluid over time as well. As such it's an irrelevant identifier. The DL sex/gender is an unnecessary label representing the antiquated and socially stimatizing binary system of sex & gender classification. A photograph can just as readily belie the identity of an individual, but it can be argued to be a better representation of the individual as a physical identifier.

But first things first. In Maryland that means fighting to maintain the thin slice of human dignity afforded transitioning individuals on their DL through the current sex/gender marker change regulations. It's a flawed system to be sure, but status quo of the regulation is better than a return to the rigidly enforced sex/gender binary designation. MVA and the State assistant AG need to do the right thing: leave well enough alone.

Thanks for the Equality MD link. The thing I signed from HRC didn't result in a form email from Gov O'Malley's office. The Equal MD petition did result in a letter from the Governor's office.

I'm sure the HRC thing is just a glitch, but anyone wants to register their disapproval of the MVA change, use the Equality MD form.


Brandi parker | December 18, 2009 12:31 PM

Keri I as you known am for the new policy, but not for the restrictions it puts on transitioning pre op Transsexuals, that's unfortunate I for it because it will prevent those of shall we say the non op and do it yourselves persuasion of changing there IDs which I feel is a huge part of the confusion felt my Americans when trying to understand the GID diagnosis. How can we say that transitioning is necessary for someone and that surgery is necessary for some but not for all. The public doesn't known the different between a tv,a cders or a transsexual more education needs to be done to help the general public to understand the difference, and while I feel transitioning diagnosis transsexuals should have access to document changes they are the only ones I feel should have it. In reference to your comment that

"A photograph can just as readily belie the identity of an individual,"

yes it can tell what gender someone wishes you to assume they are but it is a false misnomer and only a gender indignation can say for sure as it comes with regulation of the state.


Do genitalia define gender, Brandi? If one has genital surgery does that change their gender? If someone is born of an assumed biological sex, but lives, breathes and identifies as another is that person a “lesser being” of the gender which they present?

My unequivocal answers are: No, no and no.

If the MVA law has proven to facilitate safe transition should it be repealed or adversely altered, making it accessible only to a thin-slice of the transitioning community instead of the majority?

Fair-minding thinking says of course it should not.

The trans-community has been discriminated against by the heteronormative mainstream on the perception that it transgresses some sacred gender binary. Is that what you subscribe to? Judgment, fear and prejudicial recrimination are the result. Those who hold fast to social dogma of an elitist, archaic gender class system condemn those who don’t identify with the same core values, expressions and beliefs.

But it doesn’t make the privileged better, and it certainly doesn’t make them right.

You may not agree with every manner of expression in the LGBT community, but it’s not your right to infringe on the lives of others, making adverse, speculative and wide-ranging generalizations. If one is comfortable in their own identity and how they express it, there’s no need to condemn others for not being of exactly the same ilk. Who is?

How can one denounce another—especially not knowing the other personally—and yet expect the respect of others in return? It’s called hypocrisy. People should be judged as individuals, not labeled as a sub-class which can be more easily stigmatized. Your judgment is subjective and therefore represents your unique, prejudicial point of view. The same holds true of me or anyone else espousing a personal viewpoint.

Talk about research and statistics all you want, they’re easily twisted to the designs of the interpreter. Seems like such a hugely counterproductive waste of energy.

I say, live and let live in the individual pursuit of happiness & equality.

Brandi parker | December 19, 2009 12:44 AM

Do genitalia define gender, Brandi?

YES it does.

If one has genital surgery does that change their gender?

only if that surgery was corrective surgery to matched their brain body gender with their diagnosis brain YES.

If someone is born of an assumed biological sex, but lives, breathes and identifies as another is that person a “lesser being” of the gender which they present?

lesser being NO but just because they identify which amounts feeling like their another sex, but doesn't have gender changing surgery then their not truly the gender they are trying to present in for if they were they would have that driving desire for surgery.

You may not agree with every manner of expression in the LGBT community, but it’s not your right to infringe on the lives of others

Well what gives these others the right to infringe on me and others like me its my opinion that it's because of them that we can't get greater understanding for the diagnosis of GID or get more laws passed that protect transsexuals who are trying to correct a birth defect unlike the cders ,tv, drag queens and shemales who are merely playing dress up or expressing some sexual really who's doing the infringing here. some pretender who's going to have their fun then go right back to their male lives without every losing a damn thing no not one thing mean while many transsexuals have sacrificed EVERYTHING to be their true selfs giving up family friends, children jobs marriages don't talk to me about its the ones just expressing that are screwing it up for the ones who really have a diagnosis.

How can one denounce another—especially not knowing the other personally—and yet expect the respect of others in return?

One can because the one that's being denounced hasn't done anything to earn or merit respect it's doesn't take a whole lot of effort to throw on a dress and prance around ones living room ...on the other hand I can except the respect i get because of the long journey I've traveled and the cost I'm paid both in pain and suffers as well as the lots of discrimination I've had to suffer mostly because people mistook me in my early yrs for one of those just expressing as you put it they are the very bad apples that give the general public the wrong impression of what a person suffering with GID is going through while in the transitional process.

I say, live and let live in the individual pursuit of happiness & equality

I agree as long as their pursuit doesn't infringe on my efforts to live in my true gender and to be able to be treated as the person I am.