How to Update Your Gender With Social Security: a Few Helpful Tips

If you’re transgender and you want to update your legal documentation before the President-Elect potentially takes office, chances are you’ve either encountered some conflicting instructions or you’ve got a case of information overload. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources to help you accomplish your goals before January 20, 2017. Specifically, you might need to update your gender with Social Security. The Social Security Administration has posted a set of guidelines to assist transgender individuals with this process. However, these additional tips should help make this as quick and painless as possible. These are based on my own experiences while attempting to change my gender with the SSA, so individual results may vary.


Make Sure You Have Updated Government-Issued ID

The first step in getting a Social Security gender marker change is to ensure you have a valid, non-expired form of government-issued identification. This will either be your driver’s license, a state-issued identification card, or a US passport. If you need to keep your ID cards safe, you can get lanyards for conferences and also for personal use.  In the process to update your gender with Social Security, make sure that your ID has your current legal name and address. If not, take care of that first before visiting the SSA.

Obtain SSA-Accepted Proof of Your Gender Change

Secondly, you must have approved documentation to change your sex with Social Security. Currently, they accept the following items:

  • Full-validity, 10-year U.S. passport showing the new gender;
  • State-issued amended birth certificate showing the new gender;
  • Court order directing legal recognition of change of gender; or
  • Medical certification of appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition in the form of an original letter from a licensed physician.

If you need to update your gender with Social Security, medical certification may be the most easily obtainable. Some states will not issue legal sex changes through their court systems, and four states presently do not permit updates to birth certificate gender markers (Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, and Tennessee). Others, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, require surgery for either a court order or a birth certificate change—and for many transgender people, this is either undesirable or unfeasible. For more information, check Lambda Legal’s list of legal requirements organized by state, or contact an attorney or a local LGBTQIAA+ advocacy organization. (The National Center for Transgender Equality has the specific text of what should appear in your physician’s letter.)

Make Sure Citizenship or Immigration Documentation Is in Order

Thirdly, make sure you have appropriate citizenship or immigration status documents if you want to update your gender with Social Security. If you are a United States citizen, you should have a certified copy of your birth certificate (in many cases, the state or local seal will be embossed on the document). For those who are not U.S. citizens, make sure you have proof of your immigration status.

Original Documents Only, Please

When you want to change your gender with Social Security, ensure that all documents you submit are originals. They will NOT accept copies for any reason, and if you’re attempting to update your records in person you risk wasting your time and effort. For those using medical certifications as proof to update their gender with Social Security, it is crucial that they appear on original letterhead paper from your physician’s office and with their original signature.

IMPORTANT: IF YOUR MEDICAL CERTIFICATION EVEN REMOTELY LOOKS LIKE A COPY, SSA MAY NOT ACCEPT IT. I found this out the hard way on my first visit to my local SSA—the staff refused to update my record with the letter I was sent by my physician, which included laser-printed black and white letterhead and no signature. On my second attempt, they accepted my certification that WAS on letterhead and had my physician’s signature.

Update Your Gender With Social Security in Person

Although the SSA indicates you may complete a sex change in your Social Security records via U.S. Postal mail, it’s a better idea to visit a local office in person. You’ll eliminate additional mailing time. Furthermore, you’ll be more likely to receive faster feedback and instructions if there is a problem.

Also, you may be required to check in either electronically or with a receptionist at the location. If so, select either the option for a replacement social security card or a records update (it may be under the “Social Security Card” menu if you’re using a touchscreen kiosk to sign in). When you must update your gender with Social Security, this will save you potential wait time and route you through their service system a little faster.

IMPORTANT: WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT PRESS “OTHER REQUEST” OR “OTHER SERVICES” on the touchscreen sign-in machine. You’ll end up waiting FOREVER. Trust me. It happened on my first visit.

Call Ahead

I strongly recommend that you call the location in advance and speak with either a supervisor or a technical specialist to avoid any confusion when you get there. They may provide you with a policy number to reference in case the employee appears unfamiliar with the procedure to update gender with Social Security. This is probably good practice if you’re transgender and updating ANY legal documents or records with any agency. Despite the best efforts to certify that staff is trained, regulations permitting you to change documentation may be fairly new in some cases and the employee you end up dealing with may not know them.

Go Early Morning or Shortly Before Closing Time

The timing of when you visit your SSA office is up to you. However, if you don’t want to sit and wait too long, it’s probably a good idea to visit either early morning or shortly before the office closes. When I wanted to update my gender with Social Security, we arrived at one of the offices about 30 minutes before it opened and waited in line outside. The line wasn’t too terribly long, and I was seen within 20 minutes after checking in and sitting down. However, when you call ahead, it’s wise to inquire about typical busy times for that location.

Save Time, Headaches, and Hassles

I’m a transgender person who’s trying to get my legal documents updated before Davros-Elect potentially takes office. There are some that I’m unable to do right now (namely my birth certificate, and I’m looking at you, Wisconsin), but I was fortunate enough to be able to update my gender with Social Security. I changed my driver’s license name and gender markers earlier in the year, and I’m working on obtaining a Status Information Letter from Selective Service as well as my passport. I’ll be posting more information as I go through my own processes, which should hopefully be useful to other trans readers scrambling to get things in order before January 20.

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