Usually, when a person has to go to the BMV, it is the last place they want to be. Even the idea of visiting one of these establishments might conjure up thoughts of long waiting lines and dreadful forms. Not to mention the endless hoops to jump through.
When I visited, however, I had a beaming smile on my face along with an overwhelming feeling of excitement. I was finally going to change the first name on my ID.
Personal growth within a static society
For transgender people like myself, this is a huge milestone that is cause for celebration. Ridding yourself of your birth name (AKA deadname) like a snake sheds its skin can be a euphoric experience. The process for changing one’s name in Ohio, my home state, and the majority of states can be complicated however. As a result, many transgender folks experience personal and legal roadblocks along the way which prolong the ID process.
To begin this change, states require a petition and hearing with their county probate court. In order to legally change names, the person has to provide a “valid” reason for their decision. Essentially, the person has to explain in writing that they are trans and no longer identify with their deadname. This infuriating process requires transgender people to explain their experience just to be evaluated by a cisgender person.
An additional requirement by the state of Ohio requires the person to personally publish a notice of the name change in a local newspaper. Again, this potentially puts trans people in harm’s way and many choose to instead go through an additional process of waiving this requirement for personal safety.
Finally, months after submitting all the necessary paperwork, you are able to stand in front of a judge. In my case, I sat in front of the computer for a zoom court meeting due to COVID-19. Thankfully, the judge did not make me explain or justify out loud why I was seeking this change. She granted me the name change and then the process of changing every form of ID began.
Bittersweet moments with binary markers
Despite the euphoria of being granted a name change by the judge and receiving the official paperwork, going to the BMV was still a bittersweet moment. While my driver’s license would reflect my new name, the gender marker on the ID would remain the same as the one I had been given at birth. It was a marker that no longer matched who I truly was.
Until December of 2020, transgender residents of Ohio were prohibited from changing their gender marker at all, even if it was in the binary. This contradiction can cause gender dysphoria in many individuals, or a feeling of anxiety surrounding one’s gender identity. There is also the concern of potentially being outed by anyone who has access to these records.
Thankfully, the ACLU had been aware of this discriminatory practice and in 2018, they filed a lawsuit challenging this outdated policy. Their work and dedication finally paid off in December when a federal judge agreed with the ACLU’s findings and struck down the transphobic law. Ohio then became the 49th state to allow gender marker changes on legal documentation, leaving Tennessee as the only outlier.
A forced dichotomy for transgender folks
While this progress is something to be celebrated, Ohio still only allows gender markers that exist within the binary. This means that a person can only choose between male or female. For people like myself who are transgender and non-binary, we exist outside of the forced dichotomy of man and woman. Being forced to check a box that I don’t identify with is a dysphoric experience and one that constantly reminds me that the society I live in refuses to see me for who I really am.
Genderqueer people are expansive in their experiences and stories. For myself, I use they/them pronouns and would decline to identify as male or female. Instead, my gender identity is non-binary and exists outside of the gender markers that Ohio enforces on legal documentation. States like California and Colorado have included a third option for transgender people, something I greatly wish existed in Ohio. In these west coast states, people are able to choose a gender X option instead of the limiting M or F.
While one letter may seem insignificant, it’s a letter that I have to see every time I use my ID. Not only that, but it is a letter that constantly reminds me of a person who no longer exists. A person who was trapped in a world that boxed them in and tried to silence them. I can’t ignore the gender marker on my ID just like I can’t ignore the person I have grown up to become.
States that still force the male/female narrative on their residents have a duty to serve their constituents and represent them as they are- gender expansive people who exist beyond binary boxes.