Rebecca Juro

The "New" NJ Trans Driver License Regs: A Step Forward, If You Can Afford To Take It

Filed By Rebecca Juro | June 03, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: drivers license, New Jersey, politics, transgender, transsexual

Last Friday, I drove down to New Jersey Motor Vehicle Department headquarters in Trenton and tried to take advantage of the new, less oppressive identity regulations for gender markers on New Jersey driver licenses. I got a pretty rude awakening when I arrived, though. When this new regulation was released, everything we were told about it led one to believe that all that would be required to change the gender marker on a New Jersey driver's license in the future was a signed affidavit attesting to the fact that the driver intended to live a certain gender identity and the change was not for fraudulent purposes.

Seems perfectly reasonable, doesn't it? It did to me too...until I actually tried to do it.

I was handed a form that required a gender specialist signoff stating that they believe my gender identity to be either male or female and for that to continue for the foreseeable future. If this form had been handed to me even as little as six months ago, I would have had no problem getting it signed.

The problem is that Dr. Aviva Nubel, the gender specialist who I'd seen for six years, the one gender specialist on the planet who could credibly testify to my gender identity, has moved out west and effectively dropped off the radar. Since Dr. Nubel treated many transgender people in New Jersey and surrounding states for decades, it's likely that I'm most likely not the only person in New Jersey in this predicament right now.

Now, I have to go to another gender specialist and spend who knows how much more time, money and pain before this new doctor who I've never met will sign the appropriate documents. The real-world result of these new regulations is that I've now got a whole new set of expenses to worry about at a time when I can least afford them.

Of course, I'll end up paying it, whatever it is. How could I not? Hopefully unemployment will at least get me far enough to get that paper signed. I'm probably not going to be able to establish a real ongoing relationship with a gender specialist for a while, at least not until I've got a decent job. My car is going to be repaired soon so hopefully (key word) that won't be an issue for all that much longer, but it's still going to be an additional expense that I really just don't need right now.

And then, there's the other part of all this. On the one hand, I know I should probably be grateful that things are easier than they were, and yet, on the other hand, it's hard for me to feel gratitude when the state is still saying to me and every other transsexual in New Jersey that unlike as in every other case involving attesting to the truth of presented information, my word as a citizen isn't good enough to attest to my own gender identity.

My sworn word is good enough to testify in court, vote, join the military and kill for my country (if I were still young enough), enter into a legally-binding contract, and on and on. Even a convicted mass murderer can be legally sworn in to testify in a court of law and then be held responsible for the truth of his testimony. Yet, as a transperson my own sworn word must be backed up by that of a gender specialist when I am testifying to the veracity of my own gender identity.

This, to me, is the greatest insult of all - perhaps even greater than the surgery requirement this new policy replaces. The old policy relied mainly upon the simple presence or absence of certain physical parts. The new policy presupposes that a transsexual person cannot be trusted to know his or her own mind, and that their assertion of their own gender identity must be backed up by someone else.

Let's dig even deeper. Obviously, it's not possible for one person to truly know the mind of another, no matter how intelligent they are or how many degrees they may hold. One can argue that a competent mental heath professional could certify someone sane or insane, but can they really know their patient well enough to be truly certain of that patient's internal gender identity and be able to certify it to the state? And if we allow for that to be possible, for someone else to be able to certify such an intensely and deeply-held personal aspect of another individual, how is it reasonable to presume that the assertion of the individual in question is any less reliable than that of the professional?

I guess my true core issue here is one of class. This new policy, while far easier to deal with for some, is still an unreasonably high hurdle for low-income transpeople, those who can't afford the services of a gender specialist to obtain that signature on the form. Thus the ability to change the gender marker on one's driver's license in New Jersey remains the sole purview of those who can afford to pay out-of-pocket for expensive professional care that most employee insurance plans don't cover.

I did six years of it when I was working and making a decent paycheck. Now the one person who could certify that, Dr. Nubel, is gone and I must start from scratch, all because the State of New Jersey will not take me at my word as it does myself and every other citizen in every other case where one might be called to offer sworn testimony.

For those who can't afford to pay a gender specialist and don't have access to one through other means, there's no practical difference between the old policy and the new one. For those who slip through the cracks because of lack of access to outside proof of gender identity, proper legal recognition remains just as unobtainable in the State of New Jersey as it ever was.

One might think I blame Governor Corzine, our community activists, or the motor vehicle department for this failure. I do not, in any way. The new policy is indeed a quantum leap forward in some ways. It makes life easier for a lot of people - but not for enough people. It doesn't eliminate the high cost of legal acknowledgment for transsexuals in New Jersey, it simply lowers that cost somewhat so more middle class transfolks are able to afford it. Many of those on the lower end of the income scale will remain without access to proper and accurate legal identification.

There's no doubt that Governor Corzine's heart is in the right place. He's earned not only my vote, but also my respect and gratitude for the way he's stood up for LGBT rights in New Jersey during his tenure as our state's chief executive. There's also no doubt that there were the best of intentions in mind when these new regulations were created. The problem is that there's still an undue burden being imposed exclusively upon transgender New Jersey citizens for no good reason - in the service of no compelling state interest.

How can anyone, regardless of their level of education and training, understand the specific inner workings of an individual's mind better than that person themselves? Unless that person has been certified incompetent (and in which case, why would they be applying for a driver's license anyway?), why shouldn't that same sworn personal certification that's accepted as legally-binding in a court of law and in all other legal matters have the same weight when certifying one's own gender identity?

In the end, is there truly anyone other than the individual in question who can possibly certify their own gender identity with any real credibility?

For those who would argue that there's the possibility of fraud here, I'd respond that there's that possibility each and every time someone puts their signature to a legal document, and there are laws proscribing legal penalties for such crimes already on the books. For an adult citizen who has not been declared legally incompetent, their signature on a sworn statement declaring their own gender identity should be considered no less valid and no less legally-binding than any other legal document they may sign.

To do otherwise is to set transgender citizens apart from other New Jersey citizens, defining us as different from everyone else, and thus denying us equal protection and consideration under the law based solely upon that difference.

I know there are some who would say that this is best we can do and we should be thankful for whatever small victories we can manage. I don't disagree that we should honor and laud the gains we make and those who help us achieve them, but I also know that our true goal has to be not less discrimination, but no discrimination at all. If not, then we have no real goals and we will always be settling for second-class citizenship.

Here in New Jersey, a significant step has been taken that will help many transsexual New Jersey residents live their lives facing less discrimination. It is now time to take the next step and guarantee that benefit to all transsexual New Jersey citizens - not just the middle and upper classes.


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Reading this makes me feel extremely lucky to be a Hoosier, ironically. The only thing I needed to flip my driver's license in Indiana was a form letter from my doctor. However, I do see your point about the sworn affidavit thing; why aren't _we_ in charge of who we are?

fortunately British Columbia also requires only a doctor's letter for driving licences (Canadian spelling)

now I'm interested in doing something about passports; did you know Australia and New Zealand will issue transsexual passports with an X instead of an M or an F?

does anyone know who decided passports must indicate gender? it's especially galling given Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (gender); so if they're not supposed to consider that fact, why do they need to know?

Marja Erwin | June 5, 2009 1:50 PM

A friend of mine from New Zealand referred to having an X on her passport.

Kathy Padilla | June 3, 2009 8:51 PM

Hmm..can't your prescribing MD just sign that for you? There's no requirement the person be in any long term psycho-theraputic relationship with you. If they can prescribe your hormonal therapy, they're already attesting to your gender identity and that they're competent to provide that treatment.

I think you may be overthinking this.

Light years ahead of your neighbors in PA. Pre surgical transwoman can't change their gender designation - though the guys seem to have good track record of convincing folks to do so.

Rebecca, I totally get where you're coming from. Unfortunately TPTB still see gender as something so 'identifying' that it's necessary to know that you're talking to the 'right' person when ID is involved. I mean, it's not enough to have a name and photo, we also need to know your height, sex, eye color and hair color, just to prove you're you. Never mind what pharmacy chemicals can do to one's hair color. But yeah, since it's seen as an issue of fraud, where people will just change the designator at whim in order to 'defraud' people somehow, we're stuck with some legal requirement. Would that it weren't so.

And Kathy, that might be changing a bit. I don't know the details entirely, but in Philly I hear they've had some success with getting the marker changed with a doctor's note and a court order. I know it still requires the court fee, but since it is possible (if difficult) to get that waived, it's a chance, maybe.

Kathy Padilla | June 4, 2009 10:51 AM

Hi Erin:

Yes - some individuals have had luck. But many others haven't. Some clerks are more accomadating than others. Most people I know were asked for a certified letter from their surgeon attesting to GRS.

I think a good policy is preferable to having to find the reasonable person in an organization. Though - folks should still seek out & support those reasonable people!

If you download and read the form through the link above, you'll see that what's required is the signature of a gender specialist, which narrows the number of professionals who could legally sign the form to those with a specific gender specialty.

My own medical doctor for ten years, who worked closely with Dr. Nubel and no doubt would have been willing to sign the form, recently retired from his practice due to illness. Shortly after he did so, his practice partner dumped all of his transgender patients, including me. So, I have no medical doctor who can sign this form either. This doctor also treated many of Dr. Nubel's other patients as well, so I'm sure many of them are in the same boat I am.

Kathy Padilla | June 4, 2009 10:46 AM

That really sucks being dropped by the practice. I don't know how far you are from Philly - but the Mazzoni Center has trans specific medical services that you might care to look into. They take insurance & do a sliding scale for folks who don't & can't afford care.

I'm sure (having served on their board) that the providers there would sign the form if you were a patient. And they easily meet the qualified gender specialist in anyone's book.

Good luck!

www.mazzonicenter.org

I'm about an hour out of Philly, and would be willing to make the trip if it's worthwhile. I do have one question though: Do they accept patients from out-of-state?

I don't think the fact that this is identifying info, like weight, height, eye color, etc., makes this any more OK. They don't weigh people when they apply for a license, and I guarantee everyone here that more than a few people have lied when it comes to that number. Same for height.

I seriously doubt that a criminally-minded person would change only the gender of their driver's license. What would the point of that be? They're not going to lose the points on their license that way.

I get what you're saying, Becky. Why take someone's word on their weight but not their gender? They're so much more likely to lie on the former.

Brenda Jean Louise | June 4, 2009 5:19 AM

Ya know. Having a psych move out of the area and off the map is a very real problem for many. I know of a Licensed Social Worker that had a practice in Mass. All of a sudden she decided to go west. Which means that any tracability as to being a client needs to be more thoroughly established. Perhaps it requires a shrink to fill out a federally recognised and recorded milestone certificate to be kept on file. At least that way one can be protected from losing their "therapy time spent" records.

Hold on for a minute before you crucify me. Please read on.

Document forgeries have been known to come forth from some Transgendered folks. This is old case of the few transgendered people shooting the foot of many other transgendered folks. It has been exhibited via forged surgeon statements, and phony doctor's prescription scripts. This is an area where the infamous Dr. Zucker and other nay-sayers will point to the lack of credibility of a client. I think a protected standard should be maintained. At least the cash and time investment will not be in vain.

I'm not going to crucify you Brenda, but I do disagree with you. As I addressed above, there are already laws in place for dealing with those who commit fraud by making untruthful statements on legal documents. As far as I can see, if the individual in question is considered legally competent, there's no reason why their sworn testimony should carry any less weight than that of any other citizen.

This is heteronormativity at work. Your comment "unlike as in every other case involving attesting to the truth of presented information, my word as a citizen isn't good enough to attest to my own gender identity" is extremely poignant. This is another example of the problem with the medicalization of GID.

...and psychopathologizing is better how?

I'm sorry, but classic transsexuality IS a medical condition in that it requires cooperation of medical professions for treatment.

Rebecca, if one is epilepic, has severe diabetes and other conditions, a check off is often required by the State by a skilled professional if there exists risks. Due to the high number of frauds by TGs in forging documents this is not a huge imposition any way you slice it.

If memory serves, Colorado had very easy ID gender marker ID laws at one point and they had to change the requirement because of abuse of non-transitioned people. This was around ten or so years ago.

eastsidekate | June 4, 2009 9:33 AM

Due to the high number of frauds by TGs in forging documents this is not a huge imposition any way you slice it.

Whoa!

1) Do you have data to support this?
2) Define fraud? My birth certificate, passport and drivers license all have different combinations of name and sex, yet none of them is fraudulent. I hurt my head trying to figure out what bureaucracies want from me on paperwork.
3) "TGs"? Seriously?
4) Impositions are impositions. People routinely lie about all sorts of things on government forms. When someone catches them, the state tends to punish them-- not everyone. Also, there's a bit of difference between going to a notary public and/or supplying corroborating paperwork (say, a paycheck) and having to spend dozens of hours and $1000+ dollars having an external "expert" verify my gender.

The feds have tried to deal with fraudulent loan applications by requiring all applicants to document their income. If there's a requirement for a gender expert's signature, it should likewise apply to all applicants. Trust cissexual people but not trans people? The privilege, it burns.

ever hear of the Real ID act?....

"cisgendered" have to present proof of gender/sex in the form of a birth certificate to get it too.

As for the frauds....read any trans oriented discussion group. Or take note of the specific entire state example I already noted.

Not in this state, Catherine. As an epileptic myself, I was prohibited from driving for one year when I had a seizure many years ago as a young adult and it was reported by the doctor (as is required by law) to the NJ DMV. Once the year was up, my legal signature testifying that I'd been seizure-free for a year was all that was needed for the state to restore my drivers license.

rikki lynn mordhorst | June 4, 2009 6:43 AM

Wash state just got stricter. we now have to try and get it changed on our birth certificates and provide a certified copy of it or a letter of rejection of it along with medical letters before we can get it changed now.

I live in Georgia, Becky. No amount of doctor's affidavits will get the DMVS to change your sex marker. You can get a court order, but then you take the risk of facing a bigot judge. One trans women was even denied a simple and legal name change because the judge was an a--h---, calling her a sexual pervert from the bench. It took Lambda Legal to fix that one.

I will be praying that you find a job very soon, because you deserve one. But, your issues with the NJ DMV pales in comparison with what others face in this country.

But that's the whole point Monica. I'm not in Georgia, I'm in New Jersey, where we have anti-discrimination laws on the books protecting LGBT people, where we have civil unions, and where our state Supreme Court has already ruled that LGBT people must enjoy equal protection under the law. As far as I know (and please correct me if I'm wrong), Georgia has none of these things.

If New Jersey wasn't as progressive as it is, my argument probably wouldn't be considered credible. Thing is, NJ is that progressive and we do have those laws already on the books. This regulation is inconsistent with those progressive laws and it needs to be challenged and improved.

Yes, NJ has all of those great things and GA doesn't. It is part of the incongruence of all of those things with what you are facing with the new drivers license law that I find crazy. But, the LGBT people here in GA would love to have even a tiny bit of all those wonderful things you have in NJ. Keep that in mind.

I'm well aware that NJ is the exception, not the rule, Monica. It's one of the reasons why I do what I do. It's tough out there even in Jersey, so I can only imagine what how much tougher it must be to live in a less progressive state.

Keri Renault | June 4, 2009 9:16 AM

I agree that the new law in NJ creates more of a Catch 22. Seems to me that once again the law discriminates against a minority with the implied financial requirements that lurk just beneath the surface. It's insular, elitist and exlusionary. GID consults simply aren't affordable for many as you've documented. They're not usually covered by insurance either (which is another blog).

This is yet another frustrating event in an endless string of bitter-sweet developments that underscores the crucial importance of working to pass trans inclusive legislation---a Federal ENDA and statewide anti-discrimination laws. "Enforced" acceptance will give us "official" recognition as a class of people worthy of basic human rights. That badge of credibility will be the likliest path to breaking the barriers of mainstream entry for the transgendered. Basic things most take for granted. Things like a gender marker on a driver's license.

BTW, I went through a situation very similar to yours when I moved from WI to MD last August. I lost my longstanding therapist and endo. I had to build new connections from scratch. However, since I did retain the phone numbers & email addys of my former docs I was able to solicit reference letters from them when the time was right. Bottom line: Their "endorsement" plus just a single meeting with my new gender therapist (and a resultant letter of recommendation) allowed me to successfully petition for the gender marker change.

I assume you have contact info for your former therapist (or can find it). Have her draft a letter of reference/recommendation that you can present to a new therapist in NJ. Develop that professional connection so that you have a resource exactly for situations like this down the road. A hassle? You bet. Fair? Nope; it's more out-of-pocket. A necessity? Like all things on the trans-to-do list most certainly yes...if we aspire to move forward.

Best wishes

Actually, I don't have that information, Keri, and that's why I have a problem. As a wrote in the piece, the gender therapist I worked with for 6 years has moved away and is now (as far as I can tell) unreachable. My medical doctor retired due to illness and his practice partner sent out registered letters to all of his transgender patients advising us to find new doctors because (he said) he didn't feel he could treat us properly.

So with no therapist and no MD to sign off on these forms, as far as the State of New Jersey is concerned, all the therapy, all the tests, all of my 12 years of living fulltime as a woman is legally worthless and it's as if I'd never seen a shrink or an MD at all.

Here's a thought....since you were given to understand the new law only required a signed affidavit, search for a copy of the actual law and see if it actually says that. It very well might, if so return with a copy of the law AND a notarized affidavit to the DMV.

I had to do this in Ohio years ago because "everyone" knew what the law was only it wasn't. You'd be amazed how often this is the case.

Stonewall Girl Stonewall Girl | June 4, 2009 12:29 PM

Becky, I didn't realize you were a true libertarian, you and Ron Paul!

I'm disappointed that you failed to tell the whole story about the NJ MVC and frankly you made a lot of assumptions when all you needed to do was download the form from the site and/or pick up a phone for clarification.

The NJ MVC form does not require a separate letter that might not contain the "correct" wording and makes things simplified, It does not require a physician or a psychologist or psychological social worker. It only requires a signature and a license # for reference. We in NJ worked with The Task Force and the National Association of Social Workers to require as in DC only a licensed social worker. We used the best (for us)of the Massachusetts and Washington, DC models where there it was agreed the program would best suit and include folks who might not be deemed the financial "elite".


I'm sorry you have problems, in NJ we amended the LAD, hate crimes, and bullying laws to include transpeople. We even have a parent of a transgender child on the Bullying Commission and a transperson on the NJ Civil Unions Commission. Well, why don't "you" step up and help make change to the system? New Jersey is, compared to most states, much better for transgender people, but we still have a long way to go. I'm not ready to move out of here. Find me a better state!

We have a mutual friend who originally did some of the work with MVC who later moved to Florida and has worked to change several city and county laws down there! Yes, change can be made, but by all our folks stepping up and doing, not just complaining!

SG (I'm assuming you are the person I spoke with about this the day it happened?),

I have a copy of the form right here (and it can be downloaded through the link in my piece), and it has an area for the driver to fill in and sign their own info, and below that a space that is headlined:

"PART TWO: TO BE COMPLETED BY LICENSED MEDICAL OR SOCIAL SERVICES PROVIDER"

There's then a space for the provider to fill in their own information, and below that:

"I am a licensed:" followed by four choices with check boxes, "Physician", "Therapist or Counselor", "Social Worker", "Other (please describe)________"

Following that is the provider signing statement, which reads:

"My practice includes assisting, counseling, or treating persons with gender identity issues, including the applicant named herein, and in my professional opinion, the applicant's gender identity is (circle one): MALE FEMALE and can reasonably be expected to continue as such for the foreseeable future.

I hereby certify, under penalty of law, that the foregoing information is true and correct."

This is followed by lines for the provider's signature and the date.

And on the very bottom of the form is this:

(A misstatement of fact or false statement made in this or any application is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment and may result in the suspension of driving privileges (N.J.S.A. 39:3-37))

SG, to me that sounds like a whole lot more than just a license # and signature. It's pretty obvious to me that without shelling out major money for the services of yet another gender specialist it's unlikely I'm going to get anyone to sign this form as a favor.

It's also quite clear that the MVA wrote this form so that those who can be considered a valid provider for the purposes of signing this form represent as small and specific a group as possible.

I don't know what you were told, SG, but it's obvious to me that the hurdles we're expected to clear here are actually far higher than what we were led to believe when this policy was announced.

Stonewall Girl Stonewall Girl | June 4, 2009 11:35 PM

Becky you can make it easy or difficult, that is YOUR choice. Find a licensed social worker who works with transpeople and that will do it. You are a smart resourceful girl, you can do it if you want.

Worst case scenario there are lots of folks in Philly or New York. Last night I attended a TG health fair in the City, lots of "free" social services available.

Check it out, or just complain!

No SG, it's not a matter of easy or difficult.

Easy would be for the state to take my sworn word with the same weight as it gives it in any and every other instance where I might have to legally certify information I present as my own.

Easy would be if the only two people on the planet who can legally sign that form for me at this point were still practicing.

Easy would be not having to shell out hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars to get another provider to sign the form for me.

Easy would be if the state didn't automatically presume my word is legally questionable and in need of back up solely because I am transsexual.

It's difficult because the state made it that way. Yes it's less difficult than it used to be for those with the necessary money and access, but not for those without those advantages.

Angela Brightfeather | June 4, 2009 1:22 PM

Becky,

Ohhhh, this is just another one of thos things that we have to agree is incrementalism" in disguise. when enough of us do exactly like we are told and tyhe sky does not fall on anyone, then we can take the next step and be trusted enough to testify for ourselves.

In the mean time, you can try and find a Baptist church that accepts Trans people and "testify" to your hearts content. Since most churches are "expert gender specialists", perhaps their testimony and signature will satisfy the NJ regulation.

But until then, please try and be happy with that universal term that all Transgender people should be more than happy to accept, based ont he tried and true principals of the GLB community that have been accerptable to them, so should also b e acceptable to all GLBT people, "incrementalism".a

It's really hard to fight a concept that was established as being OK by your supposed allies.

Becky

By any chance do you still have the Id card that Aviva made for us and signed in case you were stopped by the police? It is a wallet card...
I wonder if that would work? Regina

Just in case anyone's still following this thread, I just got my letter signed. cost me just over $400, but at least I'll legally be a woman in the state of New Jersey next week.

I'll be writing more after my next visit to the Motor Vehicle Department.

I've only just read this, so am very late to the discussion.

I'm appalled, to be honest. Yes, it's a step forward, but... That you have to have a gender specialist sign off on it rather than be believed offends me. That male and female are the only options offered offends me. That jumping through the hoops is prohibitively expensive offends me.

There are trans people I love. Each of them has different takes on their gender and gender identity, and each of them is absolutely right. It pains me to see how easy it is for me in comparison with others just because I'm not trans. It stinks to high heaven.

justanotherblogger | March 2, 2010 10:38 AM

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