Transitioning into travel is not an easy task. Don’t get me wrong here, it is very doable. It just takes a little tenacity. In fact, I would go as far as to say the easiest documentation as a U.S Citizen to access as a trans person may just be the Passport. Here’s why:
You need to take a current photo. – This means you run over to your local Kinkos or Walgreens and you get a passport photo taken (by human or machine) and the photo taken of you is you, as you present yourself.
You check the box that you identify as. Tragically the US Government still runs on binary ideas on male or female presentation. The rule for passports basically breaks down to this: The passport photo and gender marker need to match how you present yourself. This makes it much easier for folks transitioning who present and/or identify as slightly more normative ideas of M or F, since those are the only two options on the documentation. If you identify as and present as a woman, you check the box F, and have your photo taken as the woman you are. If you identify and present as a man, you check M. Boom! Bang! A few weeks from now you my friend will have a passport that says you are you.
This gets a little less fun for folks who are non-binary, gender non-conforming, and all the many magical identities that one can be in this big beautiful world. Not impossible. Since the beginning of time some people have wanted to box, label, and decide how who others are. In response, amazing radical folks, have done whatever they needed to do in order to survive, looked however they looked, presented in a way that gave them the most comfort, and navigated the world exactly the way they should for themselves. Yes, we do live in a day in age where the government intervenes in your travel plans. We also live in a time where people of all walks of life travel on a regular basis, does that make it less shitty? Not really…because for the most part, government workers in airports and pencil pushing in document offices are cis-gender folks who aren’t terribly informed on gender variance and gender expression. They are informed on policy though, and new policy is being written on the regular to insure they don’t get sued because someone had a crappy time in the TSA line. Enough TSA agents have been fired for being inappropriate, that it is in fact very frowned upon to be unpleasant and disrespectful to the people coming through screenings. Does that mean that everyone is awesome in government offices and airport security lines, nope...nope, it doesn't. It does give me a glimmer of hope in the potential that maybe one day bodies can move through space without being policed... it's a tiny glimmer folks, but I'll take it and ride it out and keep fighting for more.
How did my passport adventure play out you might be asking yourself…?
I got a passport as a teen so I could attend my brothers wedding abroad. When it came time to dive into traveling for Travelin Queeries, I had no clue where that passport (since expired) might have gone, so I had to approach getting a new one in a more complicated manner. I had to take the route of the lost passport. This requires filling out extra forms. It also means more questions when you’re explaining switching things over to your preferred gender marker. I went to four different Passport Acceptance offices before someone behind the desk knew what to do with my paperwork. Try not to let it discourage you if someone is unfamiliar with procedure. I tried two offices in San Francisco, one in Tucson (where an incredibly sweet, but uncertain government worker didn’t want to mess up my passport paperwork so sent me on my way), and last, but certainly most successful, the little passport office in Berkeley, CA accepted my Passport packet. It was an easy overcast day that filled me with joy after feeling a little deflated in my previous attempts.
I went in with a filled out packet, a few transition-related documents, and copies of my birth certificate and state driver’s license. Let’s talk about documentation:
You’ll need to fill out a government form.
This form if you’ve never had a passport.
This form if you’ve had one, but you’ve lost it or need a new one.
Identification (Government issued - I used a CA Drivers License)
Social Security Card
There is different documentation you can use if you’re changing the marker on your passport. This can include a letter from a doctor relating to HRT or surgery.
I want to note that none of my information matched. My identification is all over the place with different markers, and it's probably going to stay that way. It makes things a little more challenging, and forces me to communicate what I'm doing and what I need from government officials. It can be exhausting, but it's totally worth it, and all in all, people are fairly friendly, even if they aren't sure exactly what to do. Full disclosure: I'm an optimist, and this certainly helps make it through when people are less than friendly.
Note: I want to acknowledge that this is my personal experience and each person will have their own experience, I in no way assume to represent the experience of anyone else, other than myself.