Having looked up rules for changing name and gender at the FAA website, I called my FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) for an appointment, and walked in this morning. Although the FAA website says all I needed to bring with me to the FSDO was my identification and my court ordered name and gender change, I arrived to find the FSDO representative presenting me with a page from their internal manual (section 5.317) that says I need the court order AND a physician’s letter:

D. Change of Gender. For a change of gender on an airman certificate, the original copies of two documents must be provided to the certifying ASI. After examining and verifying these documents, the ASI photocopies the documents and attaches the photocopies to Form 8710-1. In Block I, under Other, the ASI notes gender change reissue. The file is then forwarded to AFS-760 for processing. The required documents are:

1) A court order, issued by a court of the United States or its territories, stating that the individual has changed his/her gender to ___, or a court order stating that the individual’s gender is ___; and
2) A physician’s statement clearly indicating that the individual is physically the gender noted on the court order.

In looking for this form online this morning, I found different language covering airframe mechanics, and this language says that only one piece of documentation is necessary:

C. Change of Gender. Application for a change of gender on a certificate must be made
in person at a FSDO.
1) Application is made by completing FAA Form 8610-2 as specified in the note under paragraph 5-1138. The application package should include a court order issued by a court of the United States or its territories stating that the applicant has changed his/her gender, or a statement from a physician or clinical psychologist treating the applicant that contains:
a) Identification of the applicant by name and address, or b) Verification that the applicant is undergoing treatment that has altered or will alter the applicant’s gender.
2) The applicant’s current certificate should accompany the application.

It may be the case that the FAA’s rule carefully thought out the difference in mechanics and pilots, thereby creating two different ways of changing gender for their records, but I suspect it’s the result of quick rule-making and web-writing without any overarching philosophy within the FAA, or the federal government in general. Regardless, I was sent away and told to come back when I had a surgeon’s letter. I have written a follow-up email asking for clarification based on these FAA inconsistencies, and we shall see if the query results in any action.

The FAA isn’t the only federal office to require medical/surgical authority before it will change your gender. The Social Security Administration only has one rule as far as I can find, requiring a for medical documentation to change gender:

Sex-Change Operation: The surgeon or attending physician must provide a letter verifying the sex change surgery has been completed.

The Department of State has detailed guidelines for reissuing passports with a changed name, but changing your sex requires good old fashioned correspondence (according to the NCTE) with letters from a surgeon detailing either surgery or plans for surgery.

The Transgender Law Center has a nifty summary of federal policies about name and sex change requirements, as does the NCTE.

To summarize, the federal bureaucrats tend to prefer letters from surgeons, or perhaps some sort of plan for surgery, while each state, locality, and employer takes a completely different approach, usually requiring something less then completed genital surgery.

What is frustrating is the assumption that all gender-variant people are seeking genital surgery, or any surgery at all, for that matter. The slightly better request of a physician’s letter, or even better, a psychologist’s letter, still places gender variance into the category of medical, surgical, or psychological problem, and while this category may hold true for some, there must be a vast group of gender variant people who are unable to obtain identification that matches their presentation. What if you are perfectly healthy, born male, but live as female, and have lived as female for 10 years? Because of a lucky genetic break, you don’t have a beard, don’t need to take hormones, and don’t plan on genital (or other) surgery. Are you destined to forever have “M” on all your identification documents issued from the federal government?

If you are legal-minded, you might find Dean Spade’s “Documenting Gender: Incoherence and Rulemaking” useful as a tool to show how arbitrary governmental policy can be.