April 2009

After looking through the records of my name change and noticing a spot where my local FAA office (read the history here, here, and here) had recommended I call Washington for more help on changing the “M” to an “F,” I decided to call that number. I spoke with a very helpful fellow named Bruce Lansford (who has a column in the AOPA magazine, by the way), who told me that no, surgery wasn’t necessary to change the gender marker. What I needed was a letter from my doctor saying I was in the process (or had completed the process) of changing gender, and that was about it. He said they do this all the time, and it shouldn’t be any trouble.

This was quite a pleasant surprise, so I wrote my local FAA office and said I would like to re-initiate contact with my local FAA officials so that I could proceed with a name and sex change.

Nothing is ever easy with bureaucrats, of course, and I received the following note from the FSDO, which pasted a copy from a manual into the email, explaining that I needed the following documents:

A complete FAA Form 8710-1 Airman Application for the name change and gender change. For the name change you will need appropriate documentation acceptable to the Administrator, which substantiates the validity of the requested change.

For a change of gender on an airman certificate, the original copies of two documents must be provided. After examining and verifying these documents, we will photocopy the documents and attach the photocopies to Form 8710-1. In Block I, under Other, we will note 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.

Surprised, I wrote back:

I’m a bit confused as to how to reconcile what you’re telling me with what Mr. Lansford told me, and I asked him quite directly about this when we spoke on the phone. I asked if I needed to be “physically” female, as your request of my physician suggests, or whether my process of becoming and my daily existence as female was sufficient, and he said very forcefully that it was the latter, not the former, that the FAA cares about. He said I needed to present a letter to the FAA from my physician stating that I have been undergoing treatment (psychological and medical) that has altered or will alter the gender and he specifically said that I did NOT have to undergo surgery in order to change my airman’s certificate.

The reason I ask is that only about 5% of all transgendered people choose to change their genitals, either because of preference or because of funding issues, so I suspect there must be hundreds of transsexual pilots out there who are living in their new sex roles, but who haven’t had surgery, and who really, really ought to have identification that matches their name and appearance.

Second, and this relates to the previous point, just what does “physically the gender noted on the court order” mean for the purposes of my physician’s letter? Does the FAA mean genitals? chromosomes? hormones? All three of these can be considered physical aspects of sex. My physician can write you a letter saying I’m hormonally female, but I’ll always have XY chromosomes and I have not had genital surgery. My psychologist can write you a letter saying that I am permanently female, physically, mentally, and socially, having transitioned about a year ago. But I just don’t know what the FAA means by “physically.”

I would like to change my name on the airman’s certificate in any case, but I would also like to change the gender marker from M to F if I can do this within the constraints outlined above. I’ve got all the paperwork necessary for the name change, and I really don’t feel comfortable flying around the country with all my ID saying Joyce and female, and my FAA license saying [oldname] and male.

My next email came from Gordon’s supervisor, Steve:

We have contacted Mr. Lansford of AFS-760 to determine if he had other guidance we should follow. Our discussion with Mr. Lansford revealed he had provided you with guidance from a superseded Inspector Handbook (FAA Order 8700.1) which was replaced by the 8900.1 in 2007. After further research with our regional Technical Support Branch, we were informed that the physician’s statement must be from a Designated Medical Examiner or a Regional Flight Surgeon’s office. If you have additional questions regarding the medical information and applicable documentation please contact Dr. G.J. Salazar, Regional Flight Surgeon, Southwest Region at (817) 222-5300.

We will be obligated [sic] to process your request once you can submit the required documentation.

OK, I thought. We’re going backwards. Now it’s not just my physician, but an FAA physician. I replied:

Thanks for your reply. I guess we’re getting somewhere, even if it feels like it’s going backwards. Can you point me to the AME or FAA manual that is going to give the FAA medical examiner guidance as to this statement: “A physician’s statement clearly indicating that the individual is physically the gender noted on the court order?” In other words, my previous questions as to what “physical” means are still unanswered, and I would hope that the FAA, which defines everything, right down to the arc-minutes below the horizon the center of the sun needs to be as a definition of “sunset,” would be able to clarify for me and for its AME’s.

Seeing as how this is clearly going to take a long time, I would like to set up an appointment ASAP to submit to you my name change documentation.

The regional FAA Flight Doctor, who had been cc’d on this exchange wrote me back:

Dear Joyce — I have been asked to address some of your questions with respect to medical information that may be required with individuals who have requested a reclassification of gender identity to the FAA. Although I prefer not to discuss specifics on anyone’s medical information over an email I will try to respond to your email queries. I also noticed you do not have a current medical application on file so my response will be very general and it will only apply to aeromedical certification and not to the pilot license issue being addressed by the Bedford Falls FSDO.

The Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners does not have every possible medical condition listed in the contents — that would be an impossible undertaking. The Guide is exactly that, a guide and not policy. An Aviation Medical Examiner is expected to defer these cases to Aerospace Medical Certification Division (AMCD) in Oklahoma City for issuance of the medical certificate, which in part explains why there is no specific guidance in that publication. I would suggest that no medical reports be provided to the AME at the time of the FAA physical — AMCD will send the applicant a letter making it very clear as to what medical information is needed.

AMCD has considerable experience with requests for medical certification of individuals involved in the gender identity change process. It is rare for the agency not to medically certify an applicant who has made that request. In general terms the process the agency follows varies for every applicant depending on the specifics of the case. When a new deferred medical application is received and the applicant has identified that they are in the gender change identity process AMCD will ask for additional medical information from their treating physician(s). This request is initially general in nature, i.e., stage in the process, medications and dosages, any underlying medical problems, is surgery anticipated, etc. They will likely ask for a current psychological assessment to make sure no stressors may be present that could preclude issuance. Depending on what information is received additional requests for information will be made. When the agency is satisfied medical standards are met, a medical certificate is granted most likely under the special issuance process, with follow up reports requested. Again this is a very general description and each case will vary.

If you are interested in obtaining medical certification, please visit your AME and start the application process. They will defer issuance and AMCD will notify you what is needed. I have taken the liberty in forwarding a letter today to you explaining the need to start the medical application process.

There were many good things in his email, including the statement that the FAA has lots of experience in gender-changes, and several troubling things, like his statement that there is no current medical certificate for me on file even though I did a new one last August, and the waffling answer that the medical guide can’t possibly answer everything. In other words, “physically the gender indicated on the certificate” can mean whatever the physician wants it to mean. Since I do have a current medical certificate, I wrote back thusly:

Thank you very much for your mail. I do, in fact, have a 2nd class medical, but you’ll need to look up my old name in the FAA records, as I was advised to wait by the Bedford Falls FSDO to do the gender/name change all at the same time: [oldname], private pilot, cert #99999999. I passed my 2nd class physical a year ago — as a woman — with flying colors, so what’s being requested at this point is not a new medical, but rather a change in my pilot’s airman’s certificate noting the sex is F, rather than M.

I am visiting our FSDO on Monday to initiate my name change, as it appears this sex-change request may take a while. I will show Gordon my 2nd Class medical certificate at that time and ask if that document is sufficient to get the ball rolling on changing the M to an F.

And he replied:

Joyce — now I am confused. I had been given the name [oldname] by the FSDO and looked you up in the system prior to emailing you. The date of the last exam I have on file is July 12, 2006, which would make that certificate expired for all classes. If you had a physical in 2008 (or 2007) and your AME did not transmit it as required that is worrisome — the agency would have no way of knowing you have a valid medical in your possession and that can cause a problem during a ramp check. Could you please identify your latest AME and the exact date on the certificate — the last AME on record for you is Dr. KF in Bedford Falls and he did your 2006 exam.

And I replied:

Yes, I’m looking at it right now, a white certificate, second class medical, signed by KF, examiner number 99999-1, and we did the exam in the late afternoon of August 7th, 2008. I do know that he had some traumatic medical events in his life shortly after my exam last August, and maybe it’s the case that some of his last bits of paperwork didn’t get filed? I don’t know.

And he ended the conversation thusly:

Thank you — please ask him to provide you or us a copy of the physical if he has it — but you would be better off to get a new physical when you decide you wish to pursue medical certification under a different name. That way there is no confusion with regards to the nature of the application. Simply for information, Dr. KF no longer is an AME.

In addition, it would be helpful if you could fax a copy of that certificate (and the physical if you obtain it) so we have it on file. Our fax is 817-222-5965.

OK, at least I’m still legal to fly because I’m in possession of a medical certificate. I think Dr. Salazar’s argument that I should get a new medical for the new name rings a bit false — I don’t recall anywhere that changing your name due to marriage, etc, requires a new medical examination. I don’t know if this is progress, but the dialog is productive and, more importantly, it’s moved beyond the local FSDO’s domain and includes the regional flight medical examiner.

TransLate just hit 50,000 page views (see 20,000, 30,000, and 40,000 for historical context). The period of January 12th to April 12th is 12 weeks, which is the same pace of reading as the previous 10,000 views. Here are some statistics and lists that graphically show the recent trends.

Lower down, I’ll share with you which pages were most popular and what sort of searches people conduct to find the blog.

Here’s a visual look at the blog since its inception, month-by-month. which shows steady, if slow, growth during its first weeks (2008-3 means the 3rd month of 2008), coinciding with a slow coming out process, followed by the high mountains of April (5076 views that month) as I disclosed my transsexual transition plans to everyone, followed by a lull in May and another set of peaks probably coinciding with my facial feminization surgery in late June. There was a little hump of interest in July – September, after which the blog has seen fairly steady volume of between 2000 and 3000 views per month.

Translate Month-by-Month Page Views

Translate Month-by-Month Page Views

And here’s a graph of the week-by-week look, which WordPress picks up in the fall of 2008, illustrating a relatively big summer and a pretty quiet fall — I think everyone got busy with the fall semester and I failed to come up with much interesting to write about. The final data point is nothing to be alarmed about — WordPress just rolled into the next week and started the data collection over.

Week-by-Week since Fall 2008

Week-by-Week since Summer 2008

Finally, just for fun, this third chart is a time-series graph covering just the past 30 days’ of stats, which shows just how variable the author and readers are, separately and together. I think the big spike around mid-March is probably accounted for by my trip to my national conference and the subsequent curiosity about me.

Daily Page Views, most recent 30 days

Daily Page Views, most recent 30 days

What do people read? Here are the top posts for the past 30 days

About, 67
Trans 101, 58
Women’s Responses, 52
Words of Marriage and Union, 45
Marriage, 40
Reflection on My Reflection, 30 (more…)

I have written about my marriage and about words periodically in this blog, and yesterday’s ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage by the Iowa Supreme Court is a good occasion to explore both topics simultaneously. I would like to clarify why re-defining marriage is important for same-sex couples, and specifically why the word “marriage” is more sought-after than something else like “civil union.” It is a worthwhile exercise, and you don’t have to be pro-gay-marriage or anti-gay-marriage in order to think through these issues.

If you haven’t read it, you should take a look at the text of the Iowa court decision, and I think they’ve done a remarkably thorough job (and pretty succinct if you skip legal notes and precedents). I have also posted a guide to reading the ruling, if you’d like some help.

What follows is just a linguistic experiment. I haven’t interviewed all my lesbian and gay friends who are in relationships or who have children, and so this think-piece is just my opinion. Let’s look at same-sex marriage and the reasons for it, for starters. It sees to me that there are two, sometimes distinct, and sometimes overlapping, reasons we need to consider.

The first is the social justice angle, sort of a gay-power angle that argues that any separate-but-equal treatment, while perhaps technically legal, de-legitimizes a group of people and they want legitimacy. The second reason is less visible and certainly more mundane, but very practical reason: that tax, insurance, and other benefits afforded to married couples are being withheld from gay parents and couples, and thus the practice is horribly unfair.

The question about the term “marriage” versus “civilly-recognized union” is tricky on one level and easy on another. I think the Iowa court decision makes it crystal clear that church marriage is a religious affair in which the court has no interest, and Iowa civil marriage is a contract in which the court has total interest. I suppose you could call them two different things, which would satisfy the second reason (above) but not the first. You could call them both “marriage” and understand that they’re two different things. You could call religious marriage “marriage” and label civil marriage something like “civil marriage.” You could call civil marriage “marriage” and give religious marriage its own label, like “religious union,” and you’d have the same thing.

However, language creates a large part of reality, and the “neutral” term for something (like marriage) is anything but neutral, as it’s imbued with history, power, and preference, so that “marriage” becomes the natural, normal, and unassailable terminology, with all alternatives almost invisible within such terminology. But add an adjective to make it “gay marriage” or “civil marriage” and you have automatically pointed out its difference from the norm. By calling attention to the “specialness” of gay- or civil- marriage, those in the “special” institution will always be singled out as being abnormal and somewhat illegitimate.

It must, then, come down to the issue of legitimacy, I think, especially if society is prepared to recognize civil unions (for both gay and straight couples). On the criterion of legal protections, above, the distinction between civil unions and marriage can work, but on the other criterion of recognition and legitimacy, as long as long as “marriage” is the neutral (and blessed) terminology, the legitimacy of civil unions will always be in question, as will the human-ness of those in those unions.

The neutrality of the first criterion breaks down if we consider straight civil unions. I would note that fully half of my straight friends were married in civil ceremonies and bypassed church marriages altogether, and they aren’t required to call themselves anything special, and are given all social and legal benefits of “marriage.” In other words, even though a priest did not marry them, the state married them, and they are called “married.”

Unless our society wants to insist that all these marriages are invalid unless blessed by a priest, or if we want to insist that civil unions may not use the word “marriage” to describe their state of matrimonial bliss, I think it’s demonstrably the case that society already understands that marriages are civil, and that religious blessing is icing on the wedding cake: legitimacy and recognition beyond the state, but under the eyes of a congregation, family, and perhaps God. It’s very special if you belong to a religious organization, and we really might consider using an adjective to denote that specialness, so that while the word “marriage” describes all states of matrimony, “religious union” is a special term reserved for those married couples who have gone the extra step to have their civil union sanctioned by their church.

Here are my notes on highlights of the Iowa Supreme Court ruling, along with some relevant quotations. You should read the whole thing yourself, of course, but I thought a cheat-sheet about which sections you could skip and which ones you really must read would be helpful.

7-11 on why marriage is important to everyone

11-16 on the responsibility of the court (very eloquent)

16-18 looking at previous court decisions that the citizenry didn’t like, but were the right thing to do,

28 ending with no-nonsense reasoning for the plaintiffs

Therefore, with respect to the subject and purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, we find that the plaintiffs are similarly situated compared to heterosexual persons. Plaintiffs are in committed and loving relationships, many raising families, just like heterosexual couples. Moreover, official recognition of their status provides an institutional basis for defining their fundamental relational rights and responsibilities, just as it does for heterosexual couples. Society benefits, for example, from providing samesex couples a stable framework within which to raise their children and the power to make health care and end-of-life decisions for loved ones, just as it does when that framework is provided for opposite-sex couples. In short, for purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, which are designed to bring a sense of order to the legal relationships of committed couples and their families in myriad ways, plaintiffs are similarly situated in every important respect, but for their sexual orientation.

29-49 background on LGBTQ issues and equal protection considerations (I’d skip it if I were you, unless you’re a lawyer)

49, section H through the end — a point-by-point rebuttal of the government’s argument against same-sex marriage (must read)

a. 52 maintaining traditional marriage (govt’s argument is circular reasoning, and thus invalid)

b. 54 Promotion of optimal environment to raise children.

If the marriage statute was truly focused on optimal parenting, many classifications of people would be excluded, not merely gay and lesbian people.” and “The ban on same-sex civil marriage can only logically be justified as a means to ensure the asserted optimal environment for raising children if fewer children will be raised within same-sex relationships or more children will be raised in dual-gender marriages. Yet, the same-sex-marriage ban will accomplish these outcomes only when people in same-sex relationships choose not to raise children without the benefit of marriage or when children are adopted by dual-gender couples who would have been adopted by same-sex couples but for the same-sex civil marriage ban. We discern no substantial support for this proposition.

c. 59 promotion of procreation.

Conceptually, the promotion of procreation as an objective of marriage is compatible with the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the definition of marriage. Gay and lesbian persons are capable of procreation. Thus, the sole conceivable avenue by which exclusion of gay and lesbian people from civil marriage could promote more procreation is if the unavailability of civil marriage for same-sex partners caused homosexual individuals to “become” heterosexual in order to procreate within the present traditional institution of civil marriage. The briefs, the record, our research, and common sense do not suggest such an outcome.

d. 60 promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships.

While the institution of civil marriage likely encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships, we must evaluate whether excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage encourages stability in oppositesex relationships. The County offers no reasons that it does, and we can find none.

e. 60 conservation of resources. (very interesting arguent by the government).

The argument is based on a simple premise: couples who are married enjoy numerous governmental benefits, so the state’s fiscal burden associated with civil marriage is reduced if less people are allowed to marry. In the common sense of the word, then, it is “rational” for the legislature to seek to conserve state resources by limiting the number of couples allowed to form civil marriages.

And yes, marriage reduces tax revenues and costs the state something. But…

Excluding any group from civil marriage—African-Americans, illegitimates, aliens, even red-haired individuals—would conserve state resources in an equally “rational” way. Yet, such classifications so obviously offend our society’s collective sense of equality that courts have not hesitated to provide added protections against such inequalities.

63 Religious Opposition. This is forbidden in the Iowa constitution, but we think it probably was the real reason for the unconstitional law instead of the 5 reasons given above. But religious institutions hold very different opinions about same-sex marriage:

This contrast of opinions in our society largely explains the absence of any religion-based rationale to test the constitutionality of Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban.


The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions. Instead, the statute declares, “Marriage is a civil contract” and then regulates that civil contract. Iowa Code § 595A.1. Thus, in pursuing our task in this case, we proceed as civil judges, far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics, and focus only on the concept of civil marriage and the state licensing system that identifies a limited class of persons entitled to secular rights and benefits associated with civil marriage.

and the conclusion that religious institutions may define religious marriage any way they want to, but the state treats civil marriage as a contract, and that’s the only marriage the state is considering, page 66:

In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.