Gender affirmation at the DMV

This morning I had to renew my driver’s license at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, a problematic task because I haven’t legally changed my name or gender yet.

This is not because I haven’t wanted to change those for months, but I’m going through a divorce. And my lawyer told me to wait while we’re in the middle of dividing up assets and submitting complicated-ass paperwork to the government. Which means next year.

But my freakin’ birthday is this year. And—you guessed it—that’s when my license is expiring.

The renewal notice required a small fee, vision test, thumbprint and… new photo!

My current ID depicts a sad, overweight, middle-aged man from 20 years ago. It’s grim and I hate it.

And here was an opportunity to at least look like the real me even if that picture had to be next to deadname and misgendered. It could be worse.

So, I dolled up this morning and drove to the DMV. Looking pretty much the same way as when I visit the bank or post office. Really, it’s how I look every day now.

The first hurdle was the nice lady outside the door checking appointments. After mutual greetings, she asked for my last name (just the last name!), looked in her database, found it and then… looked at me confused. Since obviously I did not sound or look like the first name listed there.

I handed her my current license and explained that I hadn’t legally changed the two points of her confusion yet.

She was still confused. “I’m transitioning, OK?” Pause. Longer pause. Realization. “Yes, ma’am! Here’s your queue number. Go inside and take a seat.”

Obviously not the first time for her which meant a very pleasant, albeit momentarily awkward, entrance for me.

This was actually going well.

I sat down next to a young man and struck up a conversation. As far as he was concerned, I was just a nice older lady willing to discuss the fun of navigating various DMVs around the country. Both of which things are true.

Then my number was called and I went to the designated window, handing a different nice lady my current license.

And it was double take and confusion time again.

She took some convincing since the voice and appearance clearly did not match. I had to lower my mask, lean in a bit and have her compare my facial features from the old license and assure her that, “It’s me. Really.”

Finally, she accepted that I wasn’t an imposter. And after signing my deadname on a few forms she sent me to another window to get my photo with a pleasant, “Ma’am, it’s over there on the other side of the room.”

It was still going well, really.

Then, of course, confusion again. The third nice lady with the camera must have asked me for my thumbprint at least three times before she also decided I wasn’t an imposter.

The best part was after the first photo, she suggested I take off my glasses for a second shot. “You’ll look even nicer, ma’am.” A very pleasant end to the process.

So, what could have been a visit to dysphoria land turned out to be complete gender affirming experience because of nice people—at the DMV of all places—willing to treat me like the person I am. Which is all I ever really want.

Totally made my day.



13 responses to “Gender affirmation at the DMV”

  1. Joyce Melton Avatar

    Reminds me of dealing with the CA-DMV 35 years ago. I had my letters from a medical doctor and my psychiatrist to deal with any bureaucratic objections when I went up to renew my license and request a change in name and gender marker.

    They never looked at the paperwork I brought. One said, “I can see why you want to change the name,” then she laughed when I asked her to change the gender marker. “Letty, look at this,” she said to another clerk. “They marked her as male ’cause she had a man’s first name!”

    1. lisa Avatar

      I have always loved this story, sis! Thanks for sharing it here.

  2. Doctor Popular Avatar

    This was beautiful. I’m glad you had a good experience like this at the DMV. Thanks for sharing this story.

    1. lisa Avatar

      Thank you so much and I’m glad you enjoyed it. 💖

  3. David Avatar

    Happy birthday 🙂

  4. Josh Avatar

    I love this affirming story, thanks for sharing! I work at a school and for the last year have been developing a new name policy for our students that doesn’t require legal documentation. We have students who, like you, are not yet able to legally change their name or gender for various reasons. So we got rid of the requirement to use a legal name and instead allow students to use the name, gender, and pronouns that match their identity. That data is stored in our database and is then used on all school documents, including class lists, report cards, yearbooks, transcripts, etc. We have been using the policy this year and it’s been a great success!

    1. lisa Avatar

      You are very welcome and that is a wonderful story, too! What a marvelous school you work at. I am so happy to hear about this considering what’s happening to transgender students in many other places. 💖

  5. Janet Logan Avatar

    That’s a great story. I had a similar experience back when I moved to Georgia. Yes, really Georgia. The Atlanta metro area is very different from the rural areas that unfortunately elect most of the state government.

    1. lisa Avatar

      Thank you! And, wow, you have courage even being in the Atlanta metro area. Respect!

      1. Janet Logan Avatar

        Long story, but I ended up here back in 2013, not really by choice. I was living with a heart-daughter and her family, and they moved here to be closer to her in-laws. It was that, or try to live alone as myself in Texas. Lesser of two evils at the time. Still is, I suppose.

        I was recently widowed at the time, and didn’t feel capable of living alone, anywhere.

        1. lisa Avatar

          You are a strong and caring woman. I understand. Hugs. 🫂💜

  6. Bob Monsour Avatar

    Great story and I’m happy that it went well for you. Personally, I think the DMV gets a bad rap. All of the people I’ve ever dealt with there seem to really want to help. I had a strange situation having to do with getting a CA title for a car that was registered in WA. It was hard to explain, but they seemed genuinely interested in understanding and helping. So, for me, I don’t really dread going there.

    1. lisa Avatar

      Thank you! 💖 The California DMV has definitely upped their game over the last twenty years. I’m certainly not going to dread visiting anymore. 😊

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *