Ashley Peterson, LPC
Name & Gender Marker Change Process (for adults in Fairfax County) by Waseem Amin
***Please note that the information below is not legal advice and cannot replace input from a licensed attorney. This information is based on my own experiences around this process and may be outdated, particularly as policies change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If you have questions about the process, please reach out to an attorney and/or the institutions involved in this process to verify this information***
This text is super long and tedious, I know, but I want to let you know that the actual ‘doing’ part of the process is fairly straightforward. Most of the time involved in this whole thing is waiting as opposed to active steps that you need to take. This text is long mainly because it includes all the nitpicky questions I had along the way and the answers to those questions, so I hope this helps simplify your journey.
So the materials you need to change your name and gender marker everywhere are
-A court order showing your name change that you can show to all the different places+institutions where you want your name changed
-A letter by a medical provider (someone with an MD or DO) confirming that you’ve had gender-affirming treatment (doesn’t have to be surgery; can be HRT)
To get the name change court order, you need to apply for it through mail or in person at the Fairfax County Circuit Court (information below). I applied in person, so the information below is based on that way of doing things. This is the link to the detailed instructions (would highly recommend you read them thoroughly first): https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/circuit/sites/circuit/files/assets/documents/pdf/name-change-brochure.pdf. Below is a summary of the instructions on this page.
Fill out the name change petition & order forms (3 pages total). The information needs to be typed, not handwritten. Link to the forms: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/circuit/sites/circuit/files/assets/documents/pdf/name-change-petition-and-order-adult.pdf.
The petition (first form) needs to be notarized. You can get it notarized ahead of time (you can call your bank to see if they offer notarization services) OR you can take it straight to the circuit court where the clerk helping you with your application can notarize it for you right then and there. I preferred to do the latter, as I found it much quicker.
Print the completed forms. You can sign the order beforehand, but leave the petition blank because it needs to be signed in front of the notary. You can also leave both blank and sign them both in front of the clerk if you want to err on the side of caution.
Grab an envelope (I used a manila folder), and stamp + address it to take with you to the circuit court. Use the address to which you want your name change court orders to be sent (home address for most people). The number of stamps you need depends on the weight of the package and therefore how many copies of the court order you want. I asked for 14 copies and used 4 stamps to be on the safe side.
Take the printed forms and your stamped+addressed envelope to the Fairfax County Circuit Court, and go to Suite no. 319 on the third floor (it looks more like a window than a room). Last I checked, an appointment is not required, and you can walk in any time from 8:00am to 4:00pm (although mornings tend to be less busy). With that said, it wouldn’t hurt to call ahead of time and make sure walk-ins are still welcome.
The clerk at the window will notarize the petition (if it hasn’t been already), collect your payment using cash or card ($41 for the name change + $2.50 for every additional copy you ask for), and submit your application. If everything goes smoothly, you should receive your envelope with the court order + copies in it within a few weeks.
Fairfax County Circuit Court
Address: 4110 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax, VA 22030
Phone: (703) 691-7320
I happened to have questions about how to fill out the name change petition and order forms, so I called the circuit court to ask them. These are the questions I asked + the answers I received:
-At the top of the petition it has a hyphenated blank for CL no. - what does that stand for? It’s the claim number. The pdf makes it editable, but you’re not actually supposed to fill it out.
-If I don’t want a middle name, can I leave that blank? Yup.
-Reason - is it okay to just put down the word transgender? Yes. The reason doesn’t need to be detailed at all. As long as you don’t say “I’m trying to defraud the government” you should be fine.
-For the maiden name space, do I need to type my mother’s name even if she’s never changed it? Yes.
-Is that just the last name or her full name again? Full name again.
-But it doesn’t fit?? Try to change the font and make it smaller. If that doesn’t work, you can handwrite it (even though the instructions say you can’t).
-Do I sign both the petition and the order before coming in, or do I need to sign it in person? You can sign the order beforehand, but leave the petition blank because you need to sign it in front of a notary.
-For the stamped envelope, is it okay for me to handwrite the address on there or do I need it to be printed out? You can handwrite it, but make sure it’s legible of course.
-Payment is done in person - can I use a card? Yup. Cash and cards both work, but personal checks are not accepted.
-I read on the website that I can come in any time between 8 and 4 - has that changed with covid? do I need an appointment? Nope, you can still walk in during normal hours: between 8am and 4pm.
-How much time should I allot to coming in and submitting everything? It depends on how busy it is. When I asked, they said they were the least busy in the early morning. I went in at 9:30am on a weekday and the whole thing took me 20-30 minutes.
Here are additional ‘common mistakes’ to avoid when filling out the forms:
-Do not use any initials when filling out the forms, and all names need to be in the First Middle Last format.
-The mother’s ‘maiden name’ needs to be the mother’s full name (first middle last), even if they’ve never changed their name.
-The petition should be signed and notarized using your current legal name, not the name you’re changing it to.
-All previous name changes need to be on the form, including name changes from marriage.
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of places/things where you can have your name officially changed using the court order + copies you will receive in the mail after submitting your application. To my knowledge, the non-governmental things on this list just need you to call/walk into the place with your court order to change the name. Your social security card, driver’s license (or anything involving the DMV), and passport are what require you to fill out specific forms and go through their own processes.
-Social Security (changes carry through to IRS; you don’t need to separately change your name with the IRS)
-Birth certificate (process depends on the state in which it was issued)
-Driver’s license or state ID
-Voter registration (can be changed automatically alongside driver’s license)
-Bank accounts and credit union accounts
-United States Postal Service
-Place of employment
-Medical providers + pharmacies
To my knowledge, the order in which you want to change your information on federal documents goes social security card —> birth certificate —> passport —> driver’s license —> everything else. My birth certificate wasn’t issued in the US, so I first submitted my social security form through the mail, went in to the DMV to change my license while my social security documents were in processing, and used my new driver’s license to update my passport. Again, I’m not saying this is what you have to do; it’s just what I did. I would highly recommend that you reach out to your attorney/the appropriate institutions to have your questions about your specific situation answered.
To change your gender marker on your government documents, you will need a letter from a medical provider. Most surgeons will offer this letter if you decide to have gender affirming surgery with them, but you can also ask a medical provider who is prescribing you HRT or otherwise following your medical transition. To my knowledge, a therapist (LPC, LCSW, PhD, or PsyD) cannot write this letter for you. This could be especially frustrating for trans* folx who, due to lack of desire or choice in the matter, are not medically transitioning. If this is your situation, it may be helpful to consult with a trans-friendly attorney and ask about your options.
If you want to change both your name and gender marker, it may be best to start with the social security card application. Here’s the link to the instructions + form at the bottom of the document (it’s the very last page): https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf. Summary of the instructions:
Fill out the SS-5 form
For number 8 on the form, select the gender you identify with (the gender to which you are transitioning). Unfortunately, social security and passports don’t recognize non-binary genders, so you can only choose between male and female.
Print and sign the form
The social security application requires ID and proof of citizenship/immigration status. If you have a current US passport, this would satisfy both requirements. The four things you need to take with you would be: the completed SS-5 form, the name change court order you received in the mail, the letter signed by your physician confirming your gender transition, and your US passport. The social security office does NOT accept copies of any of these documents. You would need to mail in original documents + your actual US passport, not a photocopy of it.
Place all four items in an envelope and mail it to your local social security office. You can use this tool to locate it: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp
Under normal circumstances, you could also go to the office and submit the application in-person. However, social security offices are only open from 3pm to 4pm at the time of writing, and as far as I know the lines at the offices can be outrageously long during this one hour. As such, I personally chose to mail everything instead.
A few weeks later, you’ll receive a letter confirming that your application was submitted and that you’ll receive your new social security card later. A few weeks after that, you should get your new social security card in the mail. Please note that the card itself does not have a gender marker on it, but the gender marker change is still applied when your application is processed.
To change both your name and gender marker on your US passport, you will need to fill out the DS-11 form, have a recent photo, have a check or money order filled out with the necessary fees (you cannot use cash), have proof of ID + a photocopy (driver’s license works), have proof of citizenship (an unexpired US passport works), and your name change court order + letter from a physician confirming your gender transition. Here’s the link to the DS-11 form: https://eforms.state.gov/Forms/ds11.pdf. Do NOT use the DS-82 form if you are changing your gender marker. DS-82 can be used if you’re only changing your name. If you’re also changing the gender marker, be sure to use the DS-11 form.
Print out the DS-11 form (last two pages in the link above), and fill it out by hand. For number 3, select your correct gender (the gender you’re transitioning to). Once again, you’re limited to male or female, as US passports don’t acknowledge non-binary genders at the moment.
Book an appointment for passport renewal with a nearby US Post Office, or find an office that accepts walk-ins. At the time of writing, the Merrifield post office accepts walk-ins (use the door on the right side of the building).
You can take your passport photo & write the check with the required fee ahead of time, or you can take the photo & buy a money order at the post office at the time of application. I chose the latter because it combined all these steps into one and was much quicker.
At the post office, the clerk helping you will fill out the rest of the form. If you want to take your passport photo as well, it’ll be an extra ~$15. They’ll sit you down and take the photo. Here’s a link to the photo requirements: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/photos.html. Below are the key points from the link:
In your photo, you can’t have your glasses on if you wear any
You need to have a “neutral” facial expression (you can smile but not very big/without showing teeth)
You need to look straight ahead, not at an angle
If you brought a blank check with you, the clerk assisting you will inform you of the amount you’ll owe the Department of State for the renewal (separate from the USPS fee, which you would pay directly to the post office and, at the time of writing, is $35). For a more extensive breakdown of passport renewal fees, check out this link: https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/passports/forms-fees/Passport%20Fees%20Chart_TSG_JAN2021.pdf.
Alternatively, you can skip the check and use a money order, which you can order through the USPS as well.
The person helping you out will then take your current US passport, the completed application, money order/check, name change court order + letter confirming transition (you may need photocopies of these two documents as well), the photocopy of your ID, and put them all in an envelope to mail to the department of state. If you want to, you can pay additional fees to expedite the application processing time, the time needed to mail it there, and/or the time needed to mail back your new passport. At the time of writing, regular processing time + mailing time is 12-18 weeks, and expedited processing + mailing is 6-12 weeks. So if you’re thinking about traveling soon, please plan accordingly.
To change your name and gender marker on your driver’s license, you will need to book an appointment with your local DMV office. At the time of writing, the DMV does not take walk-ins, and appointments are 4-6 weeks out.
Book your appointment online through this link: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/onlineservices/appointments.aspx.
Fill out the required driver’s license form electronically or by hand. Here’s the link to the form: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/webdoc/pdf/dl1p.pdf. Virginia is a self-select state when it comes to gender, meaning that you can select to have an M, F, or X as a gender marker on your driver’s license without having to present any documents/medical notes (yay!). ***Caveats to know about when filling out the form: apparently we’re in the process of transitioning to something called Real ID. Here’s a link to everything it entails: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/drivers/#real_id.asp. Summary of what’s on the page: Real ID allows you to board domestic flights and access federal facilities in addition to all the other purposes any ID serves. If you don’t have Real ID and need to board a domestic flight and/or access a secure federal facility, you’ll need to present other federally accepted ID (e.g. US passport). Until 2023, the Real ID is optional for Virginians. This means that if you want to apply for a regular driver’s license right now, you can do that, but your new license won’t be ‘federally accepted ID’. If you decide to apply for a Real ID driver’s license, select that option on the form and bring with you the required supporting documents (passport, unexpired driver’s license, social security card (or just memorize your number), and recent mortgage statement/rental agreement/utilities bill with your address on them).
Bring one of your notarized copies of your name change court order, your completed form (and supporting documents if you’re applying for Real ID), and a form of payment (cash or card) to the DMV on the day of your appointment. This is the list of the fees for DMV services btw: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/webdoc/pdf/dmv201.pdf.
When called up to the window, present your completed form + name change court order. This is when you can also ask to have a new photo taken for your license (you don’t have to take your glasses on or keep a neutral facial expression for this like you would for a passport photo).
Once you’ve signed and submitted your application + payment, you can expect to get your new driver’s license with the correct name + gender marker in the mail a few weeks later.
Take this with a grain of salt because I myself have yet to finish this process, but I believe that all the other places you might need to change your name and/or gender marker won’t be as formal/tedious. I imagine you’ll need the court order for at least some of the places, but to my knowledge there aren’t any specialized forms or appointments you need to arrange beforehand. As always, though, your safest bet is to actually call the place and ask.
Hope this helped, and best of luck with everything!!!