Why Recognizing Gender Change Without Surgery Is Vital

Trans citizens can now change their gender markers on social security records without needing to undergo gender reassignment surgery. What does this mean and why is it important?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced the adoption of a new policy that will allow trans applicants to change their gender markers more easily.

The SSA will now accept a letter from the applicant’s doctor confirming they have undergone “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.”

This removes the barrier of requiring trans social security applicants to have undergone gender reassignment surgery, specifically genital change surgery, before they can change their gender markers, bringing the SSA’s policy in line with that of other departments such as the U.S. State Department and Veterans Health Administration.

While it is true that the social security card only lists a person’s name and social security number, the SSA records details such as name, date of birth and gender.

This information is shared with certain third-party organizations and having accurate gender markers is especially important for timely access to certain insurance and Medicare provisions.

As such, Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, praised the policy change.

“This new policy is in line with how transgender people live their lives and is in line with the medical community’s consensus on when a person’s gender should be recognized. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force thanks the Social Security Administration for heeding the repeated calls from transgender and LGBT advocates to take notice that the policy was out of step with current medical consensus.”

The previous policy relied on outdated notions that wrongly assumed that in order to treat gender misalignment, genital change surgery was necessary.

While some in the trans community may require these surgeries in order to live gender-aligned, this is not true for all and so such policies create a barbaric threshold that required trans applicants to undergo surgery that was not medically necessary or wanted.

In addition to this, gender realignment surgery is notoriously expensive, adding a further barrier to accessing vital services.

Mara Keisling, speaking to Metro Weekly, articulated just how necessary this change is, saying: “All information for Medicare comes from Social Security, including the gender marker on the Medicare card,” Keisling said in her statement. “If you are not able to change your gender marker on your Social Security account, your gender marker is going to be messed up in other places. Until today, we’ve had to fix each program one at a time.”

The SSA also announced a new directive to employees emphasizing the treatment trans applicants deserve.

The directive includes language proscribing, among other things, that:

  • When speaking to or calling a person, use the name and pronouns appropriate to the individual’s self-identified gender, even if the person has not changed his or her name or updated his or her records; and
  • Be aware that the individual’s gender transition is a personal matter and question and comment regarding a person’s medical treatment and appearance are inappropriate.

“Most people may not see [this change] as a big deal, but transgender people know that this seemingly small technical change will protect their privacy and give them more control over their own lives,” Keisling added.

Keisling’s National Center for Transgender Equality has put out a guide to these changes and what they mean for the community. You can read that guide here.


Image Credit: Thinkstock.


Ameen Azzam
Ameen Azzam4 years ago

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Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider4 years ago

Very good :-)

Lisa Sears
Lisa Sears4 years ago

It notes that most people may not see this change as a big deal. Thank the heavens that all my friends think it's a HUGE deal.

Dottie Small
Dottie Small4 years ago

Amazing, another positive and wonderful step in the right direction. What an exciting way to brighten a dreary evening. Hang in there everyone. Our time will come.

Tish Levee
Tish Levee4 years ago


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran4 years ago

i wonder how this will affect the thousands of government statistics out there. still i believe that this is very good news.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia4 years ago

I hope to see the day the trans community can be who they are without judgement and hate. I also help they will one day have their insurance companies cover the medical care they so desperately need, such as hormones and therapy.

John B.
John B4 years ago

thanks Steve for the article. Respect for Transgendered individuals is long overdue.

Michelle Steiner
Michelle Steiner4 years ago

Annelies, the matter is that gender and sex do not necessarily equate to each other. Being transsexual is not a matter of clothing; it's a matter of identity.

Annelies Haussler
liessi Haussler4 years ago

I'm very gender non-conformist but I like to use that as a reminder that "woman" or "female" is not limited to frilly, giggly and scared of spiders. So many of my personality traits are pigeon-holed as "masculine" but I don't understand why anyone would try to deny the sexual gender they were born with. If you're a man who likes to wear dresses, go for it. If you're a woman who prefers jack boots and other women, equally acceptable in my eyes. But be who you are and help us all accept that "normal" really doesn't exist.