When Caitlyn Jenner legally changed her name and gender on Sept. 25, the Internet rejoiced. It was Starbucks cup official just two weeks after she first filed the petition with the Los Angeles County Courts.
But not everyone has the power of celebrity on their side. The process of obtaining legal recognition of one's name and gender can often be frustrating — yet the issue of accurate identification is one most cisgender (that is, non-trans) individuals rarely think about.
"Every time a cis person pulls out their identification to buy a bottle of wine, cash a check or verify their identity at the post office, TSA or anywhere, it's done without a second thought," Lourdes Ashley Hunter, Chief Operations Officer at Casa Ruby LGBT Center, the National Director of the Trans Women of Color Collective and a well-known advocate for trans rights, told MTV News.
"When trans people don't have [access to] identification that authenticates and reflects how they see themselves, they are navigating life with heightened potential for violence."
Not having access to an accurate, up-to-date form of identification that matches one's gender presentation can create barriers to obtaining employment, housing or medical services, as well as influence interactions with the police, according to Hunter. It is also simply traumatic.
"When you pull out your ID and it doesn’t have the name or gender marker, you're outing yourself ... Outing is a form of violence. Trans people are being traumatized at the anticipation of violence simply for not having identification that reflects their authentic selves."
Despite the importance of trans people having access to an accurate form of identification, "the process, as it is, can be tricky, intimidating and time consuming," said Michael Silverman, Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.
"Having access to lawyers who can help can certainly make the process easier," he continued. To that end, TLDEF's The Name Change Project helps transgender individuals connect with volunteer lawyers who can guide them through the process.
TLDEF works primarily with people who are on the opposite end of the economic spectrum from Jenner: Two-thirds of its clients are under 30 years old, two-thirds are people of color, two-thirds earn less than $10,000 a year and two-thirds receive Medicaid, according to Silverman.
Silverman said the costs of the various bureaucratic hoops people need to jump through to get their IDs up-to-date can make the process nearly impossible for some. The total cost -- including lawyer fees, background checks, finger prints and medical visits -- can exceed $1000, a price that people living well below the poverty line (like many of TLDEF's clients) can't readily pay.
The identification process varies depending on state, Silverman said, with some, like California (where Jenner changed her name), having an "easier" to navigate system than others. Transgender individuals may also encounter certain discriminatory issues in their local courts -- like the unlawful request of medical records.
"There is no state that requires people to show medical records to change their names; we generally have the freedom to do that," Silverman said. "But, with transgender individuals, courts feel free to demand these things that aren't legally required at all and that can add layers of complexity for people who may already be undergoing medical care or those who don't have a lawyer."
Ultimately, Silverman said, it's most important for individuals seeking their name change to "persevere" through the process because "the benefits are great."
Hunter advises those going through the process to seek out resources. "I think it’s really, really critical for young people, trans people, undocumented people, anyone navigating systems of oppression to always reach out for support," Hunter said. "Find people, reach out for education and learn more. There are systems designed to stop you from reaching happiness, but there are people who want to support you."