If you’ve decided to take the plunge and commit to transition, you’ll know that you have to live for a year as your chosen gender. In British Columbia, this is a prerequisite for applying for Medical Services Plan funding for Gender Reassignment Surgery, Nearly all surgeons performing GRS will also expect it.
The one-year Real Life Experience, or RLE, means that you have to live completely and immersively in your gender. This involves changing name, identification and all kinds of legal and financial records to properly document and confirm your new identity, Because this is a long and intricate process, you will want to make sure you do it only once. While you can change documentation back, it’s at least twice the work.
What follows is written for male-to-female transsexuals living in British Columbia, Canada who are planning to have their GRS covered by the provincial Medical Services Plan. Readers elsewhere need to check with local authorities and resources.
Latest change: added name change info for Elections Canada and Elections BC.
- FIRST OF ALL – DO EVERYTHING BELOW WHILE APPEARING IN YOUR NEW GENDER. That might seem obvious, but it gives you credibility.
- Get your legal name change document (NCD). This is not hard in BC. Take two pieces of government-issued ID, one of which must be a birth certificate or equivalent and the other must bear your photo – a driver’s license works well. If you’re married, you must also take your marriage certificate. Go to the local RCMP detachment and complete a request for a name change. They will fingerprint you and collect your fees and send everything off to Vital Statistics. Your new name change document will arrive in about four weeks, at which point you legally have your new name. The RCMP will notify you shortly thereafter to tell you they’ve destroyed your fingerprint impressions.
- Get a letter from your psychiatrist stating that you’ve been diagnosed as transgender and as part of your treatment you are living full-time as a woman and intending to complete GRS. You’ll need this for the next step.
- Update your driver’s license and CareCard. Take your old driver’s license, your NCD, your CareCard and the above letter – en femme – to a Service BC office and ask to have your license updated with your new name. Ask them to also change the gender marker and show them the letter when they ask. Ask to speak with a supervisor if the front line person is unsure how to proceed. They’ll take your new picture, charge you an update fee and give you a new temp license – the usual drill. DO NOT APPLY for an Enhanced Drivers’ License; it will probably be encoded with your old name and gender which will cause all kinds of problems. Maybe check on this, though.
- While you’re still there, ask them to update your CareCard. It should be a one-stop shop.
- Update your bank accounts. When your new d/l arrives, rejoice in the F that should be there. After you calm down, go to your bank with it and your original NCD (not a copy). My credit union scans d/ls for photo ID for their tellers’ use. If you have a joint account, all parties (e.g. your spouse) must be present. Get them to change your name on everything, scan your new d/l (if they do that) and update any credit cards you have with them (MasterCard etc.).Make sure they also change any loan history records they may have. Get some new cheques printed up.
- Update your Social Insurance Card. Go to a Service Canada office and apply for an updated SIN. You’ll need your old SIN card and your original NCD (not a copy) for this. This will ease confusion when applying for jobs etc.
Update your car insurance. Visit ICBC and make sure your new name is on file. If you have an automatic payment arrangement, make sure they have updated banking info on you.
- Update your doctor and his/her staff. Have them change your name on their files. Show them your updated d/l, NCD etc. Make sure your GP and everyone in the office understands that you now wish to be addressed and treated as a female patient. I’m still getting my GP used to the idea.
- Update your Income Tax information. Get Canada Revenue Services to change their records. You can do this with a cover letter and a photocopy or scan of your NCD attached to your tax return. The first year you do this you won’t be able to e-file or netfile, as you have to send in paper documents.
- Update your name on the Voters’ List. You need to do this with Elections Canada and your provincial Elections agency (here, Elections BC). You can do Elections Canada via a checkbox on the last page of your federal tax return, or you can phone them. If there’s an election coming up, you’ll get a Voter Registration card in the mail with the number to phone. In many cases they can change information over the phone. It’s much easier to do this in advance of an actual election day.
- Update credit cards and much more. Make a list of utilities, credit cards, charities you donate to, financial service and investment companies and so on. Work the list. Most can be done by phone or email; most will want some proof like a scan of your NCD. You’re going to want to change names on all this stuff, including things like tax slips. If you have an investment counsellor they can handle all the financial/investment changes for you.
Update your Will. If you don’t have one, make one. Without it, there can be incredible complications sorting out your affairs if you die with multiple names on different things. Make sure there’s a notarised copy of your NCD attached to it.
- Update your life insurance. Some companies will not cover you if they deem you to be a health risk (e.g. diagnosed with a mental health issue, going for major surgery) or will make you reapply and requalify, thus wiping out any accumulated benefits. They will want a copy of your NCD.
- Update your property insurance. A claim made in your new name might be horrendously delayed if they still have your old name on file.
- Update your extended health insurance, if any (e.g. Blue Cross). I had to do this with my former employer as I’m on a retirees plan. After that I simply enclosed a cover letter and a scan of my NCD with my receipts one month to explain why the name on the prescriptions had changed. All of a sudden all the estrogen Rx’s made sense…
Talk to Human Resources at your employer and make sure they’ve addressed pension issues, extended health name changes etc. Knowledgeable HRs will do this; others may need handholding.
- Update property title and tax information. If you’re a property owner, take your latest assessment and/or property tax bill that shows your roll number, along with your NCD, to the Land Titles Office. If you do this in person it’s over-the-counter, otherwise it can take a couple of weeks for them to send you the form kit. Get your name changed and it will cascade down to your property tax records. You’ll need this whether or not property issues become, well, an issue.
- Start gathering everything for your GRS assessment interview, even though it’s a while away. That’s a topic for another post.
- Open a file at the Montreal GRS clinic. Assuming you’re going for GRS in Montreal (which is where MSP will send you), find out from Montreal how long their waiting list is. Ask them to open a file on you even though you haven’t had your assessment done and aren’t yet approved for funding.
- Update your birth certificate. To update your birth certificate, find out how long the processing time is (usually several months). They will require a letter confirming GRS has been done before they will change the gender marker on it. From that and Montreal’s booking dates, figure out when you should send in the update request. You can send the GRS confirmation letter after processing has begun but it needs to get there before the certificate is complete. So, for example, if Montreal is booking for May 2015 and it will take 6 months to update your b/c, send in your b/c update around the middle of January 2015, which will allow two months to get the letter, forward it to the b/c folks and get the certificate amended.
- Update or apply for your passport. They take a while to process. You’ll need your updated birth certificate and your old passport if you have one. Take your NCD along as well.
Be patient. Be very, very patient. Do bear in mind that many of these steps are very lengthy. From the time you’re diagnosed as transgender by your own therapist to being interviewed and approved by MSP’s approved psychiatrists to receiving MSP approval for payment to actually getting the surgery done can take at least a year to 18 months. It’s very important to have everything in order, with proper documentation so as not to cause further delays.
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