In the United States, almost all male citizens (as well as many male non-citizens living in the U.S.) who are between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to register with Selective Service. The purpose of the Selective Service agency is to provide manpower to the U.S. Armed Forces in an emergency by conducting a draft using a list of young men's names gathered through the registration process.
Young men are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. To be in full compliance with the law, a man turning 18 should register during the period of time beginning 30 days before until 30 days after his 18th birthday (a 60-day window). Late registrations are accepted, but not once a man reaches age 26. Men who do not register within the 60-day window are technically in violation of the law and should register as soon as possible.
Selective Service and Trans Men
As of June of 2016, the U.S. military has announced that trangender people can serve openly in the U.S. Armed Forces. This is a change from the lonstanding prior policy which exempted trans people from service.
How this affects trans people with regard to selective service still remains somewhat complicated, and may or may not change with this new military policy of inclusion. As of July 4, 2016, the web site for the U.S. government's Selective Service System (www.sss.gov) states the following about transgender registration:
"Individuals who are born female and have a gender change are not required to register. U.S. citizens or immigrants who are born male and have a gender change are still required to register."
Though this appears simple on the surface, problems with registration status can arise for a trans man if he is interested in receiving federally-funded student financial aid (like Pell Grants, Work Study, or National Direct Student Loans), working in a federal job, receiving Federal Job Training, or if he is a non-citizen who took up residence in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 25 and is eventually hoping to attain U.S. citizenship. All of these situations will require you to report on your Selective Service status. If you are a male who has never registered with Selective Service, federal aid, training, or jobs may be denied to you, unless you can show a legitimate reason why you never registered or were exempt from registration.
For example, let's say that an 18-year old trans man (we'll call him Alex) transitioned at age 16 and changed all of his legal documentation (driver's license, birth certificate, etc.) to male. Because he was born female, according to the above Selective Service policy, he is not required to register.
Alex applies to college and begins to fill out his applications for student financial aid. These forms inquire whether Alex is registered with Selective Service. Because he has not registered with selective service, Alex has to explain his non-registered status in order to be eligible for various federally-funded programs. This would require that Alex disclose that he was born female, which he may or may not feel comfortable doing with the college administrators in the financial aid office.
This situation creates a the same dilemma for Alex every time he has to fill out some kind of paperwork that requires a declaration of his Selective Service status. Again, depending on his feelings about disclosing his transgender status, this may or may not be an issue for him.
The Selective Service web site includes a paragraph that addresses questions around Financial Aid applications and other forms:
"Transgender students are welcome to contact Selective Service regarding their registration requirements if they are unclear about how they should answer Question 21 or Question 22 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or need a status information letter from Selective Service that clarifies whether or not they are exempt from the registration requirement. This can be done by calling our Registration Information Office on 1-888-655-1825. Individuals who have changed their gender to male will be asked to complete a request form for a status information letter and provide a copy of their birth certificate. One exemption letter may be used in multiple school financial aid processes."
Alex has another option, which is to go ahead and register for Selective Service, since his goverment-issued identification recognizes him as male. Since transgender status cannot be used to exclude an individual's military service, his decision to register should be in keeping with the current military policy of inclusion. Bear in mind that this decision will put Alex's name into the pool of those men who are eligible to be drafted for military service.
Also keep in mind that some states automatically register males of eligible age when they apply for a driver's license. If your driver's license indicates that you are male, then you may be registered when you reach your 18th birthday.
The example of "Alex" above is not intended to be legal advice, nor does it include all the various scenarios and possibilities that may arise around trans people and their Selective Service status. The scenarios described merely illustrate a few of the challenges that may arise when an individual is required to disclose their trans status and/or Selective Service status in certain settings.
For a trans man who was born after December 31, 1959, is 26 years of age or older, and is considered male by a government entity (such as your Social Security records, driver's license, or passport, as explained above), he can no longer register with Selective Service, but he can obtain a letter explaining that he was exempt from having registered. In order to get this letter, you must get a form from Selective Service called the "Status Information Letter" or "SIL." From the Selective Service System web site (www.sss.gov):
"A status information letter from Selective Service clarifies whether or not they are exempt from the registration requirement. This can be done by calling our Registration Information Office on 1-888-655-1825. Individuals who have changed their gender to male will be asked to complete a request form for a status information letter and provide a copy of their birth certificate."
Once you have submitted this form and any necessary documentation, you'll get a letter from Selective Service that states you are were not required to be registered. Keep this letter in your files should any indicent arise where your lack of registration status might become an issue.
But what if my official gender markers are mixed?
For many trans men, the sex/gender recorded on "official" files can vary. For example, a trans male student in college might be listed as male on all of his school records and school ID, but as female on his driver's license and in his Social Security records. When he goes to obtain federal financial aid, problems may arise if there are data mismatches between the school and government records, particularly due to the Selective Service issue. Depending on the knowledge and sensitivity of the school administrator dealing with his case, this could cause problems with obtaining financial aid, as well as potentially difficult interactions.
If your government-assigned gender markers are mixed and you find yourself in a situation where this causes trouble with Selective Service issues (or other disputes over identity), you may wish to obtain a "carry letter" to help alleviate such difficulties. A carry letter is an informal name for a document, usually signed by a medical professional, that declares and explains your trans status. While not a perfect solution, a carry letter can be produced to explain why there may be more than one official gender marker associated with your records.
As we move into an increasingly digitized era, electronic "identity" records from multiple sources are frequently checked against one another, and mismatches in any field-- including sex-- can sometimes cause glitches and problems. Unfortunately, there is no one quick fix for this, as each office that handles personal data may have a different way of dealing with mismatches. The best we can do when such problems arise is to be persistent in trying to solve any problems, seek help and advice from those who advocate for trans people on these issues, and press for change if we are treated unfairly. You may want to keep a log of all dates and details of phone conversations, including the first and last names of the people you have spoken to. Problems of mismatched records-- or multiple records that exist for the same person (which is very common if you've changed your name and gender)-- can often take weeks, months, or even years to resolve. Ask to speak to a supervisor if you feel you are not getting enough information from any specific office, and check back until the problem is resolved.
Keep in mind that "official" policies concerning trans people's legal status as male or female are constantly changing and being questioned in courts of law. This page provides practical information based on careful consideration of current policies and laws, but this page should not be considered legal advice, nor should it be considered to be reflective of official Selective Service policies.
To find out more about Selective Service, visit their web site at www.sss.gov, or call them at 847-688-6888 (TTY: 847-688-2567).
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