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
Broadly speaking, transsexuals (both female-to-male and male-to-female) are exempt from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, and would thus most likely also be exempted from a draft should one be initiated. However, that does not necessarily mean that FTM transsexuals should simply ignore the registration process.
For a trans man, problems with registration status can arise 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 a trans man between the ages of 18 and 25, whether or not he registers will largely have to do with whether or not the government considers him male. There is no "official" policy as to the registration process for transsexuals. With regard to Selective Service, the government appears to deal primarily with the sex markers that appear on their own official documents (such as on your Social Security records, driver's license, or passport), and the law states that "male[s]... between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to register with Selective Service."
If you are between the ages of 18 and 25 and you are considered male by any government entity (such as on your Social Security records, driver's license, or passport), then it would be wise to register with Selective Service (especially if you plan on receiving federal financial aid or hope to become a U.S. citizen). Some states automatically register males of eligible age when they apply for a driver's license. Should a draft arise, you would most likely be exempted from military service as a transsexual. This is similar to the situation of men who have certain physical disabilities-- even if their disabilities may eventually disqualify them from serving, they still must register between the ages of 18 and 25, and would then be exempted later should a draft arise.
If your government-issued documentation lists you as female (such as your Social Security records, driver's license, or passport), then you do not have to register.
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." This letter can be obtained from the Selective Service web site (www.sss.gov) or by calling 847-688-6888 (TTY: 847-688-2567). There is a section on the form that deals specifically with transsexual status.
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. This letter will not refer to your transsexual status; it will simply state that you are exempt from registration. 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 transsexual 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 transsexual 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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