Illustration by Kalah Allen

IT'S ON Curtis Espinoza's Oregon ID card every day: a bold "M" under the word "Sex."

Problem is, Espinoza doesn't identify as male. The 26-year-old Portlander is transgender, and identifies largely, though not wholly, as female. (Espinoza prefers the pronouns "they" or "them" to reflect that ambiguity.) So Espinoza feels a twinge of discomfort when pulling out the ID. That "M" should be an "F."

"It makes me feel inferior," Espinoza said recently at an Old Town coffee shop. "It's a daily reminder that I'm a little inadequate."

This is not a unique scenario, and transgender advocates say that many like Espinoza—who are already marginalized too often—face unnecessary barriers when trying to change the "sex" designation on their state-issued IDs. Now, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is taking a step to make that process a bit easier.

Starting in early January, the DMV will include a special form on its website for transgender people who'd like to change the gender marker on their driver's license or state ID. The department is also vastly expanding the number of professionals who can sign off on such a switch.

The changes, advocates say, represent one fewer hurdle transgender people will face.

"You're talking about the ability of a severely marginalized population to navigate the system," says Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), which started lobbying for changes earlier this year. "When it comes to this level of identity, we feel like it's time for that current process to be modernized."

There are no solid figures on the number of transgender people in Oregon, but Frazzini says BRO has seen an uptick in complaints about requirements for changing the gender marker on IDs. (Espinoza is a volunteer with BRO's Trans Justice Working Group.)

Currently, the state of Oregon keeps a list of roughly 110 therapists statewide. If you want to change the gender on your driver's license—and haven't gotten the change approved in court or undergone surgery—you'll need a letter from one of these therapists, assuring the DMV you're "participating in gender-reassignment therapy and living full-time as the desired gender."

"Where do you find a qualified therapist that's affordable, that's accessible, that doesn't have a six-month waiting list?" asks Barbara McCullough-Jones, director of the Q Center, an LGBTQ community center on N Mississippi.

The new policy, going into effect on January 2, does away with the restrictive list. Starting next year, transgender Oregonians will be able to take a special form to their "licensed medical or social service provider" to obtain the same authorization, according to an outline provided by the DMV.

It might sound like a small change—and driver's licenses are only one of a tangled maze of documents trans people have to wrestle with while transitioning from one gender to another—but advocates say it makes a big difference for a population that has outsize difficulty obtaining employment, and therefore health insurance. There's also a sense that a specific government form for gender changes will help normalize the process, which a DMV spokesman characterized as one of its "most infrequent transactions."

"I have run into DMV employees who might not be as accepting," says Espinoza. "To have a form every DMV has to follow would maybe alleviate that, or at least alleviate the fears those of us in the transgender community have."

There are indications the oncoming change is not the end of this issue. A blog called Gender Identity Watch recently posted criticisms of the upcoming policy change, arguing it is unnecessary and potentially harmful, and that the process has been overly secretive.

Along with its comments, the blog posted an internal Basic Rights Oregon memo, dated October 29, that Frazzini acknowledged is authentic. While applauding the removal of the approved therapist list, the document shows BRO has discussed a stronger change with the state—one that would allow Oregonians to make their own call on whether their ID says "M" or "F" without a professional's signature. Such a "self-attestation" policy, the memo argues, would put Oregon at the forefront of the fight for transgender equality.

"BRO appreciates the opportunity to explore moving forward with a gender designation self-attestation process," the memo says. "Self-attestation would ensure that ALL transgender Oregonians have access to an ID card that reflects their gender identity, regardless of their access to transgender-friendly health care providers."

DMV spokesman David House says the changes being implemented next year are the only ones currently in the works. Governor John Kitzhaber's office, meanwhile, is keeping an open mind.

"We've met with some of the advocates seeking this change, and we are very encouraged by their leadership," says spokesperson Melissa Navas. "We have some additional follow up and due diligence before we meet with advocates and further explore more steps."