Yesterday marked the start of the Social Security Administration finally getting their shit together and allowing us USian trans folks the ability to change our gender marker in the SSA database without having sex reassignment surgery first. The guidelines are almost identical to those which were established for changing one's gender marker in the Department of State database for passports, etc, under Secretary Hillary R. Clinton (the R is for Rodham, but I prefer to believe it is for Roarin'). Now all that is needed is a letter from a physician stating that appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition has been undergone or proof of another government-issued gender marker change (such as the aforementioned passports).
This is a really big deal, peeps. Many trans folks simply can't afford the surgery and many others don't want it. It's a personal decision. While it is one I am making for myself, it is not one which should be pushed on anyone in order to access the rights and privileges of one's citizenship. The social security cards themselves may not carry any gender marker, but it is kept in the database, and queries will reveal the gender marker inconsistency.
Before the SSA changed their policy, the difficulty in remaining (or even going) "stealth" (where no one knows our history publicly/professionally) was quite high. Employers, banks, creditors, universities, etc, etc tie a lot of information and eligibility to the social security number, and a name change isn't always enough. SSA policy is to inform the requestors of all information that there is no need to consider information outside of the identity of the person being verified, but many requestors worry about compliance. Even still, a lot of this information is semi-public. It can affect all sorts of benefits and other government forms (such as FAFSA) and an inconsistency in the database versus other forms of documentation may lead to a denial of benefits.
The SSA database was the last huge step towards dealing with the gender marker change. It's time to party, y'all. First round's on me, as now I only need two copies of the same letter to change my SSA database gender marker and my passport at the same time. Cheers!