A growing number of Kiwis are changing their gender on official documentation.

In the past five years, almost 400 Kiwis have changed their official gender identity on their passport. The number rose from 14 people in 2012 to 114 last year. In 2017, 79 people had done so at the time an Official Information Act request was received in September.

People can choose their gender marker to be male, female or X which means "indeterminate".

Figures released by NZTA show that licence holders defined as "indeterminate" gender had gone from 84 in 2014 to 107 in 2017.

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Jem Traylen came out to lead life as a woman aged 46. It continues to be a hard battle. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jem Traylen came out to lead life as a woman aged 46. It continues to be a hard battle. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Wellington transgender woman Jem Traylen has been transitioning over the past two years. She has changed her gender marker from male to female on her passport and driver's licence. When she applied for an AA card she crossed out all the usual honorifics and wrote "Mx Jem Traylen". She was surprised but delighted when it came back with that exact wording.

"I felt validated. It's great that the business world was responding and understood what Mx meant and could make changes.

"It's still very awkward. You're presenting as a woman with this name but then your ID shows something else. It's just not nice to explain 'yes I'm transgender that's why my ID is different'.

"Some people don't understand."

The self-employed policy adviser has struggled with gender dysphoria all her life. It was only when Traylen turned 46 two years ago that she decided to come out and live life as a woman. Using her new name and pronouns at her old workplace, the Ministry for Primary Industries, gave her proof to change her official documents.

Trans-woman Jem Traylen with her new passport at her Wellington home. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Trans-woman Jem Traylen with her new passport at her Wellington home. Photo / Mark Mitchell

For transgender people who are unemployed it can be harder to change their documents as they don't have proof of their new identity, Traylen explained.

But it was even harder prior to 2012 when requirements to change gender on passports were loosened.

Transgender people had to provide proof of their gender change via NZ birth registration, Family Court declaration or medical evidence. Now Kiwis only need to provide a statutory declaration stating which gender they want displayed with a passport application form.

Naming New Zealand is an organisation that helps transgender, gender diverse and intersex youth update their identity documents to correctly reflect their sex and gender.

It has provided grants to around 30 Wellington youth to change their identification documents since the charity was started in 2015.

Community lawyer and co-founder of Naming NZ Kate Scarlet said it encouraged people to get their passport changed first as it was widely recognised and easier to get changed than a birth certificate.

"Legally it's important for safety so you're not outed and your identity is respected. Emotionally it's important to have your gender affirmed in that way.

"The gender on your birth certificate is the prison you'll be put into. So a transwoman might be put in a men's prison for a while. For some people that can be dangerous."

Jem Traylen dislikes having to explain why her gender on her ID is different to what she's presenting. Changing the gender makes interactions simpler. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jem Traylen dislikes having to explain why her gender on her ID is different to what she's presenting. Changing the gender makes interactions simpler. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Transitioning is hard, really hard. Sometimes Traylen thinks it's not worth it.

"It's like you wake up one day in your 40s and you don't even know how to dress yourself, you don't have the right clothes.

"We spend our whole childhoods learning how to behave in a particular way then suddenly you're going to go to work next week as a woman. I hardly knew how to present myself at all. That was a big practical problem."

More support and funding from the medical community would be a great help, Traylen said. She wanted doctors to be educated on how to treat people struggling with gender dysphoria. She also thought it would be useful if there was an organisation that helped people plan their transition and deal with some of the practical problems.

"You just get on this rollercoaster and it's 'boom', hitting you [with] all the different things. You've just got to do the best you can.

"With transpeople it's like nobody cares... We always seem to come last."