Tony Strat stands in the grass outside his screen-printing studio in the Upper Valley, washing the ink off of used screens with a hose. Even though he’s scrubbed the screens down, shadows of designs he’s printed are still visible. “Gender is a social construct,” one of them reads.
Strat, 26, is an artist, entrepreneur and athlete. He’s worked in finance and started his own skateboarding company. He's also transgender. He started his transition process last year.
Many people associate transitioning with the physical side of things, hormones and surgery. But that process often goes hand-in-hand with changes in documentation and IDs.
Transgender advocates say navigating the process of altering these documents can be difficult, especially when dealing with multiple states.
Strat’s experience is illustrative of that challenge.
Before he’s completely able to live as a man, to pass as a man to others, it’s hard to plan for the future.
“It’s kind of like, get all this done and then figure out where I’m going,” he said. “I have to live day-by-day at this point.”
Documents that don’t match his identity, outing him as a transgender person, can open him up to harassment and violence. He said he’s worried about how it could affect his career prospects, increasing the chance of discrimination in hiring and his ability to secure professional licenses.
Like a lot of people in the Upper Valley, Strat’s roots span two states. He was born in New Hampshire, but grew up - and now lives - in Vermont.
“It can be complicated and overwhelming,” said Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLAD, of the process of changing over documents. She’s worked on many legal cases involving transgender rights.
Policies vary state-by-state, she said, and it can be challenging for transgender people to navigate multiple systems.
Strat worked through the state of Vermont, where he lives, to change the name and gender on his driver’s license, and his name on his birth certificate. But when it came to changing the gender on his birth certificate, he said he got stuck.
In Vermont, he was instructed to go to New Hampshire, where he was born. In New Hampshire, he thought he had the documentation he needed, but said he was told a judge would need to do research before deciding if the court had jurisdiction to give him a hearing.
“I felt like I hit the end of my road. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
After weeks of waiting, Strat decided to do some research of his own. He drove down to a legal library in Concord and found a couple cases that seemed relevant to his experience.
He printed out copies, wrote a letter to the judge, drove back up to the court, and turned in the file with his petition. He was granted a hearing for Sept. 1st.
A spokesperson with the state courts said the process should now be straightforward for Strat. These cases are becoming increasingly common in New Hampshire, she said.
Ahead of the hearing, Strat’s still worried, but he won’t be alone at the courthouse.
His friends and family will be driving up to join him, and Strat’s printing t-shirts for them to wear.
The shirts will bear statistics, like the suicide rate for transgender people, to raise awareness around some of the challenges facing the transgender community more broadly.
Strat also started an online petition, where people can pledge their support.
“Doing things for myself is much more than just for myself," he said. "It’s for other people that go through the same struggles I go through, that have to face all these issues, that feel alone.”
When it’s all said and done, Strat hopes his story helps others navigate the process for themselves.
Editor's Note: Strat was successfully able to change the gender on his birth certificate with a court order from a Grafton County judge.