In what could be termed a milestone in recognising the rights of people who do not identify themselves as male or female, the United States has issued its first passport with an "X" gender designation. It expects to offer the option more broadly next year, the State Department said on Wednesday, October 27.
Gender 'X' is defined as an intersex, indeterminate or unspecified, and could relate to either sex or gender information collected about a person. The X category refers to any person who does not exclusively identify as either a male or a female.
According to the Associated Press, the department did not identify the passport recipient, but an intersex activist from Fort Collins, Colorado Dana Zzyym said they received it. Zzyym prefers a gender-neutral pronoun and has been in a legal battle since 2015 with the State Department to get a passport that did not require Zzyym to lie about gender by choosing either male or female.
Zzyym picked up the UPS package with the passport after getting an early morning message and a phone call from their lawyer, Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, that it had arrived. Zzyym had stayed up late at night celebrating Intersex Awareness Day along with two other visiting activists.
Excited To Get Passport
The 63-year-old said it was exciting to get the passport finally. The aim was to help the intersex people of next-generation win recognition as full citizens with rights, rather than travel across the world, Zzyym said.
"I'm not an issue. I'm a human being. That's the point," said Zzyym, who has a tattoo inked on arm that reads, "Never give up," a reminder of goals to fulfil in life.
According to court filings, Zzyym was born with obscure physical, sexual characteristics but was raised as a boy and had few surgeries that failed to make Zzyym look like a man. As a male, Zzyym served in the Navy but later came to identify as intersex while working and studying at Colorado State University. The State Department's denial of Zzyym's passport prevented Zzyym from going to two Organisation Intersex International meetings.
Zzyym would like a chance to travel to another advocacy conference once they resume after the COVID-19 pandemic or perhaps go sea fishing in Costa Rica. However, being on a fixed income, said a road trip to Canada for fishing might be more suitable.
Advocates, who praised the work of Zzyym, said the United States' decision to join more than 12 nations that allow a third-gender option would allow individuals to travel as their authentic selves and possibly keep them safer doing it.
"Intersex, nonbinary, and transgender persons need identity documents that accurately reflect who we actually are, and having mismatched documents can lead to issues with safety and visibility," said Mary Emily O'Hara of GLAAD, the world's largest LGBTQ media advocacy organisation.
Decision Brings Documents In Line With Lived Reality
Jessica Stern, the US special diplomatic envoy for LGBTQ rights, said the decision brings the government documents in line with the "lived reality" that there is a broader spectrum of human sex characteristics than reflected in the past two designations.
"When a person gets identity documents that reflect their true self, they live with greater dignity and respect," Stern said.
In June, the State Department said that it was moving towards adding a third gender marker for nonbinary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming individuals, but that would take time because of required updates to its computer systems. Moreover, a department official said the passport application and system update with the "X" designation option is yet to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, which signs off on all government forms.
The department now also allows applicants to self-select their gender as male or female, no longer needing them to provide any medical certification if their gender did not match that listed on their other identification proofs.
Stern said her office planned to talk about the US experience with the change in its interactions worldwide and hopes that might help inspire other governments to offer the option.
"We see this as a way of asserting and uplifting the human rights of LGBTQ, intersex and gender-nonconforming and nonbinary persons everywhere," she said.