The New York Times
A judge in Oregon has granted a petition allowing a person to legally choose neither sex and be classified as nonbinary: an important development for transgender Americans while civil rights and sexual identity are in the national spotlight, advocates and legal experts said.
Though the petition was granted with little fanfare in a two-paragraph decision on Friday, the experts said that, to their knowledge, the ruling was the first of its kind in the country.
Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, Calif., described the decision in an email as a “historic step” toward the government’s recognizing “nonbinary members of our community and ensuring they have access to identity documents that reflect who they are, just like everyone else.”
The petitioner seeking the new designation, Jamie Shupe of Portland, Ore., is a retired United States Army sergeant born with male anatomy who had successfully battled the military to be given discharge papers that reflected the female sex.
Jamie — who prefers to use only a first name and the pronouns “they” and “their,” instead of singular pronouns — underwent hormone treatments to transition to a woman. But ultimately, neither sex fit, Jamie said in an interview on Friday.
Expecting the judge to challenge the bid for nonbinary status, the petitioner went to court with letters from two doctors attesting that Jamie is neither male nor female.
Instead, the moment was mostly understated. The judge, Amy Holmes Hehn of Circuit Court in Multnomah County, Ore., told Lake Perriguey, the lawyer who represented Jamie, that Mr. Perriguey was “pushing the envelope” with the petition, he said.
Mr. Perriguey said he replied: “We’re not, really. The envelope just needs to get bigger.”
Oregon law does not specifically limit gender choices to male or female. For decades, the legal process for a change of sex has been similar to the process for changing a name, Mr. Perriguey said.
A petitioner can submit the paperwork and pay the filing fee, and a notice of the proposed change is posted for 14 days. A judge can approve a change of sex if it is determined that the person has undergone surgical, hormonal or other treatment appropriate for them, according to the law.
Judge Holmes Hehn’s ruling could help call attention to other issues, such as gender-neutral bathrooms, advocates said. North Carolina, for example, enacted a law that bars transgender people from using public bathrooms that do not match the sex on their birth certificates. That drew intense criticism and prompted many businesses and entertainers to boycott the state.
Jamie described the ruling, which was reported by The Daily Dot on Friday, as “totally being liberated from the boundaries of being male or female.”
It was the culmination of a nearly 50-year journey. Growing up as one of eight children, Jamie strongly identified as female. That identification was suppressed by Jamie’s mother. An 18-year stint in the Army — when gay men and lesbians were banned from the armed forces, and later under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — offered little relief for Jamie’s gender dysphoria.
“It was like totally living in fear,” Jamie said. “It was like a Pandora’s box that I couldn’t open.”
It was not until 2013, at the age of 49 and after retiring from the military, that Jamie had to decide whether to “begin living authentically as the woman that I have always been for my remaining years,” according to “Transgender Lives: Your Stories,” a collection of essays that appeared with editorials about transgender experiences in The New York Times.
“I was denied the right as a child and while in the military to ever explore my gender identity because of the hostility of society for violating gender norms or for expressing any form of gender variance,” Jamie said in an email. “So I was literally doing in my 40s and early 50s what children are doing nowadays.”
Jamie lived for a year in Pittsburgh, got hormone treatments and a name change with help from the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. But the city felt inhospitable to transgender people. (Jamie declined to provide a birth name, and that information has been sealed under court order.)
“I had neighbors yelling at me for being in women’s clothing,” Jamie said. “It was just horrible.”
After researching places friendly to the transgender community, Jamie moved to Portland in 2014 and decided it was the place to embrace being nonbinary. “Nobody cares who or what you are in Portland.”
Jamie has been married for 29 years to a woman and has no plans to undergo surgery. “I’m at peace with my biology.”
The next move will be to get the state agency that issues driver’s licenses to change its forms to include a nonbinary choice, Mr. Perriguey said.
Foster Noone, 19, a student at Tulane University in New Orleans and a member of the national youth council for the Transgender Law Center, said the ruling was heartening news for young nonbinary people.
Gender is frequently treated as if “there are two different types of bodies and two types of genders, and that’s the way it’s been since the beginning of time, and that’s just not true,” Noone said.