What is Gender ‘X’? Oregon and California Are Breaking With M/F Binary

Gender X
Abbot Flatt claps during an Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle department public hearing on the rights of transgender people as the state considers adding a third gender choice to driver's licenses and identification cards, in Portland, Oregon, on May 10. The policy was unanimously approved on June 15. Terray Sylvester/Reuters

Gender binary is history—on the West Coast, at least. The state of Oregon approved the introduction of a third gender option on driver's licenses Thursday in what is the first official alternative to the male/female binary in the U.S.

The Oregon Transportation Commissions unanimously approved a policy introducing option “X” for nonspecified, rather than “M” for male and “F” for female, on drivers’ licenses and identification cards starting as early as July.

"I very much plan to head to the nearest DMV and ask for that ID to be corrected on July 3rd," Jamie Shupe, an Army veteran who petitioned for the nonbinary gender option, told Reuters. "And then I'll no doubt stand out front of the building, or sit in the car, and cry."

Shupe made history last year when he became the first person in the U.S. to win the right to legally identify as nonbinary. "I was assigned male at birth due to biology," Shupe, 52, who prefers to be called “Jamie” rather than using any pronoun, told Oregon Live at the time.

"My gender identity is definitely feminine. My gender identity has never been male, but I feel like I have to own up to my male biology. Being nonbinary allows me to do that. I'm a mixture of both. I consider myself as a third sex," Shupe said.

Although Oregon beat California in official recognition of a third gender in an identification document, the Golden State is close to passing a comprehensive legislation known as the Gender Recognition Act. The bill simplifies the process of legal gender changes and introduces the nonbinary gender option “X” in identification documents. The law was approved in the Senate on May 31 and is undergoing scrutiny in the state assembly.

A 2015 survey of more than 27,000 transgender people across all 50 states found that 68 percent of respondents didn’t have an ID reflecting their preferred name or gender. Nearly one third (32 percent) of those whose IDs didn’t match their preferred gender reported being verbally harassed, assaulted or denied benefits or services as a consequence.

Elsewhere in the world, the existence of a third gender is already a reality in society and in the legal sphere. 

In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court issued a historic ruling recognizing that “it is the right of every human being to choose their gender.”

Nepal was the first country to recognize the need for a third gender option in the census, a decision taken in 2007 and implemented four years later. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Canada also grant a degree of legal status to nonbinary or "third gender" people.

Social media has likewise adapted to gender fluidity. Social-networking website Facebook and dating app Tinder expanded their gender options in recent years to include agender (people who do not identify with or conform to any gender), bigender (people who experience two gender identities, either simultaneously or varying between the two), cisgender (people who identify with the gender identity they were assigned at birth), intersex (people who present biological characteristics of both male and female) and two-spirit (a Native American term describing a third gender).

Even in biology, sex is not the rigid binary previously thought by scientists, as reproductive organs do not always follow the dichotomy of male/female. Some species transition from one sex to the other in the course of their lives through a process known as protogyny (from female to male) and protandry (from male to female).