An Oregon judge has allowed a 52-year-old retired Army tank mechanic to change gender identity. Not from male to female, or vice versa. But to a new, third gender.
Jamie Shupe is now legally non-binary — widely believed to be a first for the United States.
Oregon joins several countries in recognizing a third gender. In 2014, India became the largest country in the world to have an official third option, following in the footsteps of Pakistan, Australia and Germany.
Shupe was born male, got married and had a child.
"I was in a deep, dark depression because I had boxed myself into this male identity that I couldn't stand anymore," Shupe says.
Three years ago, Shupe decided enough is enough.
"I told family members, we either let me out of this box or I'm shooting myself in the head. Things really got that bad," Shupe recalls.
Shupe is no longer legally male or female and prefers the pronoun "they."
So they left the military, moved into a cabin near Deep Creek Lake, Md., transitioned by taking hormones and grew breasts.
But Shupe still didn't feel fully female.
"Nobody can accept this thing ... 'you can't be female and have a penis,' " Shupe says. "That just makes people's heads explode. And that was another reason why I wanted out of this female classification because I have no intention of removing my genitals."
Three years ago, Shupe and their wife of 29 years, Sandy, moved to Portland, Ore.
The transition and the gender changes have been tough, Sandy says, but they still love each other.
"What if your spouse was in an accident and they were totally, they were, like disfigured? Would you still not love that person, just because of what they look like on the outside?" Sandy Shupe says. "That's my take on it. Jamie's still the same."
Sandy says her spouse is more pleasant to be around now, especially since they moved west.
Jamie Shupe tears up with gratitude when talking about the move.
"All you have to do is go on the Human Rights Campaign website and look up transgender and LGBT protection laws and the West Coast just lights up the map for protections," Shupe says.
But that didn't stop them from pushing for more.
A few months ago, Shupe applied to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles to be listed as non-binary. The agency refused, so they asked a Multnomah County judge for the new gender designation, and won.
As of now, the state isn't fighting the decision, says DMV spokesman David House. Instead, he says, the agency is looking into how to comply.
"We expect there would be a computer system change required, probably form changes. Also it's very likely that it would require some legislative and administrative rule changes," House says.
He expects that in a few months, Oregon driver's license applications will have new gender designations, in addition to male and female.
"Is it a third box? Or will it require multiple boxes?" House says. "We just don't know the answer to those questions; we're going to need to study that."
But just having this change is a move in the right direction, says Nancy Haque, co-executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, an LGBTQ advocacy group. She says while there are 50 ways to identify gender on Facebook, a third box is probably enough for now.
"I don't think anybody's asking the DMV or any other big institution to have 50 boxes," Haque says.
Jamie Shupe doesn't care whether there are 50 boxes or three; they say they're just thrilled to have broken such a long-standing, monolithic barrier.
"Most of the excitement is feeling the freedom of being set free of this classification system that I do not agree with," Shupe says.
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