LGBT Pride month may be coming to a close, but the state of Oregon is giving queer activists a reason to celebrate all year long: a new, gender-neutral option on their driver's licenses. Though several other countries have provided a "third gender" or gender-neutral category on official documents, Oregon is the first state in the U.S. to do so.
To be clear, this isn't just a case of Oregon simplifying the process of changing a person's sex on identification cards from "male" to "female." Those sorts of policies have been instituted in states from coast to coast over the past several decades and have made life a little easier for the transgender community. (If you know trans folk, though, you know there's a lot more to the process of transitioning than that.)
Oregon's new policy upends the male/female binary with a gender-neutral option. It's meant to accommodate people who don't identify as male or female for physiological, psychological, or other reasons. Per the Oregon Department of Transportation:
"Under a new administrative rule approved June 15 by the Oregon Transportation Commission, card holders who do not wish to identify as either male or female will have a third option when they obtain, renew or replace their license, instruction permit or ID card at Oregon DMV. An X will appear instead of M or F in Oregon driver records and on the driver license, instruction permit or ID card.... The new rule came about after an Oregon resident’s court order authorized a sex change from female to 'non-binary.'"
Critics of the update say that it will have a negative impact on security. For example, they argue that it will give law enforcement, TSA agents, and other officials fewer tools to identify potentially dangerous persons.
Supporters counter that gender isn't an especially effective identifier in the first place. Depending on their style of dress, it might be difficult to gauge a person's gender without forcing the person to disrobe. Fingerprinting, retinal scans, and facial recognition are more reliable, harder to disguise, and, like or not, they're becoming increasingly common.
Oregon drivers can update their licenses beginning next week. The change is free for those renewing their licenses; drivers with valid licenses who want replacements will need to pay the standard replacement fee.
For additional information, visit the Oregon DMV website.