You can change the location at any time. You’ve probably never met anyone quite like Courtney Nicholas. Nicholas, who likes to be called Court, binary option india named Jackson at birth and was raised as a boy.
But at some point it became clear that designation didn’t really fit. I first realized I was not a male about a year and a half, two years ago,” said Nicholas, an 18-year-old Corvallis, Oregon, resident. For a while, Nicholas tried presenting as female, but that didn’t feel right either. Then, last June, Nicholas realized there was another option. In a first-in-the-nation ruling, a Multnomah County judge had just granted a petition by Portland resident Jamie Shupe to legally change sex to non-binary, meaning neither male nor female.
A Polk County judge granted a similar request in November. On March 8, Nicholas became the third person in Oregon — and the first in Benton County — to be granted non-binary status. For Nicholas, it was a moment of validation: “Once I was sure that’s who I am, I wanted that to be legally me as well. Tall and thin, with a bi-level hairstyle that is short on the sides and back but long on top, Nicholas says there are a number of terms that describe their gender identity. You can call me non-binary, you can call me genderqueer, you can call me agender or transgender or androgynous,” they said. I just don’t see gender as being a big part of my world, my personal identity. What’s important, Nicholas said, is taking control of that identity.
The next step for me is going to be getting an updated birth certificate, and eventually a driver’s license and passport,” Nicholas said. It’s going to make a big difference in being able to show my ID to someone and having it reflect myself. Questions of gender identity have been bubbling to the surface of social consciousness for a number of years now, and not just in the United States. Since 2003, Australians have had the option of indicating their gender on identity documents with an X rather than M or F.
India, Pakistan, Nepal, New Zealand, Germany and Canada all grant some level of official recognition to non-binary or “third gender” individuals. And this spring, the Showtime television series “Billions” introduced Taylor Mason, a non-binary character played by non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon. The issue has also played out in the controversy over whether to allow transgender people to choose which public restroom to use. Lawmakers in a number of states have introduced legislation that would either allow transgender individuals to use the restroom they feel more comfortable with or require them to use public facilities that match the gender they were assigned at birth.
The President Barack Obama administration issued a set of guidelines that urged school districts to allow transgender restroom use, but they were withdrawn by President Donald Trump about a month after he took office in January. The idea that some people don’t conform to traditional gender roles is nothing new, said Lorena Reynolds, who represented Nicholas in Benton County Circuit Court. It’s not that these folks didn’t exist before,” she said. They’ve always been in our communities. They’ve always been in our families.
We just haven’t allowed them legal recognition. Oregon courts have been split over granting that recognition to non-binary individuals. 460 of the Oregon Revised Statutes states that a court “may order a legal change of sex . 460 does not specifically allow a designation of non-binary, but it doesn’t prohibit such a designation either. Late last year a judge in Jackson County Circuit Court refused to grant a non-binary gender petition, saying state law doesn’t allow it.
But judges in Multnomah, Polk and now Benton County have chosen to interpret the law more broadly, to include an individual’s choice not to identify as being on one side or another of the standard binary gender divide. With that precedent established, Reynolds thinks the state will see more such petitions, though she’s not expecting a huge number — more of a wave than a flood. But she also thinks pioneers such as Shupe and Nicholas are helping to make things better for those who come after them. Nonbinary folks and trans folks are at high risk for hate crimes,” Reynolds said. Every time they show their ID and that gender marker does not reflect their presentation, they’re subject to harassment.
As we move toward a third option, hopefully that will alleviate a lot of that concern. Advocates for the transgender community say the ability to obtain identity documents that reflect a person’s chosen gender is far more than a symbolic gesture. A 2015 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality found numerous causes for concern. 68 percent of respondents said none of their identity documents had the name or gender marker they preferred while just 11 percent said all of their IDs were accurate. 32 percent of respondents said they had been verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave or assaulted after showing an ID with a name or gender marker that did not match their gender presentation. 54 percent of those who were out or perceived as transgender in grades K-12 reported being verbally harassed, 24 percent physically attacked and 13 percent physically assaulted at school.