Navy veteran and U.S. citizen Dana Zzymm, 58, needed a passport but ran up against an impediment in the application paperwork — the section in which one must check a box marked either “M” for male or “F” for female. Zzyym — who was born with ambiguous genitalia, identifies as intersex, and prefers to be referred to as “they” and “them” — wrote “X” on the form and added a simple explanation: “I am not male or female.”
The passport application was denied.
So, in what some are seeing as a test case for the rights of intersex individuals, Zzyym has filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John F. Kerry and the director of the Colorado Passport Agency. Zzyym is not seeking financial compensation, said lawyer Paul Castillo — simply a policy change. “Dana is being deprived of the right to lawfully exit the United States because of personal characteristics, and that’s discrimination, pure and simple,” Castillo told Reuters.
The suit also alleges Zzyym would have had to lie under penalty of perjury in order to get a passport.
Some countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Nepal allow people to mark their gender as “X” or “Other” on their passports.
During a hearing on Wednesday, a federal judge urged the State Department to give Zzyym a gender-neutral passport, adding he might issue an order forcing the government to do so, The Associate Press reported.
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Zzyym said “This is who I am. This is how I was born. Many people are able to get their passports with their biological sex, and I should be allowed to do the same thing.”
According to the suit, doctors initially left the sex designation on Zzyym’s birth certificate blank, later filling it in as “male” when Zzyym’s parents decided to raise their child as a boy named Brian Orin Whitney. As a child, they underwent numerous gender-assignment surgeries which resulted in serious scarring and residual pain. Zzymm’s family never explained the reason for the surgeries, according to Zzyym.
While still identifying as male, Zzyym enlisted in the Navy, completing tours of duty in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf, choosing not to reenlist in 1984 because the organization placed great scrutiny on “his” sexual orientation. A legal name change followed in 1995, to Dana Alix Zzymm, and they tried living as a female, but “living as a woman was not right either.” In spite of Zzyym’s own persistent sense of unease that something was not right, it was not until 2009 that a urologist confirmed Zzyym’s suspicion they had not been born with a clear physiological sex, according to the complaint. In 2012, Zzyym was issued a birth certificate that does not list a gender.
Zzyym is now the associate director for the United States affiliate of global advocacy group Organization Intersex International.