Nic Sakurai was excited to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles last week. The D.C. resident couldn’t sleep and left home at 4:24 a.m., eager to be the first person inside when the doors opened more than three hours later.
Getting a new driver’s license isn’t usually a thrilling experience, but Sakurai had bigger — historic, even — plans.
Sakurai, who doesn’t identify with a specific gender and uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” would become the first in the District to receive the city’s new gender-neutral driver’s license, which designates genders by male, female or X.
On Tuesday, the District became the first jurisdiction in the country to offer nonbinary driver’s licenses and identification cards. Sakurai — who took a Lyft from their Columbia Heights home to a DMV office in Southeast Washington — was first in line and the first person in the country to officially receive a gender-neutral ID card.
About 10 other residents also received a gender designation of “X” on their licenses Tuesday.
“It’s important to me because it’s knowing that as a District of Columbia resident, I’m valid and not erased,” said Sakurai, who wore a colorful summer scarf in their license photo. “It’s one piece of a larger picture.”
The District, however, won’t be alone for long as the only U.S. jurisdiction with this option. On Monday, Oregon will become the first state to issue gender-neutral IDs. Australia offers gender-neutral passports, and Canada and India have similar offerings.
“Washington, D.C., has long been a leader in LGBTQ rights and gender issues, and this change is the most recent example of our city’s commitment to inclusivity,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a statement. “The safety and well-being of all Washingtonians is my top priority, and whenever we are presented with an opportunity to improve the lives of residents and better align our policies with D.C. values, I will take it.”
For Sakurai, the availability of a gender-neutral ID card has long been awaited. The 36-year-old, who is the associate director of the LGBT Equity Center at the University of Maryland, started publicly identifying as neither male nor female in 2003.
Sakurai attended a progressive, all-male Catholic high school in Ohio and grappled with questions surrounding masculinity. At the end of high school, Sakurai came out as bisexual and gay.
The more Sakurai learned about gender, the more they came to realize they didn’t identify as a man or a woman.
“I quickly understood that lots of people for thousands of years have experienced gender as more than just male and female,” said Sakurai, who moved to Washington in 2003. “I am neither a man nor a woman. I don’t experience a gender, I don’t feel as one gender or another. I don’t think of things that I do — my affectations, how I dress, the kinds of things I am interested in — I don’t think of them to be about gender.”
The D.C. DMV worked with the National Center for Transgender Equality for months to develop and implement the new driver’s licenses. Anyone can have an unspecified designation on a license, and people are not required to provide proof that they identify as neither male nor female.
The DMV forms required to obtain a new license have three options for gender: male, female and “unspecified or other.” Those who choose “unspecified or other” will have an “X” on their license next to gender.
Arli Christian, the state policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the organization approached the D.C. DMV about six months ago regarding gender-neutral licenses. The DMV told the organization it was working on the new policy.
From there, Christian said the organization helped to hash out best policies surrounding the new licenses.
Christian said although the nation’s capital is the first jurisdiction to adopt the new license option, they have heard of people able to change their gender designations on ID cards on a case-by-case basis, although such cases are rare.
“My job is to remove barriers to people receiving accurate gender markers,” Christian said. “This is a step forward in the acknowledgment that gender is not so important to have listed on our identifications; as a society we understand that it is not an important way to separate and identify people. Gender is not something the government needs to be regulating.”
Sakurai said they realize the new D.C. license could provoke conversations and is open to talking about nonbinary identities to anyone who may ask.
“I didn’t previously feel like I had a choice,” Sakurai said, referring to licenses that forced a choice of male and female gender designations. “It’s been in my mind for 14 years that this can be possible.”