Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Intersex Person Sues United States|in Quest for an Honest Passport

DENVER (CN) - It's a crime to lie on a passport application, so a Navy veteran born with "ambiguous external sex characteristics" has sued the Department of State for a passport with the label intersex or indeterminate.

Roughly one in 1,500 people are born intersex, according to a study in the American Journal of Human Biology. Intersex people's external and internal sexual characteristics differ.

Dana Alix Zzyym sued the Secretary of State and the State Department's passport director for Colorado on Oct. 25, for a passport that would identify Dana correctly. Without it, Zzyym cannot leave the country.

"It is against the law to 'willfully and knowingly' make a false statement on a passport application," Zzyym's attorney Paul Castillo said in a statement. "[Yet] the application itself and State Department 'policy' make it impossible for a person who is inherently neither male or female to list their gender."

Zzyym, originally named Brian Whitney, was born in 1958 with genetically ambiguous sexual characteristics. Zzyym's parents decided to raise the Fort Collins resident as a boy. Zzyym stuck to this assigned gender throughout adolescence and adulthood, and spent six years in the Navy as a machinist's mate, but decided not to re-enlist because of unwanted scrutiny of sexual orientation.

After unsuccessfully experimenting with living as a woman, Zzyym came to terms with the intersex identity in 2012, and had their birth certificate changed from "male" to "unknown." (Courthouse News is using the plural pronoun in this story, in keeping with the preference of intersex people.)

Zzyym then became the associate director for the Intersex Campaign for Equality, and was invited to fly to Mexico City to represent the organization at the International Intersex Forum.

But to fly, Zzyym needed a passport. Though Zzyym's doctor confirmed the intersex identity, the State Department denied the passport application for failure to mark "M" or "F."

Zzyym's attorneys at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund demand that the State Department change its rules, as New Zealand has done, and offer the option of a third, gender-neutral "other" option, or option "X," on passports.

"The State Department has thus stigmatized and denigrated individuals, including plaintiff, who are neither female nor male," the complaint states.

It claims that the State Department's denial letter "failed to articulate any rational connection," between Zzyym's legal, medically proven sexual identity, and its decision to deny Zzyym a passport.

The State Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Roughly 65,000 animal species have been identified as hermaphroditic and some species can change their sex.

Intersex people sometimes are referred to as hermaphrodites, though that word has come to be regarded as a slur.

The word comes from Greek mythology, indicating that the ancient Greeks recognized the condition.

According to one version, Hermaphroditos was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite who became one with the nymph Salmacis and so acquired characteristics of both sexes. According to another version, he was born with characteristics of both sexes.

The blind seer Tiresias, who delivered some bad news to Oedipus, became different sexes sequentially, according to the legends. He was punished to live as a woman and prostitute for seven years for offending the god Apollo, according to Greek legend.

When Zeus and Hera argued about whether men or women derived more pleasure from sex they consulted Tiresias, as only she would know. When she said it was the woman, Hera was offended and turned Tiresias back into a man and made him blind.

Because Tiresias had suffered all that a human can suffer, he became a seer, and was able to foresee Oedipus' even more unpleasant fate. Tiresias also gave advice to Odysseus, who visited him in the underworld, thereby helping Odysseus complete his Odyssey.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.