Identifying as anything other than cisgender tends to come with a lifetime of fighting for recognition, but an Oregon judge made history in March by granting a Portland resident's right to be genderless — not transgender or genderqueer, but agender. At the same time, Judge Amy Holmes Hehn also granted the 27-year-old video game designer's request to change names, to the mononym Patch. According to NBC News, Patch appears to be the first legally agender person in the country.
Before going any further, it's important to understand the distinction between biological sex and gender. Sex is determined by anatomical features like chromosomes, but gender is the intersection of how someone identifies personally and expresses themselves in society. Got it? Cool.
The Multnomah County Court granted Patch a "General Judgment of Name and Sex Change" on March 10. Last year, the same court and judge ruled that another Oregon resident Jamie Shupe could legally identify as nonbinary; since then, a handful of other citizens have followed suit. However, Patch's identity isn't the same as nonbinary or genderqueer. As the National Center for Transgender Equality explains on its website, "Some societies — like ours — tend to recognize just two genders, male and female. ... 'Non-binary' is one term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into one of these two categories, male or female." Some may feel their gender identity is a mix of male and female, or that it changes over time.
Agender, on the other hand, usually means someone identifies with no gender, or their gender identity is neutral rather than skewing male or female. Rather than sliding along the gender spectrum, they're removed from it. At least, that's the general idea; like all identities, it means different things to different people.
According to New Now Next, Patch struggled to find a comfortable gender identity until eventually coming across the concept of being agender. Even gender-neutral pronouns — like "they" instead of "he" or "she" — feel wrong to Patch, who told NBC news, "What describes me is my name."
An Oregon court granted a resident's request to be legally "agender," or without gender. It's believed to be the... https://t.co/WVks2WDAaL— wtfiscrackin (@wtfiscrackin) March 23, 2017
Judge Holmes Hehn's decision doesn't mean Patch won't face gender-related challenges in the future. In the U.S., government documents usually require identification as either male or female. That being said, New York resident Sara Kelly Keenan received the first intersex birth certificate during the last few days of 2016, so government agencies appear to be responding, albeit slowly, to recent changes in how gender identification is viewed.
India has recognized a third gender on official documents since 2014, and Australia allows citizens to identify their gender with an "X" on their passports, rather than the traditional male/female binary. In February, the Norwegian Labor Party considered introducing a third gender option on government papers like passports. Hopefully, the U.S. will follow suit soon.