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Dana Zzyym receives first U.S. passport with 'X' gender marker

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Americans who don't identify as male or female can now choose an X as a gender marker on their passports. It is a victory for Dana Zzyym who was in a legal battle with the State Department for the last six years to get a passport that didn't force them to pick between M or F. They finally received their passport this week. Dana Zzyym is also the associate director of the Intersex Campaign for Equality, and they join us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

DANA ZZYYM: Oh, thanks for having me. I appreciate that.

SIMON: What was it like to see the X on your passport?

ZZYYM: It was an awesome moment. I kind of gasped when I first saw it. I had to take a moment just to look at it. And it had been so long in the process of getting it. I was still, like, just staring at it, just - like, this is it.

SIMON: Well, please help us understand your story better. I gather you were raised as a boy but later identified as intersex.

ZZYYM: Yeah, I was born intersex with ambiguous genitalia. And I went through multiple surgeries until I was 6 years old when the doctors and my parents were satisfied that my gentalia looked male enough.

SIMON: Mmm hmm.

ZZYYM: But that failed when I was about 11 1/2 and when it all ripped apart when I had a growth spurt. I was a lot of pain from that point on. I had damage to my bladder, and it hurt to go to the bathroom. I knew I went through surgeries.

SIMON: Yeah.

ZZYYM: I did not know why my parents never explained anything to me. The problems I had with the leakage issues and stuff, my parents punished me for. So I kind of grew up and lived with that. I still live with the physical problems, the emotional problems, the mental health problems from that childhood, things that happened to me.

And then I started looking at these surgical scars online, and I came across the term intersex. And my therapist I was talking to convinced me to go see a urologist who confirmed I was intersex and told me kind of what I looked like as a kid, as a baby. From that point on, I started looking up intersex on the internet. I started looking at getting books, all the books I could get a hold of and reading as much as I could, trying to find community, trying to figure out what intersex meant for me, trying to find acceptance in my own soul about what I really was.

SIMON: Well, given this extraordinary - I think we can fairly call it a journey that's been yours, and then you get a passport with an X in it, did that seem to you to signify that somebody had - that the U.S. government had recognized you in a special human way for who you are?

ZZYYM: Yeah. It just - legal recognition says I am and we are a human being. And we're not being erased. You know, because for centuries, society has - it had intersex people - are existent which has led to much isolation and suffering...

SIMON: Mmm hmm.

ZZYYM: ...From social erasure and from forced surgeries that basically erased who we are. You know, I went through this myself. And after years of pain, I felt mobilized (ph) to do something for my humanity. So I decided forcing the government to recognize that we exist on the basis of sex was necessary, necessary stuff to end the suffering.

SIMON: Dana Zzyym, now that you have that U.S. passport with an X in it to recognize and validate the human being that you are, do you have any trips planned?

ZZYYM: Well, I like to go fishing. I'd like to go to, like, Costa Rica, go fishing or Mexico to go fishing. Especially since I live in Colorado, it's starting to get cold here. So (laughter)...

SIMON: Yeah.

ZZYYM: It's warm down there (laughter). So that would be a fun thing to do.

SIMON: Dana Zzyym is the associate director of the Intersex Campaign for Equality. Happy travels to you, Dana Zzyym.

ZZYYM: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.