On the morning of December 5, 2017, Tiffany Metzger dressed in a skirt and earrings and climbed into a car, dark hair swept back in a ponytail. The town of Tumwater was two and a half hours from Metzger’s home in Ellensburg, but state health officials were hearing testimony there on a proposed rule change that would allow Washington natives to amend their birth certificates to a third gender, known as X. Metzger, who is president of Pride of Ellensburg, an LGBTQ organization in the Central Washington college town, wanted to speak in favor of the proposal—to tell them it would help give lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth confidence to be themselves.
Most official documents don’t acknowledge people like Metzger, who identifies as both male and female. Some nonbinary individuals struggle with how they should present themselves, in the world and on paper. But that day, Metzger, who was born female, made a conscious decision to wear feminine clothes and makeup.
“The way to communicate with people who don’t understand is to show up in a way people do understand,” Metzger says.
The crowded public hearing came after several years of increasing requests from Washingtonians who wanted to change the genders recorded on their birth certificates. They’ve tripled since 2015. So last year, as the number of requests crept toward 300, employees at the state’s Center for Health Statistics began considering a third option. “Society is changing,” says Christie Spice, state registrar and director of the center. The agency is “looking at providing people with options to have a birth certificate that matches who they are.”
Not everyone was thrilled by the idea. The health department received more than 1,000 comments both for and against gender X. Supporters say a third gender would promote health equity and allow the state to collect information on nonbinary, trans, or intersex residents. Opponents argue there are only two sexes—male and female—and birth certificates shouldn’t conflate sex with gender, or serve as vehicles for self-expression.
On January 4, though, the health department announced Washington natives could change the sex designation on their birth certificates starting January 27. Under the new rule, adults must submit their requests with a notarized signature. Minors, meanwhile, need both parental consent and a letter from a health care provider. Seattle-based Gender Justice League and other advocacy groups wanted fewer barriers, like allowing minors to seek consent from either a parent or a doctor, but activists say it’s a step in the right direction.
As a child, Metzger’s masculine side emerged growing up on a farm, fixing motorcycles, and, later, in the military. Metzger’s work with Pride of Ellensburg, especially with LGBTQ youth grappling with their identities, led the single parent to really reflect on Metzger’s own gender.
“It just kind of clicked—I am both equally male and female in my person,” Metzger says. “It’s really important, as we’re accepting the diversity in our country, that we make it known. And we make it known by putting it on official documents.”