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Gender identity pioneer calls Florida home

Carlos E. Medina
Ocala Star Banner
Walton Sun

In 2016, James Shupe became the first person in the United States to legally have no gender. Today, the current Ocala resident, says it was all a big mistake.

Declared neither male nor female, he changed his birth certificate to read “sex unknown.” He also changed his name to Jamie. The Oregon court’s decision in favor of Shupe’s argument became a touchstone for some in the movement challenging gender norms.

Shupe, who recently had his birth name and sex restored, blames lifelong mental illness for his original crusade. In the end, the change in his gender status did nothing for his mental health. Instead, he became enmeshed in the debate on gender issues, sinking him deeper into despair.

A U.S. military veteran, Shupe’s mental health led to his discharge in 2007. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, Shupe also started cross-dressing while in the military and became addicted to pornography. The thought of being a woman became part of his sexual fantasies, he said.

Several years later, he started hormone therapy with the goal of surgically transitioning to a female and filed a lawsuit to have his gender status changed. But along the way, he realized he was only pursuing a fantasy, he said.

The non-binary gender status was a compromise. He didn’t feel comfortable as a man but didn’t want to be a woman. By then, however, his case was making headlines.

“It was my attempt to bail out of becoming a woman. How do you unwind something that’s made you internationally famous?” he said.

The attention made his mental health even more unstable. He wound up hospitalized several times over the next couple of years. Then he discovered a book describing autogynephilia — the sexual arousal in a man while imagining himself as a woman.

“It nailed me to a tee. It was exactly what I was going through,” Shupe said.

While the gender debate is a hot-button social issue and the transgender community generally rejects autogynephilia as a disorder, Shupe said for him it was comforting to finally find something that described his feelings.

“The mental health system just rubber stamps you with gender dysphoria (discontent with a person’s assigned gender) and they don’t look at the underlying behavior,” Shupe said. “Educating myself about why I was doing the things I was doing was key to being able to make peace with it and allow me to get back to reality.”

Shupe still struggles, but with his gender and name legally restored thanks to an Oregon ruling filed on Christmas Eve, he hopes to move on with his life.

His move to Ocala, he said, helped ground him as well.

“I call it the blood-red heart of Florida. I feel safe here,” he said. “Ocala aligns really well with my values. It’s where I need to be.”

He first came to Ocala during some of his darkest days when overwhelming paranoia had him moving from city to city every few days.

In Ocala since 2018, Shupe and his wife — who stuck with him through his struggles — have kept a low profile, but his effort to restore his gender and name renewed media interest. He also wanted to set the record straight.

“My case is still being used in non-binary gender lawsuits. I want people to know that I don’t agree with that anymore. My hope is by making my story public, I can help reverse what I helped unleash,” he said.

On Monday, with the latest court order in hand, Shupe got a new driver’s license, complete with his birth name and gender.

He hopes, eventually, his new name will fade into obscurity.

“I want all this to get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. This thing has taken a tremendous toll on me. I want to have the story corrected and fade out of sight,” he said.

— Contact Carlos E. Medina at 867-4157 or cmedina@starbanner.com.

This story originally published to ocala.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.