A third gender option is available for Minnesotans applying for driver's licenses.

In addition to "M" and "F," "X" can now be checked by any applicant who does not want to identify as male or female.

The unannounced change started Monday, the first day the state also began accepting applications for Real ID, the fortified driver's licenses required by the federal government in the aftermath of 9/11.

The change puts Minnesota in the company of Maine, Oregon, California, Washington and the District of Columbia. A statement issued by the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) division said it "was a business decision to offer a third option to better serve all Minnesotans."

Support is not unanimous, however. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, released a statement questioning the change.

"This change was made unilaterally by Democrats in the Dayton administration, without legislative approval, and I have questions about its legality," he said. "Will this change hamper law enforcement's ability to properly identify suspects, or hinder the investigative process in any way? The public deserves answers to these questions, or at least a dialogue about the potential repercussions."

The expanded gender menu falls within the bounds of federal Real ID requirements, the DVS statement said.

Applicants need not provide any documentation if they want to have an X mark the gender spot on their license.

"Gender identification is a self-descriptor like eye color, height and weight," read the statement, in response to questions from the Star Tribune.

A DVS spokeswoman said Tuesday that applicants will not have to provide a doctor's note to select a gender. The change did not require legislative approval, she said.

The new "nonbinary" gender choice also is available for state ID cards. The term "nonbinary" encompasses an array of descriptions for anyone who does not identify as male or female, among them transgender, agender, gender fluid, bigender and third gender.

M.J. Zappa, who grew up male, may have been the first person to come away with the new designation on a Minnesota-issued driver's license — at least the temporary version.

Zappa, 26, of Medicine Lake, arrived at the DVS service center on Minnesota Street in St. Paul at 7:30 a.m. Monday. While it was 30 minutes before opening time, Zappa was welcomed in right away.

"I just walked right in, handed them my old license and the letter from my doc [and] they asked me all the questions on that application paper verbally," Zappa said. "Then I walked out with the [temporary license] and an assurance I would get the card in the mail soon."

Zappa is anxious to get the permanent license with the new gender designation. "I paid extra to fast-track it, so they said likely within seven days."

The temporary license lists "nonbinary" for a gender. The permanent licenses and state IDs will have an X to mark the spot once reserved for M or F.

Zappa expressed satisfaction to "be able to present identification that more accurately represents myself going forward. It's a big step forward for all nonbinary Minnesotans."

Jonathan Goltz, of St. Paul, got a nonbinary license at the DMV office in the Rice Street Sears. Goltz, 37, has had gender transition surgery but did not want a specific gender to be on the ID. "The chance to finally legally state something other than only 'Male' or 'Female' has been something I've longed for these many years."

The executive director of a leading activist organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights said her group has been pursuing this change for roughly two years and heard from government officials in June that the third option was imminent.

"What is really great about it is that people can have with them the gender identities that they are," said Monica Meyer of OutFront Minnesota. "This is really great progress."

The National Center for Transgender Equality explains on its website that a gender-neutral ID allows people "to display a more accurate gender marker on their ID [and] also allows people of any gender to have increased privacy around gender."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482