Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: A meaningful ‘x’ …

D.C. driver's license applicants can now mark their gender as "x." (image courtesy of the Department of Motor Vehicles)

Jay Wu moved to Washington a couple of years ago after graduating from Swarthmore College with a major in linguistics.

According to the Linguistic Society of America, the field helps the understanding of “how language influences the way in which we interact with each other and think about the world.”

In a world of words, Wu identifies as “non-binary,” neither specifically male nor female. And as the media contact for the National Center for Transgender Equality, words matter to Wu.

Wu was among a group of transgender individuals last week who got new driver’s licenses in D.C. The District became the first jurisdiction in the nation where the Department of Motor Vehicles allows residents to mark the gender box with an “x” rather a specific identity.

“It all went very smoothly,” Wu told NBC4. “The director of the DMV came out and got the first person in line and processed their gender change herself.”

Lucinda Babers has been director of the District’s DMV since 2007, transforming an often-maligned city agency into one that handles hundreds of thousands of licenses with far fewer complaints than popular jokes suggest.

Babers says the District government, the mayor and council, all take individual rights seriously. “It’s saying that we respect the rights of all individuals. And all individuals deserve the right to say who they are,” Babers told us.

One problem might occur just because it is the District of Columbia. Even now, some federal agencies, other states and countries fail to recognize the District license as real.

An “x” on the gender line could add more confusion.

Babers said the city is busy alerting the Transportation Security Agency, liquor license officials, Social Security offices and others that the license is legitimate. “Just to educate them on the fact that this is indeed a legal document,” Babers said. “Do not reject anyone who has this ‘x’ identifier.”

Wu said transgender people are all too aware of discrimination, physical abuse and even murder and they will stand up for their rights to their identity with any government agency.

“People who aren’t specifically either men or women have existed in lots of cultures over thousands of years,” Wu said. “The concept we currently have of men and women isn’t actually universal.”

Answering a frequent question, Wu told us, “If you’re not sure what pronouns to use for someone, just asking them is the best way to find out.”

Doing well. The 16th annual Cafritz Awards were handed out last week. For 16 years, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation has highlighted what the media recognizes less often: “outstanding performance and exemplary service by D.C. government employees.”

Individual winners receive $7,500.

Paul Taylor, a recreation specialist in charge of the Greenleaf Recreation facility in Southwest, is among the honorees this year.

Ward 6 D.C. Council member Charles Allen told the Notebook that Taylor “is a model of what you want a person to be.” Allen said Taylor has worked to turn his life around after serving a sentence for crimes as a young man. “As a returning citizen, now that he has been home, he’s committed the rest of his life to repair the damage … of the harm he caused,” the council member said.

At the Greenleaf center, Taylor offers a strong, living, breathing example to young men and women about how hopelessness and being adrift in life can take a radical turn toward helping others.

The Notebook joins in saluting Taylor, along with these other individual winners in the social service/correctional fields: Theresa P. Donaldson-DePass, retired program director, Department of Behavioral Health; Reena Chakraborty, chief of strategic planning, Department of Corrections; Rahim Jenkins, administrative officer, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services; and Laverne Plater, nurse consultant, St. Elizabeths Hospital.

The American City Diner in Chevy Chase sports a retro flavor. (Brady Holt/The Current/September 2012)

■ A final word. Jeffrey Gildenhorn died last week and a little part of hometown Washington was lost, too. The effervescent owner of the retro American City Diner died in a choking incident at The Palm restaurant downtown.
The Diner and the upscale Palm were worlds apart, but Gildenhorn fit into both.

At the diner, located at 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW in Chevy Chase, he would occupy a booth near the front, chatting with anyone who walked inside as wait staff scurried about — each employee wearing a button that proclaimed, “No Whining.”

Gildenhorn’s grandfather and father had been in the liquor business in the same neighborhood as the diner. Gildenhorn ran for mayor in 1998, promising in those near-bankruptcy days that he could run D.C. “like a business.” Anthony Williams won that year. More recently, Gildenhorn’s diner featured a “Trump Sandwich” that Democrat Gildenhorn said was “full of baloney.”

Like the low-brow signs and kitsch that suffused his restaurant, and the serious discussions in one of his booths, there were many aspects to Gildenhorn’s well-lived life.
As the staff posted on the window last week, “RIP Jeffrey Gildenhorn!”

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.