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'Third gender' or 'third sex' refer to a gender category present in many indigenous societies of people who are considered neither completely male, nor completely female. It is a gender identity separate from 'men' and 'women,' of people considered to be the intermediate sex; in-betweens or neutrals.
Although contemporary connotations often confuse 'third gender' with hermaphrodites, biological hermaphrodites actually comprise a very small percentage of the third genders. Biologically speaking, a hermaphrodite is a person who has both male and female sex organs. However, gender identity is psychological and societal as well as physical, explaining why the majority of individuals who occupy the third gender are physically either male or female, not both.
While most medieval and contemporary societies consider such people to be neither male nor female, the most traditional cultures in which they existed considered third genders to be both male and female, or partly male and partly female. They were thus known in some indigenous societies as 'two spirited people,' and as such were given often revered. Indeed, they were widely believed to be people with spiritual powers, even god-like in many traditional cultures.
Traditional societies in which the third gender role was present had a well defined social space for the third genders, one that was apart from the men's spaces and women's spaces. They had their own gender roles, separate from both men and women. Furthermore, third genders had access to both men's and women's spaces, whereas the access of men and women to the other's social spaces was often restricted. Third genders continued to have a separate space and identity in the middle ages although their status went on diminishing.
Like masculine roles and identity, the third gender roles have changed drastically from the way they were perceived in the ancient world. For most of the middle ages, third genders were defined as males 'unable to penetrate women and procreate due to physical inadequacy.' [needs citation] This definition hinged on the view of the third genders as hermaphrodites, and was used to stigmatize the third genders and ultimately used as a banishment threat for men through which they were forced to conform to the marriage institution and to compulsory procreation. The roles of the third genders in most of the Indo-European medieval world included receptive anal sex with men, where the third genders were seen as using their anus or mouth as a substitute for vagina, and as a fulfillment of their inner female self. The majority of third genders consisted of transgendered males: males with a strong feminine identity, also known as 'female soul in male body.' In many cultures some third genders also opted for castration in an effort to remove physical evidence of masculinity. Other third genders included hermaphrodites, intersexed persons, transgendered females, etc.
Although third genders in pre-modern times partook in sexual activities with both men, women and other third genders, documentation from some of the ancient tribes show that most third genders participated in marriages with women and even reproduced.
Throughout the majority of the modernized world, the third genders have been ostracized and marginalized, remaining on the fringes of the society. For most of the Middle Ages, individuals in the West, who were classified as 'third gender' retreated from society limelight because of religious persecution. In these societies, the third gender roles and identities have been redefined in terms of the contemporary Western concepts of sexual orientation as well as transgender identity, and have become associated with LGBT.
Third gender identities, although far more stigmatized than earlier, still thrive in the non-Western world today. Among these are the Hijras of India and Pakistan who have gained legal identity, Fa'afafine of Polynesia, and Sworn virgins of the Balkans, , and the term 'third gender' is still used by many of such groups to describe themselves.
In animals that are gonochoristic, a number of individuals within a population will not differentiate sexually into bodies that are typically male or female; this is called intersexuality. The incidence varies from population to population, and also varies depending on how femaleness and maleness are understood. Biologist and gender theorist Anne Fausto-Sterling, in a 1993 article, argued that if people ought to be classified in sexes at least five sexes rather than two, would be needed.
Evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden argues that, in addition to male and female sexes (as defined by the production of small or large gametes), more than two genders exist in hundreds of animal species. Species with one female and two male genders include red deer who have two male morphs, one with antlers and one without, known as hummels or notts, as well as several species of fish such as plainfin midshipman fish and coho salmon. Species with one female and three male genders include bluegill sunfish, where four distinct size and color classes exhibit different social and reproductive behaviours, as well as the spotted European wrasse (Symphodus ocellatus), a cichlid (Oreochromis mossambicus) and a kind of tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus. Species with two male and two female genders include the white-throated sparrow, in which male and female morphs are either white-striped or tan-striped. White-striped individuals are more aggressive and defend territory, while tan-striped individuals provide more parental care. Ninety percent of breeding pairs are between a tan striped and a white striped sparrow. Finally, the highest number of distinct male and female morphs or "genders" within a species is found in the side-blotched lizard, which has five altogether: orange-throated males, who are "ultra-dominant, high testosterone" controllers of multiple females; blue-throated males, who are less aggressive and guard only one female; yellow-throated males, who don't defend territories at all but cluster around the territories of orange males; orange-throated females, who lay many small eggs and are very territorial; and yellow-throated females, who lay fewer, larger eggs and are more tolerant of each other.
Since at least the 1970s, anthropologists have described gender categories in some cultures which they could not adequately explain using a two-gender framework. At the same time, feminists began to draw a distinction between (biological) sex and (social/psychological) gender. Contemporary gender theorists usually argue that a two-gender system is neither innate nor universal. A sex/gender system which recognizes only the following two social norms has been labeled "heteronormative":
The Hijra of India are probably the most well known and populous third sex type in the modern world — Mumbai-based community health organisation The Humsafar Trust estimates there are between 5 and 6 million hijras in India. In different areas they are known as Aravani/Aruvani or Jogappa. Often (somewhat misleadingly) called eunuchs in English, they may be born intersex or apparently male, dress in feminine clothes and generally see themselves as neither men nor women. Only eight percent of hijras visiting Humsafar clinics are nirwaan (castrated). Indian photographer Dayanita Singh writes about her friendship with a Hijra, Mona Ahmed, and their two different societies' beliefs about gender: "When I once asked her if she would like to go to Singapore for a sex change operation, she told me, 'You really do not understand. I am the third sex, not a man trying to be a woman. It is your society's problem that you only recognise two sexes.'" Hijra social movements have campaigned for recognition as a third sex, and in 2005, Indian passport application forms were updated with three gender options: M, F, and E (for male, female, and eunuch, respectively). In November 2009, India agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people as "others", distinct from males and females, in voting rolls and voter identity cards.
In addition to the feminine role of hijras, which is widespread across the subcontinent, a few occurrences of institutionalised "female masculinity" have been noted in modern India. Among the Gaddhi in the foothills of the Himalayas, some girls adopt a role as a sadhin, renouncing marriage, and dressing and working as men, but retaining female names and pronouns. A late-nineteenth century anthropologist noted the existence of a similar role in Madras, that of the basivi. However, historian Walter Penrose concludes that in both cases "their status is perhaps more 'transgendered' than 'third-gendered.'"
In June 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered a census of hijras, who number between 80,000 and 300,000 in Pakistan. In December 2009, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, ordered that the National Database and Registration Authority issue national identity cards to members of the community showing their "distinct" gender. "It's the first time in the 62-year history of Pakistan that such steps are being taken for our welfare," Almas Bobby, a hijra association's president, said to Reuters. "It's a major step towards giving us respect and identity in society. We are slowly getting respect in society. Now people recognise that we are also human beings."
Also commonly referred to as a third sex are the kathoeys (or "ladyboys") of Thailand. However, while a significant number of Thais perceive kathoeys as belonging to a third gender, including many kathoeys themselves, others see them as either a kind of man or a kind of woman. Researcher Sam Winter writes:
|“||We asked our 190 [kathoeys] to say whether they thought of themselves as men, women, sao praphet song ["a second kind of woman"] or kathoey. None thought of themselves as male, and only 11 percent saw themselves as kathoey (i.e. ‘non-male’). By contrast 45 percent thought of themselves as women, with another 36 percent as sao praphet song... Unfortunately we did not include the category phet tee sam (third sex/gender); conceivably if we had done so there may have been many respondents who would have chosen that term... Around 50 percent [of non-transgender Thais] see them as males with the mistaken minds, but the other half see them as either women born into the wrong body (around 15 percent) or as a third sex/gender (35 percent)."||”|
In 2004, the Chiang Mai Technology School allocated a separate restroom for kathoeys, with an intertwined male and female symbol on the door. The 15 kathoey students are required to wear male clothing at school but are allowed to sport feminine hairdos. The restroom features four stalls, but no urinals.
In the Italian city of Naples there exists a third gender, the so called femminielli (little women). Their position in society bears much resemblance to that of the Indian hijras.
In the entire history of humankind, before the concept of 'homosexuality' was invented in the West in 1860s, male sexuality was not seen in terms of whether it was towards men or women, but whether it was 'masculine' or 'feminine.' The masculine males who were considered 'men' could penetrate men, and have other non-penetrative sex with men, without losing their manhood, or without being considered different. In fact, whether or not it was persecuted, sexuality between men was considered a universal male quality (it still is, in most non-Westernized societies). Even if in most societies it was considered a vice that men were supposed to keep away from, yet it was well accepted that all men were prone to be 'enticed' by this, and not a 'distinct category of males' as the modern Western concept of homosexuality assumes. It were the feminine gendered males or the third genders, especially those who sought receptive sex with men, that were seen as a separate category, a separate gender. In societies, that had left no formal or acknowledged spaces for men to be sexual with men, did allow the third genders to have sex with men, as this was seen as sex between 'opposite' genders, not the same. Yet, the actual social stigma of being deprived of manhood was not attached with men's desire for men, but with the third genders, and with receptive anal sex, which was supposed to be a quality of the third genders.
The third gender had been extremely persecuted in the West, and like sex between men, it had also gone underground in the entire medieval period. It reemerged in the late 1700s in Europe and started thriving again as a subculture of 'third gender' males who sought receptive sex from men.
However, due to the special conditions prevalent in the West at that time, resulting from a stauch Christian past and an emerging 'scientific' worldview, the third genders gradually, also started to see themselves as 'men who like men,' in a time when the 'actual' men were highly secretive about their sexual inclinations towards men. And this gradually, gave birth to the concept of 'homosexuals' as the new term for 'third gender' in the 1860s. Gradually, as the term got scientific and cultural validity from the West, the concept of third gender was gradually abandoned for the concept of 'homosexuality' and 'sexual orientation.' However, this had an extremely negative repercussion on the actual men's sexual liasions for men, who were now forced to adopt a heterosexual identity in order to save their manhood.
Some writers suggest that a third gender emerged around 1700 AD in England: the male sodomite. According to these writers, this was marked by the emergence of a subculture of effeminate males and their meeting places (molly houses), as well as a marked increase in hostility towards effeminate and/or homosexual males. People described themselves as members of a third sex in Europe from at least the 1860s with the writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and continuing in the late nineteenth century with Magnus Hirschfeld, John Addington Symonds, Edward Carpenter, Aimée Duc and others. These writers described themselves and those like them as being of an "inverted" or "intermediate" sex and experiencing homosexual desire, and their writing argued for social acceptance of such sexual intermediates. Many cited precedents from classical Greek and Sanskrit literature (see below).
In Wilhelmine Germany, the terms drittes Geschlecht ("third sex") and Mannweib ("man-woman") were also used to describe feminists — both by their opponents and sometimes by feminists themselves. In the 1899 novel Das dritte Geschlecht (The Third Sex) by Ernst Ludwig von Wolzogen, feminists are portrayed as "neuters" with external female characteristics accompanied by a crippled male psyche.
Throughout much of the twentieth century, the term "third sex" was a popular descriptor for homosexuals and gender nonconformists, but after Gay Liberation of the 1970s and a growing separation of the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, the term fell out of favor among LGBT communities and the wider public. With the renewed exploration of gender that feminism, the modern transgender movement and queer theory has fostered, some in the contemporary West have begun to describe themselves as a third sex again. One well known social movement of male-bodied people that identify as neither men nor women are the Radical Faeries. Other modern identities that cover similar ground include pangender, bigender, genderqueer, androgyne, intergender, "other gender" and "differently gendered".
The term transgender, which often refers to those who change their gender, is increasingly being used to signify a gendered subjectivity that is neither male nor female — one recent example is on a form for the Harvard Business School, which has three gender options — male, female, and transgender.
Also very much associated with multiple genders are the indigenous cultures of North America, who often contain social gender categories that are collectively known as Two-Spirit. Individual examples include the Winkte of Lakota culture, the ninauposkitzipxpe ("manly-hearted woman") of the North Peigan (Blackfoot) community, and the Zapotec Muxe. Various scholars have debated the nature of such categories, as well as the definition of the term "third gender". Different researchers may characterise a Two-Spirit person as a gender-crosser, a mixed gender, an intermediate gender, or distinct third and fourth genders that are not dependent on male and female as primary categories. Those (such as Will Roscoe) who have argued for the latter interpretation also argue that mixed-, intermediate-, cross- or non-gendered social roles should not be understood as truly representing a third gender. Anthropologist Jean-Guy Goulet (1996) reviews the literature:
|“||To summarize: 'berdache' may signify a category of male human beings who fill an established social status other than that of man or woman (Blackwood 1984; Williams 1986: 1993); a category of male and female human beings who behave and dress 'like a member of the opposite sex' (Angelino & Shedd 1955; Jacobs 1968; and Whitehead 1981); or categories of male and female human beings who occupy well established third or fourth genders (Callender & Kochems 1983a; 1983b; Jacobs 1983; Roscoe 1987; 1994). Scheffler (1991: 378), however, sees Native American cases of 'berdache' and 'amazon' as 'situations in which some men (less often women) are permitted to act, in some degree, as though they were women (or men), and may be spoken of as though they were women (or men), or as anomalous 'he-she' or 'she-he'.' In Scheffler's view (1991: 378), '[e]thnographic data cited by Kessler and McKenna (1978), and more recently by Williams (1986), provide definitive evidence that such persons were not regarded as having somehow moved from one sex (or in Kessler and McKenna's terms, gender) category to the other, but were only metaphorically "women" (or "men")'. In other words, according to Scheffler, we need not imagine a multiple gender system. Individuals who appeared in the dress and/or occupation of the opposite sex were only metaphorically spoken of as members of that sex or gender."||”|
The term "berdache" is seen as very offensive by many Two-Spirit and Native people because of its historical roots; It was first applied by European settlers as a derogative term, meaning a submissive, effeminate man. The term "Two-Spirit" was created in 1990 as an English word to convey an identity already recognized by many Nations, and is usually the preferred and most respectful term.
Steven P. Sparacino is also an advocate of "third sex". He believes that "I am not a man nor a woman, but a wonderful combination".
The following gender categories have also been described as a third gender:
In Mesopotamian mythology, among the earliest written records of humanity, there are references to types of people who are not men and not women. In a Sumerian creation myth found on a stone tablet from the second millennium BC, the goddess Ninmah fashions a being "with no male organ and no female organ", for whom Enki finds a position in society: "to stand before the king". In the Akkadian myth of Atra-Hasis (ca. 1700 BC), Enki instructs Nintu, the goddess of birth, to establish a “third category among the people” in addition to men and women, that includes demons who steal infants, women who are unable to give birth, and priestesses who are prohibited from bearing children. In Babylonia, Sumer and Assyria, certain types of individuals who performed religious duties in the service of Inanna/Ishtar have been described as a third gender. They worked as sacred prostitutes or Hierodules, performed ecstatic dance, music and plays, wore masks and had gender characteristics of both women and men. In Sumer, they were given the cuneiform names of ur.sal ("dog/man-woman") and kur.gar.ra (also described as a man-woman). Modern scholars, struggling to describe them using contemporary sex/gender categories, have variously described them as "living as women", or used descriptors such as hermaphrodites, eunuchs, homosexuals, transvestites, effeminate males and a range of other terms and phrases.
Inscribed pottery shards from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2000-1800 BCE), found near ancient Thebes (now Luxor, Egypt), list three human genders: tai (male), sḫt ("sekhet") and hmt (female). Sḫt is often translated as "eunuch", although there is little evidence that such individuals were castrated.
References to a third sex can be found throughout the various texts of India's three ancient spiritual traditions — Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism — and it can be inferred that Vedic culture recognised three genders. The Vedas (c. 1500 BC - 500 BC) describe individuals as belonging to one of three separate categories, according to one's nature or prakrti. These are also spelled out in the Kama Sutra (c. 4th century AD) and elsewhere as pums-prakrti (male-nature), stri-prakrti (female-nature), and tritiya-prakrti (third-nature). Various texts suggest that third sex individuals were well known in premodern India, and included male-bodied or female-bodied people as well as intersexuals, and that they can often be recognised from childhood.
A third sex is also discussed in ancient Hindu law, medicine, linguistics and astrology. The foundational work of Hindu law, the Manu Smriti (c. 200 BC - 200 AD) explains the biological origins of the three sexes: "A male child is produced by a greater quantity of male seed, a female child by the prevalence of the female; if both are equal, a third-sex child or boy and girl twins are produced; if either are weak or deficient in quantity, a failure of conception results." Indian linguist Patañjali's work on Sanskrit grammar, the Mahābhāṣya (c. 200 BC), states that Sanskrit's three grammatical genders are derived from three natural genders. The earliest Tamil grammar, the Tolkappiyam (3rd century BC) also refers to hermaphrodites as a third "neuter" gender (in addition to a feminine category of unmasculine males). In Vedic astrology, the nine planets are each assigned to one of the three genders; the third gender, tritiya-prakrti, is associated with Mercury, Saturn and (in particular) Ketu. In the Puranas, there are also references to three kinds of devas of music and dance: apsaras (female), gandharvas (male) and kinnars (neuter).
The two great Sanskrit epic poems, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, also indicate the existence of a third gender in ancient Indic society. Some versions of Ramayana tell that in one part of the story, the hero Rama heads into exile in the forest. Halfway there, he discovers that most of the people of his home town Ayodhya were following him. He told them, "Men and women, turn back," and with that, those who were "neither men nor women" did not know what to do, so they stayed there. When Rama returned to from exile years later, he discovered them still there and blessed them, saying that there will be a day when they will rule the world.
In the Buddhist Vinaya, codified in its present form around the 2nd century BC and said to be handed down by oral tradition from Buddha himself, there are four main sex/gender categories: males, females, ubhatobyanjanaka (people of a dual sexual nature) and pandaka (people of various non-normative sexual natures, perhaps originally denoting a deficiency in male sexual capacity). As the Vinaya tradition developed, the term pandaka came to refer to a broad third sex category which encompassed intersex, male and female bodied people with physical and/or behavioural attributes that were considered inconsistent with the sexual ideal of man and woman.
In Plato's Symposium, written around the 4th century BC, Aristophanes relates a creation myth involving three original sexes: female, male and androgynous. They are split in half by Zeus, producing four different contemporary sex/gender types which seek to be reunited with their lost other half; in this account, the modern heterosexual man and woman descend from the original androgynous sex. Other creation myths around the world share a belief in three original sexes, such as those from northern Thailand.
Many have interpreted the "eunuchs" of the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean world as a third gender that inhabited a liminal space between women and men, understood in their societies as somehow neither or both. In the Historia Augusta, the eunuch body is described as a tertium genus hominum (a third human gender), and in 77 BC, a eunuch named Genucius was prevented from claiming goods left to him in a will, on the grounds that he had voluntarily mutilated himself (amputatis sui ipsius) and was neither a woman or a man (neque virorum neque mulierum numero). Several scholars have argued that the eunuchs in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were understood in their time to belong to a third gender, rather than the more recent interpretations of a kind of emasculated man, or a metaphor for chastity. The first Christian theologian, Tertullian, wrote that Jesus himself was a eunuch (c. 200 AD). Tertullian also noted the existence of a third sex (tertium sexus) among heathens: "a third race in sex... made of male and female in one." He may have been referring to the Galli, "eunuch" devotees of the Phrygian goddess Cybele, who were described as belonging to a third sex by several Roman writers.
The ancient Maya civilization may have recognised a third gender, according to historian Matthew Looper. Looper notes the androgynous Maize Deity and masculine Moon goddess of Maya mythology, and iconography and inscriptions where rulers embody or impersonate these deities. He suggests that the third gender could also include two-spirit individuals with special roles such as healers or diviners.
Anthropologist and archaeologist Miranda Stockett notes that several writers have felt the need to move beyond a two-gender framework when discussing prehispanic cultures across mesoamerica, and concludes that the Olmec, Aztec and Maya peoples understood "more than two kinds of bodies and more than two kinds of gender." Anthropologist Rosemary Joyce agrees, writing that "gender was a fluid potential, not a fixed category, before the Spaniards came to Mesoamerica. Childhood training and ritual shaped, but did not set, adult gender, which could encompass third genders and alternative sexualities as well as "male" and "female." At the height of the Classic period, Maya rulers presented themselves as embodying the entire range of gender possibilities, from male through female, by wearing blended costumes and playing male and female roles in state ceremonies." Joyce notes that many figures of mesoamerican art are depicted with male genitalia and female breasts, while she suggests that other figures in which chests and waists are exposed but no sexual characteristics (primary or secondary) are marked may represent a third sex, ambiguous gender or androgyny.
Andean Studies scholar Michael Horswell writes that third-gendered ritual attendants to chuqui chinchay, a jaguar deity in Incan mythology, were "vital actors in Andean ceremonies" prior to Spanish colonisation. Horswell elaborates: "These quariwarmi (men-women) shamans mediated between the symmetrically dualistic spheres of Andean cosmology and daily life by performing rituals that at times required same-sex erotic practices. Their transvested attire served as a visible sign of a third space that negotiated between the masculine and the feminine, the present and the past, the living and the dead. Their shamanic presence invoked the androgynous creative force often represented in Andean mythology." Richard Trexler gives an early Spanish account of religious 'third gender' figures from the Inca empire in his 1995 book "Sex and Conquest":
|“||It is true that, as a general thing among the mountaineers and the coastal dwellers [Yungas], the devil has introduced his vice under the pretense of sanctity. And in each important temple or house of worship, they have a man or two, or more, depending on the idol, who go dressed in women's attire from the time they are children, and speak like them, and in manner, dress, and everything else they imitate women. With them especially the chiefs and headmen have carnal, foul intercourse on feast days and holidays, almost like a religious rite and ceremony.||”|
The natives of modern Illinois decided the gender of their members based on their childhood behavior. If a genetic male child used female tools like a spade or ax instead of a bow, they considered them berdaches.
The musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch includes a song called The Origin of Love which appears to be a lyrical adaptation of Aristophanes' creation myth.