Third gender or third sex is a concept in which individuals are categorized, either by themselves or by society, as neither man nor woman. It is also a social category present in societies that recognize three or more genders. The term third is usually understood to mean "other"; some anthropologists and sociologists have described fourth, fifth, and "some" genders.
Biology determines whether a human's chromosomal and anatomical sex is male, female, or one of the uncommon variations on this sexual dimorphism that can create a degree of ambiguity known as intersex. However, the state of personally identifying as, or being identified by society as, a man, a woman, or other, is usually also defined by the individual's gender identity and gender role in the particular culture in which they live. Not all cultures have strictly defined gender roles.
In different cultures, a third or fourth gender may represent very different things. To the Indigenous Māhū of Hawaii, it is an intermediate state between man and woman, or to be a "person of indeterminate gender". The traditional Dineh of the Southwestern US acknowledge four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man. The term "third gender" has also been used to describe hijras of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have gained legal identity, fa'afafine of Polynesia, and sworn virgins of the Balkans.
While found in a number of non-Western cultures, concepts of "third", "fourth", and "some" gender roles are still somewhat new to mainstream western culture and conceptual thought. The concept is most likely to be embraced in the modern LGBT or queer subcultures, or in ethnic minority cultures that exist within larger Western communities such as the North American Indigenous cultures that have roles for Two Spirit people. While mainstream western scholars, notably anthropologists who have tried to write about Native American and South Asian "gender variant" people, have often sought to understand the term "third gender" solely in the language of the modern LGBT community, other scholars especially Indigenous scholars, stress that their lack of cultural understanding and context has led to widespread misrepresentation of third gender people.
Sex and gender
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".
Anthropologist Michael G. Peletz believes our notions of different types of genders (including the attitudes toward the third gender) deeply affect our lives and reflects our values in society. In Peletz' book, "Gender, Sexuality, and Body Politics in Modern Asia", he describes:
For our purposes, the term "gender" designates the cultural categories, symbols, meanings, practices, and institutionalized arrangements bearing on at least five sets of phenomena: (1) females and femininity; (2) males and masculinity; (3) Androgynes, who are partly male and partly female in appearance or of indeterminate sex/gender, as well as intersexed individuals, also known as hermaphrodites, who to one or another degree may have both male and female sexual organs or characteristics; (4) the transgendered, who engage in practices that transgress or transcend normative boundaries and are thus by definition "transgressively gendered"; and (5) neutered or unsexed/ungendered individuals such as eunuchs.
Intersex people and third gender
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies". A sex and gender distinction is not universal, and Peletz's description of gender as designating biological variations as well as cultural practices is not unique. In a study of arguments that intersex people fit into a third gender classification, intersex scholar Morgan Holmes argues that much analysis of a third sex or third gender is simplistic:
much of the existing work on cultural systems that incorporate a 'third sex' portray simplistic visions in which societies with more than two sex/gender categories are cast as superior to those that divide the world into just two. I argue that to understand whether a system is more or less oppressive than another we have to understand how it treats its various members, not only its 'thirds'.
Like non-intersex people, some intersex individuals may not identify themselves as either exclusively female or exclusively male, but most appear to be men or women. A clinical review suggests that between 8.5-20% of persons with intersex conditions may experience gender dysphoria, while sociological research in Australia, a country with a third 'X' sex classification, shows that 19% of people born with atypical sex characteristics selected an "X" or "other" option, while 52% are women, 23% men and 6% unsure. Alex MacFarlane is believed to be the first person in Australia to obtain a birth certificate recording sex as indeterminate, and the first Australian passport with an 'X' sex marker in 2003.
- To register intersex children as females or males, with the awareness that, like all people, they may grow up to identify with a different sex or gender.
- To ensure that sex or gender classifications are amendable through a simple administrative procedure at the request of the individuals concerned. All adults and capable minors should be able to choose between female (F), male (M), non-binary or multiple options. In the future, as with race or religion, sex or gender should not be a category on birth certificates or identification documents for anybody.
The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions states that the legal recognition of intersex people is firstly about access to the same rights as other men and women, when assigned male or female; secondly it is about access to administrative corrections to legal documents when an original sex assignment is not appropriate; and thirdly it is not about the creation of a third sex or gender classification for intersex people as a population but it is, instead, about self-determination.
In March 2017, an Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand community statement called for an end to legal classification of sex, stating that legal third classifications, like binary classifications, were based on structural violence and failed to respect diversity and a "right to self-determination". It also called for the criminalization of deferrable intersex medical interventions.
Transgender people and third gender
Gender may be organized differently in different cultures. In some non-Western cultures, gender is not binary and one can cross freely between male and female. This is seen as a mediation between the spirit and mundane worlds. It is seen as a positive and is almost revered in most Eastern cultures, whereas in Western cultures, people who don’t conform to heteronormative ideals are often seen as sick, disordered, or insufficiently formed.
To the Indigenous Māhū of Hawaii, it is an intermediate state between man and woman, or to be a "person of indeterminate gender"; While the traditional Dineh of the Southwestern US acknowledge four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man. The term "third gender" has also been used to describe hijras of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have gained legal identity, fa'afafine of Polynesia, and sworn virgins of the Balkans.
In Africa, a woman can be recognized as a “female husband” who enjoys all of the privileges of men and is recognized as such, but whose femaleness, while not openly acknowledged, is not forgotten either. The hijras, of India, are one of the most recognized and socially accepted groups of third genders. This may be a result of the notion of reincarnation, which reduces not only gender categorization but also sex and species, allowing for more fluid and mutable categorization. There are countless other cultures in which the third gender is seen as an intermediate being rather than as a movement from one conventional sex to the other, either male to female or vice versa.
In a study of people in the United States who thought themselves to be members of a third gender, Ingrid M. Sell found that they typically felt different from the age of 5. Because of both peer and parental pressure, those growing up with the most ambiguous appearances had the most troubled childhoods and difficulties later in life. Sell also discovered similarities between the third genders of the East and those of the West. Nearly half of those interviewed were healers or in the medical profession. A majority of them, again like their Eastern counterparts, were artistic enough to make a living from their abilities. The capacity to mediate between men and women was a common skill, and third genders were oftentimes thought to possess an unusually wide perspective and the ability to understand both sides. A notable result of Sell's study is that 93% of the third genders interviewed appeared, again like their Eastern counterparts, to possess “paranormal”-type abilities.
In recent years, some Western societies have begun to recognize genderqueer or non-binary identities. Some years after Alex MacFarlane, Australian Norrie May-Welby was recognized as having unspecified status. In 2016, an Oregon circuit court ruled that a resident, Jamie Shupe, could legally change gender to non-binary.
The Open Society Foundations published a report, License to Be Yourself in May 2014, documenting "some of the world's most progressive and rights-based laws and policies that enable trans people to change their gender identity on official documents". The report comments on the recognition of third classifications, stating:
From a rights-based perspective, third sex / gender options should be voluntary, providing trans people with a third choice about how to define their gender identity. Those identifying as a third sex / gender should have the same rights as those identifying as male or female.
People tend to identify a third sex with freedom from the gender binary, but that is not necessarily the case. If only trans and/or intersex people can access that third category, or if they are compulsively assigned to a third sex, then the gender binary gets stronger, not weaker.
The report concludes that two or three options are insufficient: "A more inclusive approach would be to increase options for people to self-define their sex and gender identity."
Third gender and sexual orientation
One such term, Uranian, was used in the 19th century to a person of a third sex—originally, someone with "a female psyche in a male body" who is sexually attracted to men. Its definition was later extended to cover homosexual gender variant females and a number of other sexual types. It is believed to be an English adaptation of the German word Urning, which was first published by activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825–95) in a series of five booklets (1864–65) that were collected under the title Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe ("Research into the Riddle of Man-Male Love"). Ulrich developed his terminology before the first public use of the term "homosexual", which appeared in 1869 in a pamphlet published anonymously by Karl-Maria Kertbeny (1824–82). The word Uranian (Urning) was derived by Ulrichs from the Greek goddess Aphrodite Urania, who was created out of the god Uranus' testicles; it stood for homosexuality, while Aphrodite Dionea (Dioning) represented heterosexuality. Lesbian activist Anna Rueling used the term in a 1904 speech, "What Interest Does the Women's Movement Have in Solving the Homosexual Problem?"
According to some scholars, the West is trying to reinterpret and redefine ancient third-gender identities to fit the Western concept of sexual orientation. In Redefining Fa'afafine: Western Discourses and the Construction of Transgenderism in Samoa, Johanna Schmidt argues that the Western attempts to reinterpret fa'afafine, the third gender in Samoan culture, make it have more to do with sexual orientation than gender. She also argues that this is actually changing the nature of fa'afafine itself, and making it more "homosexual".
A Samoan fa'afafine said, "But I would like to pursue a master's degree with a paper on homosexuality from a Samoan perspective that would be written for educational purposes, because I believe some of the stuff that has been written about us is quite wrong."
In How to become a Berdache: Toward a unified analysis of gender diversity, Will Roscoe writes that "this pattern can be traced from the earliest accounts of the Spaniards to present-day ethnographies. What has been written about berdaches reflects more the influence of existing Western discourses on gender, sexuality and the Other than what observers actually witnessed."
According to Towle and Morgan:
Ethnographic examples [of ‘third genders’] can come from distinct societies located in Thailand, Polynesia, Melanesia, Native America, western Africa, and elsewhere and from any point in history, from Ancient Greece, to sixteenth century England to contemporary North America. Popular authors routinely simplify their descriptions, ignoring...or conflating dimensions that seem to them extraneous, incomprehensible, or ill suited to the images they want to convey (484).
Western scholars often do not make a distinction between people of the third gender and males; they are often lumped together. The scholars usually use gender roles as a way to explain sexual relations between the third gender and males. For example, when analyzing the non-normative sex gender categories in Theravada Buddhism, Peter A. Jackson says it appears that within early Buddhist communities, men who engaged in receptive anal sex were seen as feminized and were thought to be hermaphrodites. In contrast, men who engaged in oral sex were not seen as crossing sex/gender boundaries, but rather as engaging in abnormal sexual practices without threatening their masculine gendered existence.
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 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).
Throughout much of the twentieth century, the term "third sex" was a common descriptor for homosexuals and gender nonconformists, but after the gay liberation movements 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. Other modern identities that cover similar ground include pangender, bigender, genderqueer, androgyne, intergender, "other gender" and "differently gendered".
Third gender and feminism
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.
After the decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) of 9 November 2017, Austrian media report that a similar case is also pending at the Constitutional Court (Verfassungsgerichtshof) in Austria. Two lower judicial instances already decided against the possibility of a "third gender". Each year at least 35 children in Austria are reported to be born with ambiguous sex characteristics. Surgical interventions on intersex children, to make them fit one of the binary sex characteristics, are criticized by Verein Intergeschlechtliche Menschen Österreich (VIMÖ), an Austrian association fighting for the rights of intersex people. They demand that children should be free to decide on these matters when they are grown up. Johannes Wahala, president of the Austrian Society For Sexologies and head of Beratungsstelle Courage advice center in Graz condemns these operations and wishes for the introduction of a third gender.
First reported in January 2003, Australians can choose "X" as their gender or sex. Alex MacFarlane is believed to be the first person in Australia to obtain a birth certificate recording sex as indeterminate, and the first Australian passport with an 'X' sex marker in 2003. This was stated by the West Australian newspaper to be on the basis of a challenge by MacFarlane, using an indeterminate birth certificate issued by the State of Victoria. Other individuals known to have similar early options include Tony Briffa of Organisation Intersex International Australia and former mayor of City of Hobsons Bay, Victoria, previously acknowledged as the world's first openly intersex public official and mayor.
Government policy between 2003 and 2011 was to issue passports with an 'X' marker to persons who could "present a birth certificate that notes their sex as indeterminate". In 2011, the Australian Passport Office introduced new guidelines for issuing of passports with a new gender, and broadened availability of an X descriptor to all individuals with documented "indeterminate" sex. The revised policy stated that "sex reassignment surgery is not a prerequisite to issue a passport in a new gender. Birth or citizenship certificates do not need to be amended."
Australian Commonwealth guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender, published in June 2013, extended the use of an 'X' gender marker to any adult who chooses that option, in all dealings with the Commonwealth government and its agencies. The option is being introduced over a three-year period. The guidelines also clarify that the federal government collects data on gender, rather than sex. In March 2014, the Australian Capital Territory introduced an 'X' classification for birth certificates.
Norrie May-Welby is popularly - but erroneously - often regarded as the first person in the world to obtain officially indeterminate, unspecified or "genderless" status. May-Welby became the first transsexual person in Australia to pursue a legal status of neither a man nor a woman, in 2010. In April 2014, the High Court of Australia ruled that NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages must record in the register that the sex of May-Welby is "non-specific". The Court found that sex affirmation "surgery did not resolve her sexual ambiguity".
In March 2017, an Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand community statement called for an end to legal classification of sex, stating that legal third classifications, like binary classifications, were based on structural violence and failed to respect diversity and a "right to self-determination".
In June 2016, the government of the province of Ontario announced changes to the way gender will be displayed on health cards and driver's licenses. Starting June 13, the Ontario health card no longer displays a sex designation. In early 2017, Ontario drivers will have the option to display "X" as a gender identifier on their driver's licenses.
In April 2017, a baby born in British Columbia, Searyl Atli Dotl, became the first in the world known to be issued a health card with a gender-neutral "U" sex marker. The parent, Kori Doty, who is non-binary transgender, wanted to give their child the opportunity to discover their own gender identity. The province has refused to issue a birth certificate to the child without specifying a gender; Doty has filed a legal challenge. Doty and seven other transgender and intersex people have filed a human rights complaint against the province, alleging that publishing gender markers on birth certificates is discriminatory.
Germany is thought to be the first European country that recognizes "indeterminate" sex on birth certificates, which is materialized by the absence of any gender marker, from November 2013. A report by the German Ethics Council stated that the law was passed because, "Many people who were subjected to a 'normalizing' operation in their childhood have later felt it to have been a mutilation and would never have agreed to it as adults." Deutsche Welle reported that an "indeterminate" 'option' was made available for the birth certificates of intersex infants with ambiguous genitalia on 1 November 2013. The move is controversial with many intersex advocates in Germany and elsewhere suggesting that it might encourage surgical interventions, or simply fails to address the key health concerns of intersex people. On 21 January 2015, the Celle Court of Appeals confirmed in a judgment that intersex people cannot obtain a gender marker other than "female" or "male" in their birth certificate, but only the absence of any such marker. The court held at the same time that even an adult intersex person who was registered with a gender marker at birth can obtain the deletion of that gender marker. This judgment was sent for review by the Federal Court of Justice.
On 8 November 2017, the Federal Constitutional Court released a press statement about its ruling from 10 October 2017, which is in favor of a positive third gender option instead of no entry. The ruling demands a third gender option to be introduced by 31 December 2018. It decisively points out that a third gender option must be based on gender identity, rather than biological sex, to be in conformance with the general right of personality of German basic law (Grundgesetz). They also recommend that it should be a single option besides male and female, which should include all gender identities that are neither male nor female. The exact wording is still to be determined, "divers" being one possible option that is mentioned, but this choice is left to the legislator.
The Hijra of India are probably the most well known and populous third sex type in the modern world – Mumbai-based community health organization 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 recognize 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). Some Indian languages such as Sanskrit have three gender options.
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. On April 15, 2014, the Supreme Court of India recognized a third gender that is neither male nor female, and as a class entitled to reservation in education and jobs, stating "Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue." This verdict made India one of the few countries to give this landmark judgment.
In addition to the feminine role of hijras, which is widespread across the subcontinent, a few occurrences of institutionalized "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 April 2014, Justice KS Radhakrishnan, of Supreme Court of India declared transgender to be the third gender in Indian law, in a case brought by the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) against Union of India and others. The ruling said:
Seldom, our society realizes or cares to realize the trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo, nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of the Transgender community, especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex. Our society often ridicules and abuses the Transgender community and in public places like railway stations, bus stands, schools, workplaces, malls, theatres, hospitals, they are sidelined and treated as untouchables, forgetting the fact that the moral failure lies in the society's unwillingness to contain or embrace different gender identities and expressions, a mindset which we have to change.
Justice Radhakrishnan said that transgender people should be treated consistently with other minorities under the law, enabling them to access jobs, healthcare and education. He framed the issue as one of human rights, saying that, "These TGs, even though insignificant in numbers, are still human beings and therefore they have every right to enjoy their human rights", concluding by declaring that:
- Hijras, Eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as "third gender" for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislature.
- Transgender persons' right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.
On December 27, 2007, the Supreme Court of Nepal issued a decision mandating that the government scrap all laws that discriminated based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity and establish a committee to study same-sex marriage policy. The court also established a third-gender category. Nepalese official documents afford citizens three gender options: male, female, and "others". This may include people who present or perform as a gender that is different from the one that was assigned to them at birth. Nepal's 2011 census was the first national census in the world to allow people to register as a gender other than male or female. The 2007 supreme court decision ordered the government to issue citizenship ID cards that allowed "third-gender" or "other" to be listed. The court also ordered that the only requirements to identify as third-gender would be the person's own self-identification.
“Legal provisions should be made to provide for gender identity to the people of transgender or third gender, under which female third gender, male third gender and intersexual are grouped, as per the concerned person’s self-feeling”
More recent material indicates that this third option is not available to intersex persons.
Birth certificates are available at birth showing "indeterminate" sex if it is not possible to assign a sex. The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs states, "A person’s sex can be recorded as indeterminate at the time of birth if it cannot be ascertained that the person is either male or female, and there are a number of people so recorded."
On 17 July 2015, Statistics New Zealand introduced a new gender identity classification standard for statistical purposes. The classification has three categories: male, female, and gender diverse. Gender diverse can be further divided into four subcategories: gender diverse not further defined, transgender male to female, transgender female to male, and gender diverse not elsewhere classified.
In March 2017, a Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australian community statement called for an end to legal classification of sex, stating that legal third classifications, like binary classifications, were based on structural violence and failed to respect diversity and a "right to self-determination".
In Pakistan, the polite term is khwaja sara or "khwaja sira" (Urdu: خواجه سرا), as hijra and khusra are considered derogatory by the khawaja sara community and human rights activists in Pakistan. As most of Pakistan's official government and business documents are in English, the term "third gender" has been chosen to represent individuals (either male or female, neither, and/or both) that identify themselves as, transsexual, transgender person, cross-dresser (zenana in Urdu), transvestite, and eunuchs (narnbans in Urdu).
In June 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered a census of khawaja sara, 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 khawaja sara 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 recognize that we are also human beings."
Also commonly referred to as a third sex are the kathoeys (or "ladyboys") of Thailand. These are people whose assigned sex was male who identify and live as female. A significant number of Thais perceive kathoeys as belonging to a third gender, including many kathoeys themselves; others see them as second category women. Although they are born genetically as male, kathoeys claim to possess a female heart which is the gender they truly are. Males undergoing sex-change operations are not uncommon occurrences but they are still regarded as men on their identification documents. Despite this, the Thai society remains one of the world's most tolerant attitude towards kathoeys or the third gender. 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.
Although Kathoeys are still not fully respected, they are gradually gaining acceptance and have made themselves a very distinct part of the Thai society. This is especially true in the entertainment, business, and fashion industries in Thailand, where the Kathoeys play significant roles in leadership and management positions. In addition, Kathoeys or second-category-women are very sought after when businesses are hiring salespeople. In many job posts, it is common to see companies state that second-category-women are preferred as their sales force because they are generally seen as more charismatic and expressive individuals.
The title "Mx.", is widely accepted in the United Kingdom by government organisations and businesses as an alternative for non-binary people while HESA allows the use of non-binary gender markers for students in higher education. In 2015 early day motion EDM660 was registered with Parliament. EDM660 calls for citizens to be permitted access to the X marker on passports. When the text of EDM660 came to light in 2016 a formal petition was launched through the Parliamentary Petitions Service calling for EDM660 to be passed into law.
In September 2015 the Ministry of Justice responded to a petition calling for self-determination of legal gender, saying that they were not aware of "any specific detriment" experienced by nonbinary people unable to have their genders legally recognised. In January 2016 the Trans Inquiry Report by the Women and Equalities Committee called for nonbinary people to be protected from discrimination under the Equality Act, for the X gender marker to be added to passports, and for a wholesale review into the needs of nonbinary people by the government within six months.
On October 26, 2015, LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the United States Department of State for denying navy veteran Dana Zzyym, Associate Director of OII-USA, a passport because they are, and identify as, neither male nor female. On November 22, 2016, the District Court for the District of Colorado ruled in favor of Zzyym, stating that the State Department violated federal law. The ruling stated that the court found "no evidence that the Department followed a rational decision-making process in deciding to implement its binary-only gender passport policy," and ordered the U.S. Passport Agency to reconsider its earlier decision.
On June 10, 2016, an Oregon circuit court ruled that a resident, Jamie Shupe, could legally change their gender to non-binary. Jamie Shupe was represented by civil rights lawyer Lake Perriguey. The Transgender Law Center believes this to be "the first ruling of its kind in the U.S."
On September 26, 2016, intersex California resident Sara Kelly Keenan became the second person in the United States to legally change her gender to non-binary. Keenan, who uses she/her pronouns and identifies as intersex "both as my medical reality and as my gender identification", cited Shupe's case as inspiration for her petition.
In December 2016, Keenan became the first American recipient of a birth certificate with "intersex" listed under the category of "sex". In April 2017, the second intersex birth certificate (in which the recipient's "sex" is listed as intersex) in the United States was issued to non-binary intersex writer and activist Hida Viloria.
On June 15, 2017, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to announce it will allow a non-binary "X" gender marker on state IDs and driver's licenses, beginning July 1. No doctor's note will be required for the change. The following week, Washington D.C. announced that a non-binary "X" gender marker for district-issued ID cards and driver's licenses would become available later in June, with no medical certification required. The D.C. policy change went into effect on June 27, making the district the first place in the U.S. to offer gender-neutral driver's licenses and ID cards. Also in June, legislation was introduced in New York to offer an "X" gender marker for residents' ID cards.
In September 2017, California passed legislation implementing a third, non-binary gender marker on California birth certificates, drivers' licenses, and identity cards. The bill, SB 179, also removes the requirements for a physician's statement and mandatory court hearing for gender change petitions. The new designation will be available on California drivers' licenses starting in 2019.
Modern societies without legal recognition
The following gender categories have also been described as a third gender:
- Southern Ethiopia: Ashtime of Maale culture
- Kenya: Mashoga of Swahili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast, particularly Mombasa.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: Mangaiko among the Mbo people.
- Micronesia: Palao'ana in Chamorro language, Northern Marianas Islands including Guam.
- Polynesia: Fa'afafine (Samoan), fakaleiti (Tongan), mahu wahine (Hawaiian), mahu vahine (Tahitian), whakawahine (New Zealand Māori) and akava'ine (Cook Islands Māori).
- Indonesia: Waria is a traditional third gender role found in modern Indonesia. Additionally, the Bugis culture of Sulawesi has been described as having three sexes (male, female and intersex) as well as five genders with distinct social roles.
- In Japan, X-gender is a third gender or genderqueer identity known as Xジェンダー. X-gender is a gender identity for people who are not expressly male or female.
- In the Philippines, a number of local sex/gender identities are commonly referred to as a 'third sex' in popular discourse, as well as by some academic studies. Local terms for these identities (which are considered derogatory by some) include baklâ and binabae (Tagalog), bayot (Cebuano), agi (Ilonggo), bantut (Tausug), badíng – all of which refer to 'gay' men or trans women. Gender variant females may be called lakin-on or tomboy.
- The Balkans: Sworn virgins, females who work and dress as men and inhabit some men-only spaces, but do not marry.
- 18th century England: Mollies
- 19th century England: Uranian
- Femminiello, in Neapolitan culture
Latin America and the Caribbean
- Southern Mexico: Muxe, In many Zapotece communities, third gender roles are often apparent The muxe are described as a third gender; biologically male but with feminine characteristics. They are not considered to be homosexuals, but rather just another gender Some will marry women and have families, others will form relationships with men Although it is recognized that these individuals have the bodies of men, they perform gender in a different manner than men, it is not a masculine persona but neither is it a feminine persona that they perform but, in general, a combination of the two Lynn Stephen quotes Jeffrey Rubin, "Prominent men who [were] rumoured to be homosexual and did not adopt the muxe identity were spoken of pejoratively", suggesting that muxe gender role was more acceptable in the community.
- Biza'ah, In Teotitlán, they have their own version of the muxe that they call biza'ah. According to Stephen, there were only 7 individuals in that community considered to be biza'ah in comparison to the muxe, of which there were many. Like the muxe they were well liked and accepted in the community. Their way of walking, talking and the work that they perform are markers of recognizing biza'ah.
- Travestis of Latin America have been described as a third gender, although not all see themselves this way. Don Kulick described the gendered world of travestis in urban Brazil as having has two categories: "men" and "not men", with women, homosexuals and travestis belonging to the latter category.
North American Indigenous cultures
Two Spirit is a modern umbrella term used by some indigenous North Americans to describe certain spiritual people - gay, lesbian, bisexual and gender-variant individuals - in their communities. Two Spirit differs from most western, mainstream definitions of sexuality and gender identity in that it is not so much about who one sleeps with, or how one personally identifies; rather, it is a sacred, spiritual and ceremonial role that is recognized and confirmed by the Elders of the Two Spirit's ceremonial community. While some have found the term a useful tool for intertribal organizing, not all Native cultures conceptualize gender or sexuality this way, and most tribes use names in their own languages. While pan-Indian terms are not always appropriate or welcome, the term has generally received more acceptance and use than the term it replaced.
Third and fourth gender roles traditionally embodied by two-spirit people include performing work and wearing clothing associated with both men and women. Not all tribes/nations have rigid gender roles, but, among those that do, some consider there to be at least four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man.
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 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 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). 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 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) 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 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, 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, too, will have a share in ruling 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, ubhatobyañjanaka (people of a dual sexual nature) and paṇḍaka (people of non-normative sexual natures, perhaps originally denoting a deficiency in male sexual capacity). As the Vinaya tradition developed, the term paṇḍaka came to refer to a broad third sex category which encompassed intersex, male and female bodied people with physical or behavioural attributes that were considered inconsistent with the natural characteristics of man and woman.
Contrary to what is often portrayed in the West, sex with male (specifically receptive oral and anal sex) was the gender role of the third gender, not their defining feature. Thus, in ancient India, as in present-day India, the society made a distinction between a third gender having sex with a man, and a man having sex with a man. The latter may have been viewed negatively, but he would be seen very much as a man (in modern western context, as 'straight'), not a third gender (in modern western context 'gay').
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. The myth of Hermaphroditus involves heterosexual lovers merging into their primordial 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 early 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.
In old Israel there were:
- Zachar: male
- Nekeva: female
- Androgynos: both male and female genitalia (eternal doubt of legal gender)
- Tumtum: genitalia concealed by skin (unknown gender, unless skin removed)
- Aylonit: Barren female. Female genitalia, barren.
- Saris: castrated or naturally infertile male (often translated as "eunuch")
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":
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.
Historically, the Indigenous people of Illinois have decided the gender of their members based on their childhood behavior. If a male child used tools considered to be "women's tools", such as a spade or ax instead of a bow, they were considered to be third gender, feminine men. The modern, pan-Indian term for this role is "Two-Spirit".
Art and literature
In David Lindsay's 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus there is a type of being called phaen, a third gender which is attracted neither to men nor women but to "Faceny" (their name for Shaping or Crystalman, the Demiurge). The appropriate pronouns are ae and aer.
Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five identifies seven human sexes (not genders) in the fourth dimension required for reproduction including gay men, women over 65, and infants who died before their first birthday. The Tralfamadorian race has five sexes.
Third gender and spirituality
In Hinduism, Shiva is still worshipped as an Ardhnarishwara, i.e. half-male and half-female form. Shiva's symbol, which is today known as Shivalinga, actually comprises a combination of a 'Yoni' (vagina) and a 'Ling' (phallus). The third genders have been ascribed spiritual powers by most indigenous societies.
For example on the Indian subcontinent the Hijras are supposed to have supernatural powers, through which they can bless people or curse them. This gives Hijras a unique place in society, and traditional Indians still invite Hijras to seek their blessings on important occasions such as marriage.
At the time of the birth of Christ, cults of men devoted to a goddess flourished throughout the broad region extending from the Mediterranean to south Asia. While galli were missionizing the Roman Empire, kalû, kurgarrû, and assinnu continued to carry out ancient rites in the temples of Mesopotamia, and the third-gender predecessors of the hijra were clearly evident. To complete the picture we should also mention the eunuch priests of Artemis at Ephesus; the western Semitic qedeshim, the male “temple prostitutes” known from the Hebrew Bible and Ugaritic texts of the late second millennium; and the keleb, priests of Astarte at Kition and elsewhere. Beyond India, modern ethnographic literature documents gender variant shaman-priests throughout southeast Asia, Borneo, and Sulawesi. All these roles share the traits of devotion to a goddess, gender transgression and receptive anal sex, ecstatic ritual techniques (for healing, in the case of galli and Mesopotamian priests, and fertility in the case of hijra), and actual (or symbolic) castration. Most, at some point in their history, were based in temples and, therefore, part of the religious-economic administration of their respective city-states.