Third gender

The terms third gender and third sex describe individuals who are considered to be neither women nor men, as well as the social category present in those societies who recognize three or more genders.

The state of being neither male nor female may be understood in relation to the individual's biological sex, gender role, gender identity, or sexual orientation. To different cultures or individuals, a third sex or gender may represent an intermediate state between men and women, a state of being both (such as "the spirit of a man in the body of a woman"), the state of being neither (neuter), the ability to cross or swap genders, or another category altogether independent of male and female. This last definition is favored by those who argue for a strict interpretation of the "third gender" concept.

The term has been used to describe Hijras of India and Pakistan, [Agrawal, Anuja (1997). "Gendered Bodies: The Case of the ‘Third Gender’ in India," Contributions to Indian Sociology, n.s., 31 (1997): 273–97] Fa'afafine of Polynesia, and Sworn virgins of the Balkans,Young, Antonia (2000). "Women Who Become Men: Albanian Sworn Virgins." ISBN 1-85973-335-2] among others, and is also used by many of such groups and individuals to describe themselves. In the Western world, lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex people have been described as belonging to a third sex or gender, although some object to this characterization.

The term "third" is usually understood to mean "other"; some anthropologists and sociologists have described fourth, [Roscoe, Will (2000). "Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America". Palgrave Macmillan (June 17 2000) ISBN 0-312-22479-6
See also: Trumbach, Randolph (1994). "London’s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the Making of Modern Culture." In Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, edited by Gilbert Herdt, 111-36. New York: Zone (MIT).
] fifth,Graham, Sharyn (2001), [ Sulawesi's fifth gender] , Inside Indonesia, April-June 2001.] and manyMartin, M. Kay and Voorhies, Barbara (1975). "Supernumerary Sexes," chapter 4 of Female of the Species (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), 23.] genders.

Third sex in biology

In animals that exhibit sexual dimorphism, a number of individuals within a population will not differentiate sexually into bodies that are typically male or female. In non-human animals, this is called hermaphroditism, and in humans, it 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 proposed in a 1993 article that five sexes may be more adequate than just two, for describing human bodies. [cite journal |author=Fausto-Sterling, Anne |title=The Five Sexes: Why male and female are not enough|journal=The Sciences |year=1993|issue=May/April 1993|pages=20–25 [ Article online] .]

In addition to male and female sexes (defined as the production of small or large gametes), evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden argues that more than two "genders" exist in hundreds of animal species.Roughgarden, Joan (2004). "Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People". University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24073-1 Especially chapter 6, "Multiple Gender Families", pp. 75 - 105.] 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. [Ibid, p. 76 - 78] 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". [pp. 78 - 88] 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. [Ibid, pp 89 - 90] 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. [Ibid, pp. 90 - 93]

Third gender in contemporary societies

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 only recognizes the following two social norms has been labeled "heteronormativity":

* female genitalia = female identity = feminine behavior = desire male partner
* male genitalia = male identity = masculine behavior = desire female partner

The Indian subcontinent

The Hijra [Talwar, Rajesh (1999). "The Third sex and Human Rights", Gyan Publishing House. ISBN 81-212-0266-3] of India and Bangladesh 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). British 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.'" ["Myself Mona Ahmed". by Dayanita Singh (Photographer) and Mona Ahmed. Scalo Publishers (September 15 2001). ISBN 3-908247-46-2] Hijra social movements have campaigned for recognition as a third sex, ["India's eunuchs demand rights", by Habib Beary, BBC correspondent in Bangalore. [ Article online] .] and in 2005, Indian passport application forms were updated with three gender options: M, F, and E (for male, female, and eunuch, respectively). ["‘Third sex’ finds a place on Indian passport forms", The Telegraph, March 10 2005. [ Article online] ]

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. [Phillimore, Peter (1991). "Unmarried Women of the Dhaula Dhar: Celibacy and Social Control in Northwest India." Journal of Anthropological Research 47 (3): 331-50.] A late-nineteenth century anthropologist noted the existence of a similar role in Madras, that of the "basivi". [Fawcett, Fred (1891). "On Basivis: Women Who, through Dedication to a Deity, Assume Masculine Privileges." Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay (July). Bombay: Education Society's Press; London: Treubner.] However, historian Walter Penrose concludes that in both cases "their status is perhaps more 'transgendered' than 'third-gendered.'" [Penrose, Walter (2001). "Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a "Third Nature" in the South Asian Past," Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.1]


Also commonly referred to as a third sex are the kathoeys (or "ladyboys") of Thailand. [Totman, Richard, (2004). "The Third Sex: Kathoey: Thailand's Ladyboys", Souvenir Press. ISBN 0-285-63668-5] 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.Winter, Sam (2003). Research and discussion paper: "Language and identity in transgender: gender wars and the case of the Thai kathoey." Paper presented at the Hawaii conference on Social Sciences, Waikiki, June 2003. [ Article online] .] 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. ["Transvestites Get Their Own School Bathroom", Associated Press, June 22 2004.]

The Western world

, 1908. " [ The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and Women] ".] Aimée Duc [Duc, Aimée, 1901. "Sind es Frauen? Roman über das dritte Geschlecht" ("Are These Women? Novel about the Third Sex")] 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. [Jones, James W. (1990). "We of the third sex” : Literary Representations of Homosexuality in Wilhelmine Germany." (German Life and Civilization v. 7) New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1990. ISBN 0-8204-1209-0] 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 [Wright, Barbara D. (1897). "'New Man,' Eternal Woman: Expressionist Responses to German Feminism," The German Quarterly, 60, no. 4, (Autumn 1987): 594.] 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.

Sexual orientationThroughout 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. [Sell, Ingrid. (2001). "Not man, not woman: Psychospiritual characteristics of a Western third gender." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 33 (1), pp. 16-36. (Complete doctoral dissertation: Sell, Ingrid. (2001). "Third gender: A qualitative study of the experience of individuals who identify as being neither man nor woman." (Doctoral Dissertation, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology). UMI No. 3011299.)] 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. [Harvard Business School Profile [ form online] .]

Indigenous cultures of North America

Also very much associated with multiple genders are the indigenous cultures of North America, [See, for example, Hollimon, S. E. (1997), "The third-gender in native California: two-spirit undertakers among the Chumash and their neighbors." In Women in Prehistory, C. Claassen and R. Joyce (Ed.). Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 173 - 188.] 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." [Goulet, Jean-Guy A. (2006). "The 'berdache'/'two-spirit': a comparison of anthropological and native constructions of gendered identities among the Northern Athapaskans." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2.n4 (December 1996): 683(19).
*The works cited in this overview are:
Angelino, H. & C. Shedd, (1955). "A note on Berdache." Am. Anthrop. 57, pp. 121-6.
Blackwood, E. (1984). "Sexuality and gender in certain Native American tribes: the case of cross-gender females." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 10, pp. 27-4
Callender, C. & L.M. Kochems (1983a). "The North American berdache." Current Anthropology 24, 443-56.
— (1983b). "Reply". Curr. Anthrop. 24, 464-7.
Jacobs, S.-E. (1968). "Berdache: a brief review of the literature." Colorado Anthrop. 1, pp. 25-40.
— (1983). "Comment." Curr. Anthrop. 24, 462.
Kessler, S. & W. McKenna (1978). "Gender: an ethnomethodological approach." New York: Wiley.
Roscoe, W. (1987). "Bibliography of berdache and alternative gender roles among North American Indians." Journal of Homosexuality. 14, 81-171.
— (1994). "How to become a berdache: toward a unified analysis of gender diversity." In "Third sex, third gender: beyond sexual dimorphism in culture and history" (ed.) G. Herdt. New York: Zone Books.
Scheffler, H.W. (1991). "Sexism and naturalism in the study of kinship." In "Gender at the crossroads of knowledge: feminist anthropology in the postmodern era" (ed.) M. di Leonardo. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
Whitehead, H. (1981). "The bow and the burden str

Williams, W.L. (1986). "The spirit and the flesh: sexual diversity in American Indian culture." Boston: Beacon Press.

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. [ [ B.C. on Gender: The Berdache Tradition ] ] 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.


The following gender categories have also been described as a third gender:

:Middle East:
* Oman: "Xanith" or "khanith". [Wikan, Unni (1991). "The Xanith: a third gender role? in Behind the veil in Arabia: women in Oman." Chicago: University of Chicago Press]

* Polynesia: "Fa'afafine" (Samoa), [Sua'aIi'i, Tamasailau, "Samoans and Gender: Some Reflections on Male, Female and Fa'afafine Gender Identities", in: "Tangata O Te Moana Nui: The Evolving Identities of Pacific Peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand", Palmerston North (NZ): Dunmore Press, 2001, ISBN 0-86469-369-9] "fakaleiti" (Tonga), "mahu wahine" (Hawaii), "mahu vahine" (Tahiti), "whakawahine" (Māori) and "akava'ine" (Cook Islands). ["National fono for Pacific “third sex” communities", media release from New Zealand Aids Foundation, August 5 2005. [ Article online] .]

* Indonesia: "Waria". [Oostvogels, Robert (1995). "The Waria of Indonesia: A Traditional Third Gender Role", in Herdt (ed.), op cit.] 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 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 "bakla" (Tagalog), "bayot" (Cebuano), "agi" (Ilonggo), "bantut" (Tausug), "binabae", "bading" — all of which refer to effeminate 'gay' men/transwomen. Gender variant females may be called "lakin-on" or tomboy. [Nanda, Serena (1999). "Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations". Waveland Pr Inc, 7 October 1999. ISBN 1-57766-074-9]

* 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

* Southern Ethiopia: "Ashtime" of Maale culture [Donham, Donald (1990). "History, Power, Ideology. Central Issues in Marxism and Anthropology", Cambridge]
* Kenya: "Mashoga" of Swahili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast, particularly Mombasa
* Democratic Republic of the Congo: "Mangaiko" among the Mbo people. [Towles, Joseph A. (1993). "Nkumbi initiation: Ritual and structure among the Mbo of Zaire", Musée royal de l'Afrique Centrale (Tervuren, Belgique)]

:Latin America and the Caribbean:
* "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. [Kulick, Don (1998). "Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)]
* Dominican republic: "Guevedoche", intersex girls who become boys at puberty, due to 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. [Nataf, Zachary I (1998). "Whatever I feel...", New Internationalist, Issue 300 / April 1998. [ Article online] .] The same phenomenon is known as "kwolu-aatmwol" in the "Sambia" community in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea. [Herdt, Gilbert. (1993). "Mistaken Sex: Culture, Biology and the Third Sex in New Guinea," in Herdt, (1999). "Sambia Sexual Culture: Essays from the Field." Chicago. 243–64.]

Third gender in history


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. [Murray, Stephen O., and Roscoe, Will (1997). "Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature." New York: New York University Press.] 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. [Roscoe, Will (1996). "Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion". History of Religions 35(3) (1996): 295-330.
*Roscoe identifies these temple staff by the names "kalû", "kurgarrû", and "assinnu".
] They worked as sacred prostitutes or Hierodules, performed ecstatic dance, music and plays, wore masks and had gender characteristics of both women and men. [Nissinen, Martti (1998). "Homoeroticism in the Biblical World", Translated by Kirsi Stjedna. Fortress Press (November 1998) p. 30. ISBN 0-8006-2985-X
See also: Maul, S. M. (1992). "Kurgarrû und assinnu und ihr Stand in der babylonischen Gesellschaft." Pp. 159-71 in Aussenseiter und Randgruppen. Konstanze Althistorische Vorträge und Forschungern 32. Edited by V. Haas. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag.
] In Sumer, they were given the cuneiform names of "ur.sal" ("dog/man-woman") and "kur.gar.ra" (also described as a man-woman). [Nissinen (1998) p. 28, 32.] 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. [Leick, Gwendolyn (1994). "Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature". Routledge. New York.
*Leick's account: Sumerian: "sag-ur-sag", "pilpili" and "kurgarra"; and Assyrian: "assinnu". Leick describes them as "hermaphrodites, homosexual transvestites, and other, castrated individuals".
Burns, John Barclay (2000). "Devotee or Deviate: The “Dog” (keleb) in Ancient Israel as a Symbol of Male Passivity and Perversion". Journal of Religion & Society Volume 2 (2000). ISSN 1522-5658
*Burns defines the "assinnu" as "a member of Ishtar’s cultic staff with whom, it seems, a man might have intercourse, whose masculinity had become femininity" and who "lacked libido, either from a natural defect or castration". He described the "kulu'u" as effeminate and the "kurgarru" as transvestite. In addition, he defines another kind of gender-variant prostitute, "sinnisānu", as (literally) “woman-like.”


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). [Sethe, Kurt, (1926), "Die Aechtung feindlicher Fürsten, Völker und Dinge auf altägyptischen Tongefäßscherben des mittleren Reiches," in: Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, 1926, p. 61.] "Sḫt" is often translated as "eunuch", although there is little evidence that such individuals were castrated. [ [ The Third Gender in Ancient Egypt] , Faris Malik. (web site)]

Indic culture

References to a third sex can be found throughout the various texts of India's three ancient spiritual traditions — Hinduism, [Wilhelm, Amara Das (2004). "Tritiya Prakriti (People of the Third Sex): Understanding Homosexuality, Transgender Identity and Intersex Conditions through Hinduism" (XLibris Corporation, 2004).] Jainism [Zwilling, Leonard and Sweet, Michael (1996). "Like a City Ablaze: The Third Sex and the Creation of Sexuality in Jain Religious Literature," Journal of the History of Sexuality, 6 (3), pp.359-384] and Buddhism [Jackson, Peter A. (1996). "Non-normative Sex/Gender Categories in the Theravada Buddhist Scriptures", Australian Humanities Review, April 1996. [ Full text.] ] — 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). [Alternate transliteration: "trhytîyâ prakrhyti"] Various texts suggest that third sex individuals were well known in premodern India, and included male-bodied or female-bodied [Historian Walter Penrose wrote that "distinct social and economic roles once existed for women thought to belong to a third gender. Hidden in history, these women dressed in men's clothing, served as porters and personal bodyguards to kings and queens, and even took an active role in sex with women." Penrose, Walter (2001). "Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a "Third Nature" in the South Asian Past", Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.1 (2001), p.4] 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." [Manu Smriti, 3.49. [ Text online] .] 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, [The hero Arjuna takes a "vow of eunuchism" to live as the third sex for a year: "O lord of the Earth, I will declare myself as one of the neuter sex. O monarch, it is, indeed difficult to hide the marks of the bowstring on my arms. I will, however, cover both my cicatrized arms with bangles. Wearing brilliant rings on my ears and conch-bangles on my wrists and causing a braid to hang down from my head, I shall, O king, appear as one of the third sex, Vrihannala by name. And living as a female I shall (always) entertain the king and the inmates of the inner apartments by reciting stories. And, O king, I shall also instruct the women of Virata's palace in singing and delightful modes of dancing and in musical instruments of diverse kinds. And I shall also recite the various excellent acts of men..." [ Mahabharata (Virata-parva)] , Translated by Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. Project Gutenberg.] 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). [Jackson, Peter A. (1996). Ibid.] 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. [Gyatso, Janet (2003). "One Plus One Makes Three: Buddhist Gender Conceptions and the Law of the Non-Excluded Middle," History of Religions. 2003, no. 2. University of Chicago press.]

Mediterranean culture

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. [Jackson, Peter A. (1995) "Kathoey: The third sex." In Jackson, P., "Dear Uncle Go: Male homosexuality in Thailand." Bangkok, Thailand: Bua Luang Books
See also: Peltier, Anatole-Roger (1991). "Pathamamulamuli: The Origin of the World in the Lan Na Tradition". Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books. The Yuan creation myth in the book is from Pathamamulamuli, an antique Buddhist palmleaf manuscript. Its translator, Anatole-Roger Peltier, believes that this story is based on an oral tradition which is over five hundred years old. [ Text online] .

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. [S. Tougher, ed., (2001) "Eunuchs in Antiquity and Beyond" (London: Duckworth Publishing, 2001).
Ringrose, Kathryn M. (2003). "The Perfect Servant: Eunuchs and the Social Construction of Gender in Byzantium." Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2003.
] In the Historia Augusta, the eunuch body is described as a "tertium genus hominum" (a third human gender), [Historia Augusta, "Severus Alexander" xxiii.7.] 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"). [Valerius Maximus, 7.7.6).] 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. [Hester, J. David (2005). "Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus: Matthew 19:12 and Transgressive Sexualities". Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 28, No. 1, 13-40 (2005)] The first Christian theologian, Tertullian, wrote that Jesus himself was a eunuch (c. 200 AD). [Tertullian, On Monogamy, 3: “...He stands before you, if you are willing to copy him, as a voluntary "spado" (eunuch) in the flesh.” And elsewhere: "The Lord Himself opened the kingdom of heaven to eunuchs and He Himself lived as a eunuch. The [Paul of Tarsus|apostle [Paul] also, following His example, made himself a eunuch..."] 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." [Tertullian, "Ad nationes", 1.20.4. [ Text online] .] 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. [e.g. "Both sexes are displeasing to her holiness, so [the gallus] keeps a middle gender ("medium genus") between the others." Prudentius, Peristephanon, 10.1071-3]

Throughout the history of the Christian Church, nuns, monks and priests have also been understood as belonging to a third gender, and compared to the Biblical eunuchs. [ [ The Historic Origins of Church Condemnation of Homosexuality The Historic Origins of Church Condemnation of Homosexuality ] ]

The Americas

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. [Looper, Matthew G. (2001). "Ancient Maya Women-Men (and Men-Women): Classic Rulers and the Third Gender", In: "Ancient Maya Women", ed. Traci Ardren. Walnut Creek, California: Alta Mira, 2001.]

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, [Stockett, Miranda K. ( 2005). "On the importance of difference: re-envisioning sex and gender in ancient Mesoamerica", World Archaeology, Routledge, Volume 37, Number 4 / December 2005. pp. 566 - 578
In addition to Looper (above) and Joyce (below), Stockett cites:
Geller, P. (2004). "Skeletal analysis and theoretical complications." Paper presented at Que(e)rying Archaeology: The Fifteenth Anniversary Gender Conference, Chacmool Archaeology Conference, University of Calgary, Calgary.
Joyce, R. (1998). "Performing the body in pre-Hispanic Central American." RES, 33: 147–65.
Lopez-Austin, A. (1988). "The Human Body and Ideology: Concepts of Ancient Nahuas" (trans T.O. de Montellano and B.O. de Montellano). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
] 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. [Joyce, Rosemary A. (2000). "Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica." Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.]


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." [Horswell, Michael J. (2006). "Transculturating Tropes of Sexuality, "Tinkuy", and Third Gender in the Andes", introduction to "Decolonizing the Sodomite: Queer Tropes of Sexuality in Colonial Andean Culture". ISBN 0-292-71267-7. [ Article online] .] Richard Trexler gives an early Spanish account of religious 'third gender' figures from the Inca empire in his 1995 book "Sex and Conquest":


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. [Pierre Liette. Memoir of Pierre Liette on the Illinois Country as quoted in Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornsten]

Third sex in art and literature

*A person named 'Campbell Angus MacEwan' - Award winning book by Campbell MacEwan
*"Middlesex" (2002), the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Jeffrey Eugenides
*In the 1980s science fiction book trilogy "Xenogenesis", by Octavia Butler, the extraterrestrial race has three sexes: male, female, and Ooloi. They also have sexual relationships with humans and interbreed with them.
*In the world of Carolyn Ives Gilman's 1998 novel "Halfway Human", all children are born with indeterminate sex, and develop into male, female, or "bland" in adolescence. Blands are a neuter category lacking sexual characteristics, who are disparaged and treated as servants — the "halfway humans" of the book's title.
*Literary critic Michael Maiwald identifies a "third-sex ideal" in the one of the first African-American bestsellers, Claude McKay's "Home to Harlem" (1928). [Maiwald, Michael (2002). "Race, Capitalism, and the Third-Sex Ideal: Claude McKay's Home to Harlem and the Legacy of Edward Carpenter", MFS Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 48, Number 4, Winter 2002]
*"The Third Sex", a 1959 lesbian pulp fiction novel by Artemis Smith.
*"The Third Sex", a 1934 film directed by Richard C. Kahn, based on a novel by Radcliffe Hall, "The Well of Loneliness". [ [ The Third Sex (1934) ] ]
*"Anders als du und ich" ("Different From You and I"), a 1957 film directed by Veit Harlan, was also known under the titles "Bewildered Youth" (USA) and "The Third Sex". [ [ Anders als du und ich (1957) ] ]
*"Mikaël", a 1924 film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer was also released as "Chained: The Story of the Third Sex" in the USA. [ [ Michael (1924) ] ]
*In David Lindsay's "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 "Shaping" (the Demiurge). The appropriate pronouns are "ae" and "aer".
*In "Imajica", one of the characters, Pie 'oh' Pah, is called a "mystif", and has the characteristics of a third sex that is neither male nor female but could either fertilize or bear children. Pie marries the male character Gentle, but says it prefers not to be called his wife.
*In C. S. Lewis' "Space Trilogy", the solar system has seven genders (not sexes) altogether.
*In Matt Groening's cartoon series "Futurama", "smizmar" is used as a term for a third sex, the name for the individuals whom inspire the feeling of love (and thus conception, for that species), regardless of genetic relationship, to Kif Kroker's species, the Amphibiosians. This is explained in the episode "Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch".
*Arthur C. Clarke's novel "Rendezvous with Rama" depicts an alien civilization with three genders.
*Ursula K. Le Guin's 1969 novel "The Left Hand of Darkness" posits a world called Gethen, on which humans are androgynes, effectively neuter 12/13 of the time, and for up to two days per month are said to be "in Kemmer," that is, openly available to enter either male or female state as per pheromonal contact with a potential mate.

ee also

* List of transgender-related topics
* Sexual norm


Further reading

* Gilbert Herdt, ed. 1996. "Third Sex Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History." ISBN 0-942299-82-5
* Morris, Rosalind. 1994. "Three Sexes and Four Sexualities: Redressing the Discourses on Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Thailand", in Positions 2(1):15-43.
* Wilhelm, Amara Das. "Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex." Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris Corporation, 2005.

External Links

* [ Counselling on Third Gender]

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