What is Third Gender?

In modern society through many parts of the world, there has risen up a movement regarding people of intermediate gender identity and their advocates. Where many parts of the world identify (or attempt to identify) a stark, black and white contrast between male and female with no gray area to speak of, there are those in the world who identify with neither of these markers. Some call themselves hermaphrodites, some transsexual, some are simply gender fluid. In other parts of the world, they identify as hijra or kothi in parts of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. They also go by fa’afafine in American Samoa or Balkan “sworn virgins.” Whatever name they apply to themselves, it is obvious they do not identify as the clear-cut male or female archetypes that society might wish to appropriate on them. As an umbrella term, many refer to themselves (and others may also refer to them) as third gender.

But, what exactly is third gender, exactly?  It’s easy enough to lump all non-standard individuals into a group according to sexual orientation or gender identity and apply the term “third gender” or “other” to them. However, is that seriously all there is to it? Is it simply just a matter of individuals going against social conventions of male and female roles in society and rebelling against the classically assigned roles that basic biology generally bestows upon them?

In this sense, even biology isn’t perfect. The various forms of third-gender individuals are hardly limited to those who defy traditional gender roles such as those who are transgendered or those who adhere to a sexual orientation that is anything other than heterosexual. Sometimes, the biology is self- or externally-imposed, such as with eunuchs or those undergoing transsexual procedures, sometimes it is biologically-imposed on the individual such as with hermaphrodites and androgynous individuals.

Unfortunately, such variability to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is historically known to lead to discrimination, as it is with many other subjects. Even in the United States, third gender individuals face hardship to gain similar treatment in various arenas due simply to their inability or refusal to conform to the standard binary system of male or female. As recently as 2015, Dana Zzyym, a veteran of the United States Navy, was denied a passport due simply to the fact that they identified as neither male nor female. And it has been only recently as this year that states have legally recognized a non-binary, third gender recognition for identification cards. In other parts of the world, countries adhere to systems that include terminology such as “gender diverse” or the title “Mx.” specifically used in the United Kingdom. However, while progress is being made, many still resist the movement of non-binary/third gender identity. Transgender individuals are still continuously subjected to discrimination in job settings or even in the processes involved in jobs and housing. They are also frequently the victims of hate crimes, and are even known to avoid contacting the police in matters of this nature due to fear of being further harassed by the police themselves. There are even regions of the modern world who do not as of yet legally recognize third-gender individuals; Japan and the Philippines, parts of Africa, southern Mexico, Oman, and indigenous peoples of North America do recognize third-gender individuals in name, but do not have any evidence of legal incorporation into society.