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.

What is a Hijra in South Asia

In a time when the social norms of gender identity and sexual orientation is being challenged at the highest levels of government and religion, regions in South Asia have already accommodated those whose gender identity might be considered a little more obscure by the Western world.

There exists in parts of South Asia, particularly in Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, people known as hijra. In the parts of society that accept and acknowledge them, this generally refers to a person – typically a man – who becomes transgendered later in life. They tend to renounce sexuality altogether, bearing both masculine and feminine qualities upon themselves. People of this “third gender” (which is now legally recognized in parts of the world listed above) are generally segregated from common society, whether by a will of their own or by being cut out forcefully. The term “hijra” itself is normally derogatory, particularly in the Urdu dialect of India, as it literally means “leaving one’s tribe.” Many hijra reside in all-hijra villages overseen by a guru, with several young males undergoing rites of initiation that include removal of the testicles, scrotum and even the penis itself.

Those that manage a life within general society tend to do so at the outermost margins and are normally regarded as one of the lowest castes. While it has been mentioned that many hijra renounce sexuality in total, it is interesting to note that many hijra usually eke out a living as sex workers and prostitutes, though others “earn” their keep through means of extortion, begging and performing at various ceremonies.

Only up until recently, hijra faced extreme discrimination from the rest of society with disproportionate health care, education and job and housing opportunities. They were known to suffer brutal, physical violence from crowds of people, and violence set upon them was rarely ever investigated by police due primarily to apathy. When India re-criminalized homosexual relations in 2013, attacks of physical, psychological and even sexual natures became more prevalent. Hijra and kothi, an entity separate from hijra who generally take a more receptive role in sexual relations (often, if not entirely, with heterosexual men) were particularly susceptible to attacks of this kind.

In early to mid-2014, legislation was finally passed in India that legally recognized hijra as a “third gender,” and thus awarded them proportionate opportunity for jobs and education, although they are also legally recognized as a “socially and economically backward” class who still linger on the fringes of society.

Although the progress is slow-going, recognition of basic human rights in the communities where hijra are most prominent is moving forward. India and Pakistan, in particular, have recognized hijra as a legal “third gender” and extended opportunities for growth through jobs and education, though there is still struggle for hijra to become more highly involved in government. While Pakistan first allowed a hijra to stand for election in 2013, other communities find it difficult to participate fully in the democratic processes of their regions. In order to vote in India, one must identify as either male or female – a task impossible to carry out for a hijra who identifies as neither in regard either to gender identity or sexual orientation. In this way, hijra still struggle to attain equal recognition as males or females in society, though it is difficult to argue against the progress that has been made thus far.

The Top LGBT-Friendly Countries In The World

When it comes to gay rights, there are some countries where it is better to be gay. These countries recognize marriage between individuals of the same gender, have protections against discrimination in employment, insurance, and education. The United States has lagged behind these countries for years, often neglecting sexual assault cases of LGBT victims and denying them fundamental rights, but with the Supreme Court decision upholding gay marriage has helped improve conditions in the U.S., too.

There are 11 countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Seven of these countries are in either Scandinavia or western Europe. There is only one country in Africa and one in Latin America that allow gay couples to marry.

As a tide of goodwill toward couples of the same gender and gay individuals moves across the globe, attitudes about homosexuality are being altered. There are several countries that are way out in front when it comes to accepting the LGBT community and making these people feel welcome.

The Netherlands is one of the most accepting countries on earth. They are an extremely liberal country and known for their acceptance of the LGBT community. They were the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage and have a strong lesbian and gay community.

Another country that welcomes members of the LGBT community is Spain. This is a relaxed nation where most of the residents are advocates for gay rights. More than 85% of the country feel that Spain is a great place for gay and lesbian individuals to live.

In North America, Canada takes the lead in welcoming the LGBT community. Most Canadians support gay rights and the vast majority of the population believes Canada is a great place to live if you are gay. Canada was the first non-European country to legalize gay marriage and is in the forefront of fighting for gay rights.

Even though gay marriage isn’t legal in Germany yet, more than 87% of Germans support gay rights. The country welcomes everyone and has a robust and growing gay and lesbian community.

Belgium is another welcoming nation when it comes to gays and lesbians. The majority of the population of this small European nation believes it is a great place to live if you are gay or lesbian. Gay couples are allowed to adopt and same-sex marriage is legal.

Australia is also very welcoming to the LGBT community. Most Australians support gay rights and Sydney is one of the gay-friendly cities in the world.