One of the biggest and most prevalent mistakes in Western culture is the idea that there exists two separate and opposite genders, masculinity and femininity. Yet, in theU.S.hermaphrodites are often called the third gender as well as, intersex people, transgenders and homosexuals. Similarly Nanda expressed the identification of the third gender in the Indian culture as being hijras.
Berdache explains that there can be more than two genders, but most cultures Western and non, recognize only two. Although, there are many cultures that do accept a third gender, for exampleSamoa, Native American and Hindu. I would like to go on record stating that in my opinion there are more than two genders and to take it one step further, there are as many genders as there are people. According to Jacobs and Roberts (1989) the distinction of gender goes beyond the binary conception, “ The Chuckchee counted seven genders – three female and four male – while the Mohave reportedly recognize four genders – a woman, a woman who assumes the roles of men, a man, or a male who assumes the roles of women” (in Brettell & Sargent, 2005, p. 244). Our society is conditioned to believe in only two genders – two sexes and this can be quite harmful to many, not only those who identify as transgender but also intersex. It has been written that people are assigned a biological characteristics with which they are born with – sex: male, female, and intersex; whereas, people define their own gender man, woman, transgender and transsexual which are the learned attitudes and behaviors that characterize people of one sex or the other in other , it is a socially constructed definition of an individual.
The differences in U.S concepts and some of the third/fourth gender categories in other cultures begin with the idea that lesbian, gay, and bisexual are categories of sexual orientation, but transgender and transsexual are categories of gender and gender identity.
There are points of differentiation all along the way, but language and tradition in many societies insist that every individual be categorized as either a man or a woman, although there are societies, such as the Native American identity of a two-spirit, which include multiple gender categories.
Blackwood expressed the opinion of there being a link within American society associating sexual identity and gender for example; specifically that gay and lesbian homosexuality could threaten the identity of others. Whereas, in other cultures outside of theU.S.gender and sexuality are not connected but considered separate.
The differences in homosexuality (gay and lesbian) in the Western culture is viewed as same sex gender relations whereas, in many Native American cultures gender is not on the same level sexually speaking. Lang (1999) expressed the definition of gender and sexuality as being, “If a man, for example, is having sex with a woman-man, he is not seen as having sex with another man, he is having sex with someone who belongs to a gender different from his own” (in Lafont, 2003, p. 204).
American society has viewed transsexuals and transgenders as being men and women whose gender identity more closely matches the other physical sex. These individuals desire to rid themselves of their sexual characteristics and live as members of the opposite gender. Lafont (2003) discussed the distinction between transsexual and transgender as being, “…transsexuals are transgendered, but not all transgendered people are transsexuals- many are not interested in surgical “solutions”” (in Lafont, 2003, p. 220). The similarities between transgender/transsexual individual views between the U.S. and other cultures is basically that they consciously and differentiate themselves from gays and lesbians, because gays and lesbians are concerned with sexual orientation, but their focus is on gender. Sexual orientation can be whatever but what they are fighting for is gender identity, a desire that goes way beyond the physical.
In my opinion, the many variations marking gender is not an end but just the beginning. It is important for society to become more aware of these individuals. But in the same breathe, I think the world would be a much better place if we stopped trying to fit people into nice little categories that don’t really exist….we are human beings and that is what counts!!!
Brettell, C. & Sargent, C. (2005). Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. 4th ed.UpperSaddleRiver: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Lafont, S. (2003). Constructing Sexualities:Readingsin sexuality, gender and culture.UpperSaddleRiver: Prentice Hall.
- Gender, Sex and Intersex: A Primer (queeringthechurch.com)
- Gender identity protections become law in Massachusetts July 1 (boston.com)
- RCASA Friday Facts: LGBTQ Glossary(rcasa.wordpress.com)