Via PBS, a fascinating tour around the globe of societies which did not or do not recognize a male-female gender binary:
On nearly every continent, and for all of recorded history, thriving cultures have recognized, revered, and integrated more than two genders. Terms such as transgender and gay are strictly new constructs that assume three things: that there are only two sexes (male/female), as many as two sexualities (gay/straight), and only two genders (man/woman).
Skoptsy were a Christian religious sect with extreme views on sex and gender. The community, discovered in 1771 in Western Russia, believed that Adam and Eve had had halves of the forbidden fruit grafted onto their bodies in the form of testicles and breasts. Therefore, they routinely castrated male children and amputated the breasts of women to return themselves the the state prior to original sin. Sex, vanity, beauty, and lust were considered the root of evil.
Long before Cook’s arrival in Hawaii, a multiple gender tradition existed among the Kanaka Maoli indigenous society. The mahu could be biological males or females inhabiting a gender role somewhere between or encompassing both the masculine and feminine. Their social role is sacred as educators and promulgators of ancient traditions and rituals.
In pre-colonial Andean culture, the Incas worshipped the chuqui chinchay, a dual-gendered god. Third-gender ritual attendants or shamans performed sacred rituals to honor this god. The quariwarmi shamans wore androgynous clothing 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.”
Prior to colonization, the Ankole people in what is now Uganda elected a woman to dress as a man and thereby become an oracle to the god Mukasa.
Among the Sakalavas of Madagaskar, little boys thought to have a feminine appearance were raised as girls. The Antandroy and Hova called their gender crossers sekrata who, like women, wore their hair long and in decorative knots, inserted silver coins in pierced ears, and wore many bracelets on their arms, wrists and ankles.
Read the rest at PBS.