Third, Fourth, and Fifth Genders In Cultures Around The World

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.

 

Two Spirits interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at the largely unknown history of a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders.

Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of this boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender.

Two Spirits tells compelling stories about traditions that were once widespread among the indigenous cultures of North America. The film explores the contemporary lives and history of Native two-spirit people — who combine the traits of both men and women with qualities that are also unique to individuals who express multiple genders.

The Navajo believe that to maintain harmony, there must be a balanced interrelationship between the feminine and the masculine within the individual, in families, in the culture, and in the natural world. Two Spirits reveals how these beliefs are expressed in a natural range of gender diversity. For the first time on film, it examines the Navajo concept of nádleehí, “one who constantly transforms.”

Read the rest at PBS.

33 Comments on "Third, Fourth, and Fifth Genders In Cultures Around The World"

  1. Interesting article and great find. A lot of this thought makes sense given the context of the archetype of the Divine Androgyne in Alchemy or Anima/Animus in Jungian psychology.

  2. Interesting article and great find. A lot of this thought makes sense given the context of the archetype of the Divine Androgyne in Alchemy or Anima/Animus in Jungian psychology.

  3. Antediluviancurrent | Mar 19, 2013 at 11:44 am |

    Eurocentrism having the monopoly on intellectual thought has been a scourge on thinking as such. When it comes to anything transcending the binary, the whole system shudders because its existence depends on simplistic generalizations and essentializing of the other.
    Most can’t let go of it because some old white men once said “all men are equal”, which is somehow better than anything a confucianist or a muslim theologian ever said. I’m getting tired of seeing every internet debate get slided with the idea that Western thought has some special place in the world because of the historical contingency that was the industrial revolution.

    • kowalityjesus | Mar 19, 2013 at 3:40 pm |

      that is a bit oversimplified. Burning fossil fuels was not the cause of the english language, or tonal harmony, or particle physics. I don’t like to jump to the rescue of Western Civilization, though, because I think it needs no rescuing.

      • Antediluviancurrent | Mar 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm |

        Very true. But it was the decisive factor in exporting all of that on a global scale.

        • perhaps, but the distilled truths of western thought are generally synonymous w/ the distilled truths of eastern thought. corruptions occur from the heavy particles.

        • perhaps, but the distilled truths of western thought are generally synonymous w/ the distilled truths of eastern thought. corruptions occur from the heavy particles.

  4. what a bunch of crap…

  5. what a bunch of crap…

  6. no one can deny the cosmic principle of duality. yes there is such a thing as grey, but its just a mixture of the 2.

  7. no one can deny the cosmic principle of duality. yes there is such a thing as grey, but its just a mixture of the 2.

    • mannyfurious | Mar 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |

      Well, the “cosmic principle” of duality is actually that “two” leads to “three” which leads to “four” which leads to the “ten-thousand things.” Which is what we’re seeing. It used to be “man/woman,” “gay/straight,” “male/female.” Now the list of genders/sexual preferences just keeps growing. It’s not a “bad” thing per se, but I do think it’s superfluous. I’m not so sure why there’s this constant need to label ourselves or to re-label ourselves, or to create new labels to call ourselves. Just be who you are. This kind of stuff just feeds the ego and creates bigger, more impenetrable illusions of who we “are.”

    • mannyfurious | Mar 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |

      Well, the “cosmic principle” of duality is actually that “two” leads to “three” which leads to “four” which leads to the “ten-thousand things.” Which is what we’re seeing. It used to be “man/woman,” “gay/straight,” “male/female.” Now the list of genders/sexual preferences just keeps growing. It’s not a “bad” thing per se, but I do think it’s superfluous. I’m not so sure why there’s this constant need to label ourselves or to re-label ourselves, or to create new labels to call ourselves. Just be who you are. This kind of stuff just feeds the ego and creates bigger, more impenetrable illusions of who we “are.”

      • let’s be honest. how many types of sexual organs are there? males have penises women have vaginas. 2 genders. any 3rd(or more) gender would simply be a mixture of the 2. that’s what it means when we say one leads to two leads to 3 leads to the multitude. also, creation occurs when the two become one- a cosmic mystery.
        Yes, I thought about this a lot as a stoned teenager. “What if there were an alien race that had 3 genders? how would that work?”

        so, no – there aren’t truly more than 2 genders.

        sorry for bein so un-p.c.

        • that said, I believe the androgyne is also a sacred mystery.
          adam n eve were once One.

          • I guess I got a down vote for mentioning adam n eve.
            when will people realize the reality of myth?(as well as its vitality)
            or the myth of reality?(as well as its banality)
            prejudice is what holds ya back..

          • Calypso_1 | Mar 23, 2013 at 12:16 am |

            So Adam n Eve were Proto Proterozoic Protists?

        • mannyfurious | Mar 20, 2013 at 11:09 am |

          Well, you’re saying there aren’t more than two “sexes.” “Gender” and “sex” are two different things (which is, perhaps, more problematic than useful). I would agree that there are only two sexes.

        • Aurora Meyer | Dec 5, 2013 at 11:04 pm |

          I realize you all commented 9 months ago, but I’d still like to point out: actually, a large number of individuals are born with genitals that aren’t specifically “male” or “female.” Google “intersex” to get a better idea of what I mean (the old, inaccurate term was “hermaphrodite”). Biological sex is not based on external genitals alone; it is also determined by chromosones, hormones, and internal genitalia. Sure, “intersex” people are not a huge percentage of the population, but they exist. In order to acknowledge the biological reality of the human race, it’s important to acknowledge their existence. Sex usually shows up as ovaries/XX/more estrogen or testes/XY/more testosterone, but configurations outside the “norm” are a biological fact.

  8. BuzzCoastin | Mar 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm |

    I have a good friend in Bangkok that insists
    that there are at least 6 genders in Thailand
    but when it comes to sexuality
    societies who derive their culture from the Levant
    tend to be the most hypocritical about sexuality
    publicly espousing one standard
    while practicing another in secret

    • I’ve noticed that people who are amoral are the most hypocritical.
      “Goddamit, morality is just plain immoral!”
      😉

    • I’ve noticed that people who are amoral are the most hypocritical.
      “Goddamit, morality is just plain immoral!”
      😉

    • Huh? There are two genders plus the kathooey category, which is vague but includes the intersexed and primary transsexuals – people who are regarded as congenitally inbetween.

      No Thais recognise six traditional genders.

  9. “One of the many singularities that prevailed among these Indians was that of marrying males with males, which has been spoken of by Father Torquemada. It was publicly done, but without the forms, and ceremonies already described in their marriage contracts with the females. Whilst yet in infancy they were selected, and instructed as they increased in years, in all the duties of the women–in their mode of dress–of walking, and dancing; so that in almost every particular, they resembled females. Being more robust than the women, they were better able to perform the arduous duties required of the wife, and for this reason, they were often selected by the chiefs and others, and on the day of the wedding a grand feast was given. To distinguish this detested race at this mission, they were called “Cuit,” in the mountains, “Uluqui,” and in other parts, they were known by the name of “Coias.” At the present time, this horrible custom is entirely unknown among them. I was told by a missionary from the Mission of St. Domingo, in Lower California, that he once enquired of several Indians, from the plains of the river Colorado, if in their confines, were to be found any of the Coias? he replied that they were once very numerous, but a serious plague visited them, many years back, which destroyed them all–unfortunately the time when this great event transpired, they could not tell”-From Chinigchinix(1846) by Geronimo Boscana regarding the Tongva people of the San Gabriel valley.

  10. “One of the many singularities that prevailed among these Indians was that of marrying males with males, which has been spoken of by Father Torquemada. It was publicly done, but without the forms, and ceremonies already described in their marriage contracts with the females. Whilst yet in infancy they were selected, and instructed as they increased in years, in all the duties of the women–in their mode of dress–of walking, and dancing; so that in almost every particular, they resembled females. Being more robust than the women, they were better able to perform the arduous duties required of the wife, and for this reason, they were often selected by the chiefs and others, and on the day of the wedding a grand feast was given. To distinguish this detested race at this mission, they were called “Cuit,” in the mountains, “Uluqui,” and in other parts, they were known by the name of “Coias.” At the present time, this horrible custom is entirely unknown among them. I was told by a missionary from the Mission of St. Domingo, in Lower California, that he once enquired of several Indians, from the plains of the river Colorado, if in their confines, were to be found any of the Coias? he replied that they were once very numerous, but a serious plague visited them, many years back, which destroyed them all–unfortunately the time when this great event transpired, they could not tell”-From Chinigchinix(1846) by Geronimo Boscana regarding the Tongva people of the San Gabriel valley.

  11. Thanks for the article and the link too!! A GREAT MAP

  12. are the genitals of intersex individuals something other than the 1 that is the phallus and the 0 that is the vag? something other than the lock and key? do you understand what i’m trying to get at? there is no true totally separate 3rd gender. intersex is just a mix of male and female. there are only 2 poles, + and –

  13. Dr. Applebox | Mar 27, 2014 at 7:37 am |

    I thought there was going to be biological proof of there being more than two genders, but no, just traditions involving mutilation or cross-dressing.

    So there AREN’T more than two genders, and anyone who claims there is is an idiot.

    • Bayne MacGregor | Sep 29, 2014 at 10:59 pm |

      Genders, not sexes. You want to google Intersex for what you are after.
      Also while you are at it you can look up the brain differences in Transgender people that have been found for decades in dissection and now are found on FMRI scans and there’s been both Genes associated with it like this one http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7689007.stm and others as well as epigenentic discoveries too. So do try and hold back calling people idiots before you look into a subject properly.

      • Dr. Applebox | Sep 30, 2014 at 11:29 pm |

        All you’ve shown me is evidence than transgenderism is a thing, not that there are more than two genders. I don’t know what you are trying to prove.

        • Bayne MacGregor | Oct 1, 2014 at 10:06 am |

          I started the point with “Genders, not sexes.”
          Lemme put it super-simply this time:
          Sex is biological (many physical traits in Bi-modal distribution)
          Gender is though increasingly held as Cultural/Behavioral/Social.

          The article showed you there were more than two GENDERS simply by showing that in many Cultures Behaviors and Societies this is so.

          The biological reality of Intersex and Trans is simply added to the rest of the evidence that the Sexes are merely the two average points on that bi-modal distribution of physical traits, and of course some people will exist in the overlap between the two average points. Hmm I hope that’s simple enough for you.

  14. A R Hyde Clarke | Jun 23, 2014 at 8:39 pm |

    I am a lesbian in a male body, what should i do? (I am 59 years old)

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