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The case of the third gender

You will know me! Soon or maybe later cant really decide now.

From my introduction to the diversity of gender and the peculiar problems, each sect of gender faces to the cultural and social norms of various communities that present a rich array of knowledge of gender, I am greatly in awe and impressed at the wealth of information that seems to be stored in the various culture belonging to the Africa continent.

Last week was the woman-to-woman marriage, this week is the Third Gender, a case of the Hijra people of India.

The distinction between gender and sex

In any given society SEX is what makes a human being male or female and GENDER is what constitutes an individual as masculine or feminine. Another way of looking at this is viewing sex as providing the raw material on which gender is construed. Some of the characteristics we can cite for gender and sex is that sex is universal and cross-cultural whilst gender explains the possibility of a male being feminine or vice versa. Gender also changes from culture to culture. One thing that is worth noting is that Gender blurs or exaggerates the line of differences laid down by the sexual division (Sex). Thereby making sex the infrastructure and gender the superstructure.

Moore (1993) viewed sex as a “natural variant” and Stocke (1993) also suggested that it makes no sense to suppose that a scientifically correct sex model exists, nor to conceive that the western idea of a two-sex model (Male, Female) as the real foundation on which gender relationships are constructed. All I am saying is that, if these arguments are viable then it will be very difficult to maintain the sex-gender distinction. This is because this distinction is based on the biological aspects of the social aspects of human existence. What this critique does is render sex as a social construct and by implication disturbs the very foundation on which the sex-gender distinct rests. If this happens it will mean that sex will be seen as super cultural and gender can no longer be seen as the “social construction of sex”.

Binary Gender

The classification of gender into two distinct opposite forms of masculine and feminine, whether by the social system, cultural belief, or both simultaneously is known as BINARY GENDER. The system of binary gender rests albeit unwittingly on a presumed relation of sex and gender. And truth be told, the legitimacy of the sex-gender distinction has received constructive criticism as well as the concept itself being challenged. Due to this, gender can no longer be viewed as necessarily binary.

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The hijras

The hijras are perceived as a community among the hundreds of castes and tribes identified by the British. These hijras perceive themselves to be a distinct community with their own distinct cultures and identity. There are several ways that one can describe the hijras

  1. That they are males born with congenital malformation, and also are the main recruits to the hijra community. And there are several opinions on how this recruitment is done.
  • Children are handed over to the community by their parents.
  • A more common practice that states that, when a child is born with deformities, the hijra community beset the parents of the child until they give and hand over the child to them.
  • Another account from a eunuch states that when a child is born with ill-developed genitalia, his unnatural condition becomes a source of worry and anxiety for his parents and also an embarrassment for him. He is made fun of by his peers, such boys run away from home and join the hijra community.
  1. A second view of the hijra community is that they are made up of impotent men. In this respect, it was not made clear enough in my research whether the condition of impotence, was sufficient enough for one to gain membership in the community or whether something else was required.
  2. The final one has to do with “normal” males who do not fall into either category, and they are referred to as “artificial eunuchs”. Their method of recruitment and induction into the hijra community is as follows:
  • Being rooted in mythology and religious beliefs. For eg. In a certain community called Gujarat. It is suggested that a woman who bears a son as a result of the blessing of the mother goddess “sacrifices her great blessing of a boy child and transforms him into a girl”

The features of the hijra community, to some extent, do legitimize the view that gender is not necessarily binary. However, it does not, by implication, sever sex from gender. It is only when sex is understood in fixed binary terms that such a separation between sex and gender becomes imperative in view of the presence of a third gender which seemingly negates the mimetic relations between sex and gender. Furthermore, this view of sex/gender logically does not limit the number of genders in society. However, the multiplicity of genders in itself neither necessitates nor facilitates greater flexibility and openness of gendered norms and practices Anuja Agrawal (1997).


Stolcke, V. 1993 Is sex to gender as race to ethnicity?

Moore, H. 1993. The differences within and the differences between.

Anuja Agrawal 1997. The case if the “Third Gender” in India

© 2022 Akosua Ago Mansa

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