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More than Man and Woman: A Brief Discussion on the Diversity of Gender

March 24, 2012

Lady Gaga/ Stephanie Germonotta/ Jo Calderone plays with gender expression. Gradually, American culture is coming to accept and understand trans-sexual and trans-gendered people. Jo is helping.
(Photo Credit : http://www.mirror.co.uk)

Man and Woman. Mars and Venus. Out and In. Strong and feeble. In this culture, we are taught to believe that men and women are separate and opposite. In addition to being stark contrasts of each other, man and woman are the only two genders wholly recognized in Western culture. Ask the next person you cross paths with how many genders there are and you;d be likely to get the answer of two. Of course they would think that- the world reaffirms this notion daily. Everything from department stores being divided into the men’s section and the women’s section to a certain soda commercial claiming that this soda is not for women but only for men.

Though Andrej Pejic has a penis, they model high fashion men's and women's clothing.
(Photo Credit: http://blog.fayedinsmore.com/)

As with many things, the reality does not fit within the strict black and white perspective of our culture. In reality, there are not two genders. Gender is a creation of a culture. Our culture has decided what it means to be a man. To be a man one must have a penis, be able to grow a beard, drive a big truck (or at least want to), enjoy and be good at sex with women, not wear pink ect. Other cultures define men differently. Compare American men to, say, French men. So if gender definitions are unique to each cultures, so then is the number of genders acknowledged.

Two-Spirited People before a dance
(Photo Credit: From the film Two Spirits)

Many cultures recognize the existence of a gender that fits somewhere between man and woman. For Native Americans a person who is neither/both man and woman is called Two-Spirit. These people work as go-betweens for men and women (who, as we all know, have a hard time communicating). Two-Spirited people serve to bridge the gap and create harmony in the society. It is considered an honor to be Two-Spirited. Thailand has the most well-known third gender, what we call Ladyboys. Ladyboys are people who have (or once had) penises who live their lives as women.

A Thai Ladyboy (Photo Credit: transadvocate.com)

The number of genders in a culture is not limited. Some cultures, like the Indonesian culture of Sulawesi, have five genders each with specific roles in society. I have heard of cultures having room for nine genders.

Though considered neither man nor woman, India's Hijra dress like women.
(Photo Credit: gracjan.alkos.info/index.php?showimage=261&PHPSESSID=9e5b42fc94f88128771234d71a5b40d0)

The capacity for diversity in humans is astonishingly rich. This ought to be embraced and not feared. Breaking out of the dualistic mindset our culture encouraged allows for a much fuller understanding of humanity in general and our individual place within it.

 

Roberta Close is a famous Brazilian Travesti, a third gender expression. Ms. Close was featured on the cover of several Playboy magazines.

 

 

http://www.insideindonesia.org/edition-66-apr-jun-2001/sulawesi-s-fifth-gender-3007484

http://shewhoseeks.blogspot.com/2011/06/two-spirit-people.html

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