Trying to understand the concept of a third gender in a society where the concept doesn’t exist.

“Anthropologists make an important contribution to contemporary discussions of gender by pointing out that the two-gender system is neither innate nor universal.” This is a quote from Evan B. Towle and Lynn M. Morgan’s “Romancing the Transgender Native” that stuck with me.  This is something that obviously, many of those who have taken some sort of gender studies course should know, but I don’t think it’s something that most people really think about.  Our society is surrounded by binaries, to the point where a non binary system seems way too out of reach for us to even think about accomplishing. 

Maybe this is why people seem to blur these third genders altogether in the same category.

This article talks about the travestis of Brazil. What struck me while reading this article is how difficult it is to compare this idea of the third gender because we have no basis for it here (or in the UK which is where this article was written.) The article is really long, but it deals with something that I wouldn’t have even have thought about before reading it- the addiction to silicon injections in order to gain an idealized body form. Now I’ve seen the episode of “My Strange Addiction” where the woman is addicted to silicon injections, but I’d never thought that this could affect a whole group of people.

This article obviously is focusing on the phenomenon of silicon injections and the dangers that these people put themselves through in order to gain this idealized body, but the idea shouldn’t be ignored. The third gender concept is difficult to grasp because it’s such a different idea than what we have in the States. 

“ THERE IS no word for travesti in Britain; over here; there is no need for one. But in Brazil, medical science has empowered the travesti to define her its own identity, and the travesti has, in turn, evolved into a species: a manufactured hermaphrodite of sorts, an aching parody of a woman with a masculine core. ‘I was born to be a travesti, I wasn’t born a boy or a girl,’ says Luciana, who started taking hormones at the age of nine. ‘A travesti is neither a man or a woman. Everyone knows what we are.’ “

This quote describes a lot of what I’m trying to say. A similar situation is that hijras of India. The hijra is also the only third gender of different cultures that I had been exposed to before this class. And I’m not sure I would call that a complete success because I don’t remember the professor being able to explain the hijra culture successfully. My point is- how are we supposed to be able to understand a concept that most people are never exposed to? As a society we understand things in reference to things we already know, so the idea of the third gender might be a difficult concept to grasp, but it’s important to remember that the rest of the world isn’t defined by what we know from our location and that each culture is unique and should be observed as such. 

-Jalyn Phifer


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