Transgender, Third Gender, No Gender: Part II (2023)

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People whose identities do not fit into a rigid female/male gender binary have, in many countries, been on a years-long quest to obtain official documents that reflect their identities by using a non-binary “X” marker in lieu of the typical “F” or “M.”

If you have never questioned your assigned gender, you may wonder why access to non-binary gender markers is a human rights issue worthy of lengthy court battles or legislative advocacy.

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The European Court of Human Rights ruled in a 2002decision – addressing the transition between female and male genders, not non-binary identities – the “conflict between social reality and law” that arises when the government does not recognize a person’s gender identity constitutes “serious interference with private life.” The same is true for those who do not consider themselves female or male. State compulsion to choose one or the other seems precisely the kind of interference the court sought to mitigate.

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A mobilizing axiom of the trans rights movement is “Your sex is what’s between your legs; your gender is what’s between your ears.” It is an argument that undergirds the right to change one’s official sex marker – which is read, socially, as a gender marker. Just as transgender activists have fought for pathways to gender marker change from female to male or vice versa, non-binary activists logically query why anyone should be forced into an F or M if there are countless variations on what is between a person’s ears.

After all, gender variant people have existed throughout the world and across time, celebrated in some cultures, denigrated in others. Some societies recognized people who embodied a gender identity beyond the binary, for example,hijracommunities in South Asia, two-spirit people among some Native American cultures,wariain Southeast Asia andFa’afafinein Pacific Islander communities. While the blunt classificatory instruments of colonial rule imposed new bureaucracies of gender assignment, these communities persist and continue to provide alternate ways of thinking about gender that evade binary classification.

At least ten countries do allow for people to opt for an “X” gender marker under at least some circumstances, though progress has often required lengthy court battles. In some cases, courts have only availed “X” gender markers to intersex people – people born with chromosomes, gonads, sex organs, or genitalia that differ from those seen as typical for girls or boys – but have not extended such recognition to non-binary people who are not intersex. Such rulings are anachronistically rooted in the precept that gender markers should be a reflection of biology or body parts.

When it is recognition of gender identity, not intersex status, that is at stake, progress has. In the UK, the Court of Appeal held in March of 2020 that human rights normsdid not imposea positive obligation on the state to provide an “X” marker option in passports. The petitioner, Christie Elan-Cane, who is non-gendered and had brought the case to secure a non-binary gender marker on their passport,described the impactas being told to continue to “collude in their own social invisibility.”

British passports list a person’s “sex” but have given a nod to trans people’s gender identity since 2004, when the European Court of Human RightsruledinGoodwinthat transgender people could change their sex markers from female to male or vice versa to reflect their gender identities. But the Elan-Cane ruling means that people who do not identify as female or male will not benefit from such recognition of their identities.

Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus brief in Elan-Cane’s case, pointing out that a 2018 Government Equalities Office survey of over 100,000 LGBT+ people in the UK found that 7 per cent of respondents identified as non-binary. Among transgender respondents, fifty-two per cent were non-binary, and many told survey-takers that theyexperienced the absence of non-binary gender markers as a harm. As one put it: “Every time I fill in a form, with a few notable exceptions, I am forced to choose a binary gender and title, which is incorrect and upsetting…”If governments are committed to recognizing the rights of transgender citizens and upholding their dignity, they should recognize the identity of those who do not identify as female or male, rather than forcing these citizens to live in discord with their documents.

For many people raised within conventional heteronormative social systems, moving away from rigid gender binaries may feel destabilizing. It may be particularly threatening to those who sit atop social and economic pyramids rooted in patriarchy. When Norrie, a transgender and non-binary person in Australia, applied for an X passport, the Registrar argued that “unacceptable confusion would flow from the acceptance of more than two categories of sex.” This sense of “confusion,” upending patriarchal hierarchies, seems to encapsulate the underlying fear behind states’ reluctance to recognize non-binary (and often, still, transgender) identities.

(Video) Muxes – Mexico's third gender

But evolving interpretations of human rights law suggest that third gender recognition is gaining momentum.With regional courts inLatin AmericaandEuropealready affirming that countries must allow citizens to change their gender markers from female to male or vice versa, it seems only a matter of time before an equally strong norm is established around the right to a gender identity that is neither male nor female, or is both. Even some cogs of the global bureaucracy are on board. TheInternational Civil Aviation Organization(ICAO), which sets global regulations for machine readable passports, allows for three sex categories: female, male, or “X” for unspecified.

In the United States, non-binary state identification documents are available in 15 states and the District of Columbia. In February, Congressman Ro Khanna introduced theGender Inclusive Passport Act, which would require the State Department to issue “X (unspecified)” passports to those who apply for one based on “self-attestation.”

Beyond Gender Markers?

All these developments around gender markers on official documents raise the question: when are gender markers justified at all?In 2016, a group of international experts developed the “Yogyakarta Principles + 10,” a set of principles that explicitly stakes out a progressive expansion of those codified in 2006. Principle 31 states:Everyone has the right to legal recognition without reference to, or requiring assignment or disclosure of, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. Everyone has the right to obtain identity documents, including birth certificates, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. Everyone has the right to change gendered information in such documents while gendered information is included in them.

The principle proposes that since states should “only include personal information that is relevant, reasonable and necessary as required by the law,” states should “thereby end the registration of the sex and gender of the person in identity documents such as birth certificates, identification cards, passports and driver licenses, and as part of their legal personality.”

There isprecedentfor this. Many countries have removed codification of personal characteristics such as race, religion, or marital status from identity documents. The primary purpose of an identity document is to ensure that the person presenting the ID is who they say they are. Race or gender markers do not create any additional clarity when a person’s appearance does not match stereotypes associated with the marker their document bears.

Before 1976, US passports did not include a sex marker at all, and the International Civil Aviation Authority only developed standardized passport regulations requiring a sex marker in 1980.In 2012, the ICAO discussed the possibility ofremoving sex markers from passports; while it decided against any immediate change for various logistical reasons, it determined that “the tangible benefits of not requiring travel documents to display the holder’s gender mean there is still a significant opportunity for ICAO in changing the mandatory requirement in the future.”

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Some activists argue that the time is now. Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex organizations and independent advocates came together in March 2017 to issue the Darlington Statement, setting out “the priorities and calls by the intersex human rights movement in our countries.” The statement describes sex and gender classifications as “upheld by structural violence.” While welcoming the choice to obtain “X” identity documents as an interim measure, the statement asserts alarger goal“not to seek new classifications but to end legal classification systems and the hierarchies that lie behind them.”

In June, the Netherlandsissued a policyremoving gender markers from its national identity documents, although they will remain on birth certificates. While some countries, including Germany, already issued identity documents without a sex or gender marker, the Netherlands appears to be the first country to remove such markers as a conscious step to promote inclusion of transgender and non-binary people. Advocacy efforts to remove gender markers from documents should be cognizant of the potential need for alternative measures to track and prevent gender discrimination; in some European countries without gender markers on identification documents, authorities may look up an individual’s officially recorded gender marker in the civil registry, when deemed necessary. But as the number of countries allowing “X” designations grows, the shift from two to three recognized genders will intensify examination of what official purpose is served by recording, and boxing people into, any gender.

Gender markers sit within a field of contestation in which bureaucratic systems of classification are at odds with the rich tapestry of human experience. The motto of the Transgender Law Center in the US is, compellingly, “Making Authentic Lives Possible.” As long as people are limited to gender markers that may not adequately describe them, such authenticity will be hard to come by.

Correction:The article includes a corrected date for a European Court of Human Rights ruling addressing the transition between female and make genders. The ruling was in 2002, not 2017.

To read part I, please see:

(Video) Mexico's Third Gender


The article includes a corrected date for a European Court of Human Rights ruling addressing the transition between female and make genders. The ruling was in 2002, not 2017.


Do Hijras have both parts? ›

Among the remaining 397 hijras, 98.3% were circumcised and 1.7% were non-circumcised. Inguinal Lymphadenopathy was the most common finding. The study dispels the myth that Hijras in Pakistan have ambiguous genitalia, are hermaphrodites or have undergone removal of male sexual organs.

What are the list of third genders? ›

Other modern identities that cover similar ground include pangender, bigender, genderqueer, androgyne, intergender, "other gender" and "differently gendered".

What cultures have more than 2 genders? ›

In many cultures all over the world there are traditionally third gender or gender-fluid identities. "There are the Hijras in India, what are known as two-spirited people in Native American culture, Muxe in Mexico, and the Bakla in the Philippines.

What is the Mexican third gender? ›

There are two types of muxes, the gunaa and the nguiiu. The gunaa are those who were born as men but who identify as women, are attracted to men and assume feminine roles in society. The nguii are those who were born as men and are attracted to other men.

Are hijras biologically male? ›

Hijras are often born male but look and dress in traditionally feminine ways. Many, but not all, choose to undergo a castration ceremony, removing their male genitalia as an offering to Hindu goddess Bahuchara Mata. Other hijras are born intersex.

Do eunuchs have both male and female parts? ›

[3] They are considered infertile persons, with a female gender identity, with masculine secondary sexual characteristics, with or without male external genitalia, with feminine gender role, with predominantly homosexual identity.

What are the 4 main genders? ›

In English, the four genders of noun are masculine, feminine, common, and neuter.

What are the 7 main genders? ›

Through these conversations with real people Benestad has observed seven unique genders: Female, Male, Intersex, Trans, Non-Conforming, Personal, and Eunuch.

How many types of human gender are there? ›

Sex is the anatomical classification of people as male, female or intersex, usually assigned at birth. Gender identity is each person's internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person's sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum.

When did more than 2 genders start? ›

Anthropologists have long documented cultures around the world that acknowledge more than two genders. There are examples going back 3,000 years to the Iron Age, and even further back to the Copper Age.

Is intersex a birth defect? ›

Intersex variations are not abnormal and should not be seen as 'birth defects'; they are natural biological variations and occur in up to 1.7 per cent of all births. Most people with intersex variations are not born with atypical genitalia, however this is common for certain intersex variations.

What two languages have no gender? ›

There are some languages that have no gender! Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish, and many other languages don't categorize any nouns as feminine or masculine and use the same word for he or she in regards to humans.

Is there a third gender in us? ›

In April 2022, the United States joined a growing list of countries that allow for a third gender option (“X”) in passports.

What is South America's third gender? ›

In Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca (southern Mexico), a muxe (also spelled muxhe; [muʃeʔ]) is a person assigned male at birth who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with women; they may be seen as a third gender.

What is 3 gender called in English? ›

Gender of nouns can be classified as masculine, feminine and the neuter gender.

Are eunuchs male or female? ›

Eunuchs are biological males who have undergone voluntary castration for reasons other than male‐to‐female transsexualism.

What is the difference between eunuch and hijra? ›

The word hijra is a Hindustani word. It has traditionally been translated into English as "eunuch" or "hermaphrodite", where "the irregularity of the male genitalia is central to the definition". However, in general hijras have been born male, with only a few having been born with intersex variations.

Are hijras asexual? ›

The hijra (eunuch/transvestite) is an institutionalized third gender role in India. Hijra are neither male nor female, but contain elements of both. As devotees of the Mother Goddess Bahuchara Mata, their sacred powers are contingent upon their asexuality.

Can a eunuch get a woman pregnant? ›

Can a eunuch get a woman pregnant? Castration is the removal of the testes. The testes produce the male sperm that would join with (fertilize) the female ovum (egg) - so that an embryo could be formed, that grows to become a foetus (the unborn baby). So a eunoch cannot father a child.

What is the physical appearance of eunuch? ›

Castration before puberty prevents the shift from boy to man. One of the scientists involved in the study, Dr Cheol-Koo Lee from Korea University, said: "The records said that eunuchs had some women-like appearances such as no moustache hair, large breasts, big hips and thin high-pitched voice."

Why do eunuchs clap? ›

Along with prostitution, eunuchs also engage in begging and clapping to intimidate the public into giving them money. They also lift their frilly garments to show their genitalia as another form of intimidation.

Are there more than two sexes? ›

When biologists speak of sex being “binary,” we mean something very straightforward. There exist only two sexes, which are fundamentally rooted in the binary classification between sperm and ova. Males have the function of producing small gametes (sperm), and females large gametes (ova).

What is a non-binary child? ›

Children who do continue to feel they are a different gender from the one assigned at birth could develop in different ways. Some may feel they do not belong to any gender and may identify as agender. Others will feel their gender is outside of male and female and may identify as non-binary.

What pronouns are gender neutral? ›

Gendered pronouns are those that indicate gender: he, she, him, her, hers, his, himself and herself. All others, like "it, "one," and "they," are gender-neutral. You probably already use some gender-neutral pronouns: they, their, and them.

What is the full acronym for lgbtqqip2saa? ›

LGBTQQIP2SA: any combination of letters attempting to represent all the identities in the queer community, this near-exhaustive one (but not exhaustive) represents Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-Spirited, and Asexual.

Which languages have more than two genders? ›

More than three grammatical genders

Burmese: masculine, feminine, neuter and dual gender. Czech, Slovak and Rusyn: Masculine animate, Masculine inanimate, Feminine, Neuter (traditionally, only masculine, feminine and neuter genders are recognized, with animacy as a separate category for the masculine).

Which country has most gender? ›

According to the Gender Inequality Index (GII), Denmark was the most gender equal country in the world in 2021.

Are there more than 2 genders in humans? ›

Based on the sole criterion of production of reproductive cells, there are two and only two sexes: the female sex, capable of producing large gametes (ovules), and the male sex, which produces small gametes (spermatozoa).

What culture has the most gender equality? ›

Iceland's near neighbours Finland, Norway and Sweden dominate the top five, while only four countries in the top 10 are outside Europe: New Zealand (4th), Rwanda (6th), Nicaragua (7th) and Namibia (8th).


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