What is Third Gender? (2023)

“Third gender” is a much-debated term that bears a considerable amount of weight and history across cultures. Here, we take a deep dive into the concept of the “third gender”, from the meaning of the word to the communities that have been labeled as such.

Related: Third-gender model graces a history-making cover of Vogue

What Is “Third Gender”?

There is no official “third gender” definition, as it encompasses a broad group of people who may or may not want to be associated with the term.

What is Third Gender? (1)

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(Video) Gender identity: ‘How colonialism killed my culture’s gender fluidity’ - BBC World Service

Until very recently, gender was viewed solely as a binary. You’re either one of two things: male or female. This model, however, is considered by many as severely limiting, as it does not encompass the wide variety of people who identify within (or even outside of) the vast spectrum between male and female.

In a bid to recognize those who identify as neither male nor female, academics sought to introduce the concept of a “third gender”.

Criticisms Of The Term “Third Gender”

Not everyone is on board with the term “third gender”. One of the main complaints surrounding it is its hierarchical – and, in turn, patriarchal – nature. If there is a “third gender”, critics ask, then which genders should be categorized as the first and the second gender?

The idea of a “third gender” also creates problems for transgender people, who are often misunderstood as not being wholly men or women. Having a “third gender” category, argues advocates, allows institutions to further marginalize transgender people and keep them from occupying important spaces which align with their gender identity. A good example of this would be the argument to create a separate category for trans men and women in sports competitions to keep them from participating in their respective categories.

What is Third Gender? (2)

Examples Of ‘Third Gender’ Around The World

The concept of the “third gender” (or the more outdated term “third sex”) was used not only to describe what we consider today as non-binary, gender non-conforming, and intersex people but also communities outside of Western society that existed beyond their own culture’s understanding of maleness and femaleness.

Again, not everyone likes the idea of being categorized as a “third gender”. Some of the communities listed below are also resistant to the term, as it was created and enforced from a limited and incomplete Western understanding of gender. The term is thus not able to fully describe some cultures’ understanding of gender.

(Video) Which Countries Recognize a Third Gender?

Nonetheless, these are some examples of communities around the world that have been labeled as “third gender” or have a non-binary understanding view of gender as a whole and on a personal level.

Hijra Definition: Third Gender In India

What is “hijra?” Hijra is a term used to describe eunuchs who identify as neither male nor female. Hijras have existed for centuries and have a recorded history that dates back 4,000 years.

Before British colonial rule subjected the hijra to stigmatization, they were considered blessed by the Hindu god Rama with the ability to give blessings, curses, and conduct rituals during certain festivities. Today, India classifies the hijra as a “third gender” and they enjoy limited legal protections. However, not all hijra are satisfied with this classification.

What is Third Gender? (3)

Māhū: Hawaii’s Third Gender

Although “māhū” eventually became a pejorative term against anyone who is LGBTQ, the word was originally used to describe someone who contains both the kāne or male and wahine or female spirit. In essence, “māhū” describes a kind of “in-betweenness”, not unlike the “fakaleiti” of Tonga and the “fa‘afafine” of Sāmoa.

Much like the hijra, the māhū play an important role as caretakers and messengers of Hawaii’s spiritual and cultural history.

North America’s Two-Spirit

In Native American communities, “two-spirit” is used to describe people who contain two internal identities – a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. The term can be used to describe someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

(Video) Muxes – Mexico's third gender

“Two-spirit” is a relatively new term, having been coined in 1990 by Myra Laramee, a community “elder”, at the third Inter-tribal Native American, First Nations, Gay and Lesbian American Conference. However, the concept of the two-spirit has existed for centuries.

In some tribes, like the Zuni tribe in New Mexico, theLlamanawere people who were assigned male at birth (AMAB) who donned women’s clothing, lived as women, and took on roles that were traditionally reserved for women. They also fulfilled special functions that were traditionally performed by males, including spiritual tasks.

Like many third-gender communities on this list, the two-spirit were subjected to stigmatization and erasure by colonization. Today, Native communities are working to revitalize this identity as a source of pride.

The Muxes Of Mexico

Throughout Mexico, but predominantly in the area surrounding Oaxaca, there exists a third gender called “muxe”. The muxes, also known as biza’ah, are often people who are assigned male at birth who wear feminine clothing and form families with male partners. In indigenous communities, muxes are typically revered and often take on the responsibility of being the primary caregivers of their elderly parents.

For many muxes, their conception of gender is fluid. Like Hawaii’s “māhū”, muxes believe their gender lies somewhere in the space between male and female. And, like the hijra, many muxes have an intimate connection with spirituality – often playing an important role in their local church by preparing decorations and leading processions.

What is Third Gender? (4)

Thailand’s Kathoey

In Thailand, “kathoey” is something of an umbrella term used to describe effeminate gay men, trans women, non-binary people, and intersex people. Some scholars believe that the acceptance of kathoey in Thailand stems from the Buddhist belief that there are four genders: male, female, bhatobyanjuanaka, and pandaka.


Bhatobyanjuanaka is used to describe intersex people and those who may mentally identify with another gender, while pandaka can loosely be described as trans feminine people or male crossdressers who present femininely.

Frequently Asked Questions About The ‘Third Gender’

Do transgender people belong to the third gender?

No. “Transgender” refers to people whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex at birth. If you are a transgender man, you identify as a man, and if you are a transgender woman, you identify as a woman.

According toVox, trans people “aren’t part of a third gender — they are, by all intents and purposes, men and women.”

Is non-binary a third gender?

Some non-binary people identify with the term “third gender” but not all do. By definition, non-binary refers to people who do not view their gender identity as falling within the confines of the male-female gender binary and thus do not conform to the idea that one can only identify as male or female. In that sense, non-binary people could perhaps be classified as a third gender.

Do intersex people identify as third gender?

Some intersex people identify as third gender but not all do. When it comes to gender markers on legal documentation, some countries are making moves to include a third gender marker (often symbolized as “X”) to not label intersex (and non-binary) people as either male or female.

What is Third Gender? (5)

The Bottom Line

“Third gender” is a term that refers to those who do not identify with being either male or female. However, not everyone agrees with the use of this term, as it may be used to further “other” and marginalize already marginalized groups.

(Video) Eunuchs, India's Third Gender

Related:Over 5% of young adults identify as transgender or non-binary


What is called 3rd gender? ›

Often called transgender by outsiders, Indian society and most hijras consider themselves to be third gender—neither male nor female, not transitioning. They are a different gender altogether.

What is the fourth gender? ›

(anthropology) A category (a gender), present in societies which recognize four or more genders, which is neither cis male nor cis female; often, such societies consider trans men to constitute a third gender and trans women to constitute a fourth gender, or vice versa.

What are the symptoms of third gender? ›

  • A difference between gender identity and genitals or secondary sex characteristics, such as breast size, voice and facial hair. ...
  • A strong desire to be rid of these genitals or secondary sex characteristics, or a desire to prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics.
Feb 26, 2022

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.

How many sexes are there? ›

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 are 4 types of gender? ›

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

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 are the 7 types of gender? ›

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

When was gender created? ›

In the journals of the American Physiological Society, gender was first introduced into a title in 1982, whereas sex had been used since the early 1920s. It was not until the mid-1990s that use of the term gender began to exceed use of the term sex in APS titles, and today gender more the doubles that of sex (Table 1).

What is the reason of third gender? ›

Third gender is a concept in which individuals are categorized, either by themselves or by society, as neither man nor woman. It is also a social category present in societies that recognize three or more genders.

Can a baby be born with both male and female parts? ›

Ambiguous genitalia is a rare condition in which an infant's external genitals don't appear to be clearly either male or female. In a baby with ambiguous genitalia, the genitals may be incompletely developed or the baby may have characteristics of both sexes.

What are the odds of having a third boy? ›

Couples with 3 children: 25% of couples have 3 girls or 3 boys, and 75% have 1 boy/2 girls or 1 girl/2 boys. Couples with 4 children: 12.5% of couples have 4 girls or 4 boys, 37.5% will have 1/3 and 50% will have 2/2.

Will the US add a 3rd gender option on passports? ›

The U.S. Will Add A 3rd Gender Option On Passports

Whatever gender marker applicants choose will appear on their passport regardless of the gender listed on previous passports or supporting documents proving citizenship and identity.

What cultures have non-binary genders? ›

Some societies recognized people who embodied a gender identity beyond the binary, for example, hijra communities in South Asia, two-spirit people among some Native American cultures, waria in Southeast Asia and Fa'afafine in Pacific Islander communities.

Do all babies start as female? ›

All human individuals—whether they have an XX, an XY, or an atypical sex chromosome combination—begin development from the same starting point. During early development the gonads of the fetus remain undifferentiated; that is, all fetal genitalia are the same and are phenotypically female.

What are the 5 sexes? ›

In a 1993 paper titled "The Five Sexes", Fausto-Sterling laid out a thought experiment considering an alternative model of gender containing five sexes: male, female, merm, ferm, and herm.

What are the 5 types of sexes? ›

What are the 5 biological sexes?
  • X – Roughly 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 5,000 people (Turner's )
  • XX – Most common form of female.
  • XXY – Roughly 1 in 500 to 1 in 1,000 people (Klinefelter)
  • XY – Most common form of male.
  • XYY – Roughly 1 out of 1,000 people.

Is Moon male or female? ›

The Moon has neither a feminine nor a masculine side.

What is gender grade 5? ›

Definition: Gender is used to tell whether a noun is male or female. There are four types of genders into which nouns are classified as follows: masculine, feminine, neuter, and common.

What are the stages of gender? ›

Gender identity typically develops in stages: Around age two: Children become conscious of the physical differences between boys and girls. Before their third birthday: Most children can easily label themselves as either a boy or a girl. By age four: Most children have a stable sense of their gender identity.

What is a child with no gender called? ›

Offspring; neutral, formal. Sprog; neutral, informal.

How do I deal with my non-binary daughter? ›

Tips for supporting your non-binary child
  1. Show acceptance and love. Once your child comes out to you, make sure they know you accept and love them. ...
  2. Avoid calling it a phase. ...
  3. Use their preferred pronouns and/or name. ...
  4. Know when they need extra support. ...
  5. 7 ways breastfeeding benefits you and your baby.
Jun 30, 2021

Can a human have two genders? ›

People who are “intersex” are born with a mix of female and male anatomy, internally and externally. Sometimes they have an unusual chromosome combination, such as men who harbor an extra X or women who physically appear female but carry a Y chromosome. This is different than being transgender.

What does LGBTQIA2S stand for? ›

LGBTQIA2S refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two spirit. Here are some definitions of sexual orientations and gender identities: Asexual: Asexual folks are not sexually attracted to people of any gender.

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.

Who decides a baby's gender? ›

What decides a baby's gender (sex)? A baby's biological sex is determined by the two sex chromosomes in the egg and sperm. Eggs always have an X chromosome, and sperm have either an X or a Y chromosome. Whichever sperm is the winner will penetrate and fertilize the egg, creating either an XX (girl) or XY (boy) pair.

How long has there been more than 2 genders? ›

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.

Why do we need gender? ›

Gender is of key importance in defining the power, privilege and possibilities that some people have and some people do not have in a given society. It affects progress towards equality and freedom from discrimination.

What is the 3rd gender in Islam? ›

According to Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence the one having both male and female multiplicative organs is called Khuntha or hermaphrodite or third gender (Uddin, 2017). All actions with regard to Islamic Law will be taken to determine the gender of hermaphrodite.

What is a two spirit person? ›

“Two-Spirit” is a term used within some Indigenous communities, encompassing cultural, spiritual, sexual and gender identity. The term reflects complex Indigenous understandings of gender roles, spirituality, and the long history of sexual and gender diversity in Indigenous cultures.

Who is a famous hermaphrodite? ›

Caster Semenya, 800 m Olympic gold medalist. Edinanci Silva, Brazilian judoka and gold medalist in the woman's half-heavyweight division at the Pan-American games. Dawn Langley Simmons (1937 or 1922 to 2000), English author and biographer.

Do intersex males have periods? ›

Some people are actually born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit traditional sex binaries of male and female. This is generally called 'intersex', and intersex people too may have periods.

How to know if I'm intersex? ›

The person must have both ovarian and testicular tissue. This may be in the same gonad (an ovotestis), or the person might have 1 ovary and 1 testis. The person may have XX chromosomes, XY chromosomes, or both. The external genitals may be ambiguous or may appear to be female or male.

Do genders run in families? ›

It analyzed the population of Sweden since 1932 and debunked the myth that having all boys or all girls runs in the family. It's been found that the gender of a family's children is essentially random. “We found individuals don't have an innate tendency to have offspring of one or the other gender,” said Dr.

Is it more rare to have a girl or boy? ›

The ratio of male to female births, called the sex ratio, is about 105 to 100, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This means about 51% of deliveries result in a baby boy.

Can you influence baby gender? ›

Dr Michael Thomas MD (fertility specialist) actually advises that there are no methods to affect the sex of your child, including sexual position.

Does gender matter on a passport? ›

No. The gender on your citizenship evidence and photo ID does not have to match the gender you select on your passport application. However, the photo you submit with your passport application must look similar to the photo on your ID.

What are the gender options in USA? ›

At this time, you can select male (M), female (F), or unspecified or another gender identity (X) as your gender marker if you are applying for a U.S. passport book and selecting routine service.

Does your passport say your gender? ›

Your passport will show your name and acquired gender as given on your passport application and will not make any reference to your birth gender or any previous name in your birth gender – this applies to both the passport book and the passport chip.

What 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.

What culture has more than two 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.

Who are some non binary celebrities? ›

Non-binary, genderqueer and genderfluid identities
NameBirth yearNationality
Adore Delano1989American
Cara Delevingne1992British
Asia Kate Dillon1984American
Rain Dove1989American
91 more rows

What is the most unisex name? ›

According to Yau, these are the most typically unisex names:
  • Jessie.
  • Marion.
  • Jackie.
  • Alva.
  • Ollie.
  • Jodie.
  • Cleo.
  • Kerry.
Jun 23, 2022

Is GREY a unisex name? ›

Grey is a gender-neutral name of British origin. It translates to “gray-haired”, but this name isn't strictly reserved for silver-locked folks! This gender-neutral color alias has a sense of both elegance and edge to it.

How do you know if your child is nonbinary? ›

Your child might: feel strongly that their gender identity differs from the sex they were given at birth or tell you that they feel unsure about their gender. ask you to call them by a different name and use a different pronoun like 'he', 'she' or 'they'

What are the three gender types? ›

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.

What is a mixed gender called? ›

Gender expression that includes a mixture of masculine and feminine characteristics can be described as androgynous.

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 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.

What are the 5 main genders? ›

Gender Identity Terms
  • Agender. Not having a gender or identifying with a gender. ...
  • Bigender. A person who fluctuates between traditionally “male” and “female” gender-based behaviours and identities.
  • Cisgender. ...
  • Gender Expression. ...
  • Gender Fluid. ...
  • Genderqueer. ...
  • Gender Variant. ...
  • Mx.

What does Librafluid mean? ›

Librafluid: A gender identity that is mostly agender, but has a strong connection that fluctuates between other genders. Male to Male/MTM: Someone whose sex and/or gender was assigned female at birth and who rejects that their gender was ever female.


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