Rethinking Gender: Western Gender Binaries and Third Gender Groups Zoe Lett

Exploring the natural variations of gender

Carlos, pictured in the photo, was born with an enzyme deficiency. He was born female at birth, but during a rush of testosterone during or before puberty, he gained male genitalia. Carlos holds a photo of himself as a girl, his family agrees that he has always been the same person regardless of his genitals. His uncle even says “Carlos found his own rhythm".


A more common naturally occurring non-binary gender is intersex, a condition 1 in 1,500 people are born with. This condition means that a person is born with genitals/chromosomes/sexual anatomy that are not typical and do not fit into strictly male or female. This can appear as a combination of male and female parts, like a person having a penis and ovaries. Societal pressures and norms have created an environment where parents raise these children based on one of the child’s characteristics (usually their external genitalia), often not telling the child of their anatomical differences. This kind of adolescence (growing up unaware of your body, its changes, its anatomy, and its functions) can be detrimental to a person’s sexual, mental, and physical health.

How does the group of naturally occurring variations of gender represent the spectrum of gender experience?

These people, who do not conform to society’s gender standards or rules (penis=male vagina=female) not by choice, can often give uninformed people a different perspective to look from when analyzing gender norms and expectations. People like this (especially children), who live normal and healthy lives while not being exactly society’s one version of their gender or even being a gender completely unique to them, encourages society to accept differences. Thankfully for these people, and other differently-gendered people, there is a slow but steady shift towards understanding and recognition of people with these differences.

Exploring the “chosen” variations of gender


This section is labeled "chosen" gender variations only because these differences in gender "norms" are decided, changed, and represented by each persons choice and freedom to do so. People in the transgender community usually attest to the fact that their chosen gender has always been who they are, they just express it differently now, like Emmie (pictured in photo). These two twins were born as identical males. Emmie transitioned into a female at 17, post puberty. Most transgender people transition before puberty, in order to block hormones that will turn them into the opposite gender of their choice. Though Emmie’s transition timing is not normal, she attests that she has always been a girl and didn’t know it was possible to physically become one when she was younger. After her gender transition surgery she says she is no more or less a girl than she was before, this has always been her.

How does the group of "chosen" gender variations represent the spectrum of gender experience?

Laverne Cox (transgender activist and actress)

It has been estimated that over 1.4 million people in the united states alone are transgender. That number could be higher because it does not count the people who are closeted or have yet to “officially” transition. This number accounts for 0.6% of our total population. The transgender experience is not one that everyone can relate to. Cisgendered people can have a hard time grasping or understanding the concept of your body not matching how you want to present yourself or feel. But, almost everyone has had an experience in their life where they have felt limited because of their gender. Gendered toys and clothes begin at birth, before we even know our child’s personality or interest we decide that our girl will want to play with dolls and boys will want to play with trucks or guns. Because of transgender representation in the media and world around us in general, we are forced to analyze how we are raising our children and the boxes we are putting them in regarding their own gender experience. Even though not everyone is transgender like these people, their activism and presence exposes us to thoughts and ideas that are important when raising the next generation.

Exploring bigender, agender, androsexuality, and gender neutrality


Johnathan is a child who has identified as a boy and a girl from the age of two and a half. This can be considered bigendered or androsexual. This idea can be confusing for people to understand, his parents have faced questions like, “how can you be both?” “is he one more than the other?” “he can’t pick?” "do you say he or she?". While Johnathan identifies as both genders simultainiously, there are people who do not identify as any gender at all. This is called being agender or gender neutral. This can bring along even more questions and judgement.

How does the group of non-gender or bi-gender variations represent the spectrum of gender experience?

Tyler Ford (Agender activist)

The definitions given here are correct to Johnathan's gender experience, but sometimes one specific definition does not fit the way a person identifies. Gender is a spectrum and varies from person to person. The only way to know a specific persons gender experience is to ask them respectfully. Similarly to the way transgenders represent gender experience, people who are bigendered, gender neutral, or androsexual show people that everyone incorporates their gender in their own life in their own way. Even if that incorporation is nonexistent, everyones gender experience is important to them. People who defy social norms and destigmatize their representation of gender, allow others to see the benefits of gender diversity as well as allowing people to understand that someones gender is just one element of who they are, not a defining factor.

Exploring eastern third gender groups

Sandy and Mandy

In Polynesia, there are people who identify as neither a boy nor a girl, but something else. They identify as fa‘afafine. These children in the picture are fa‘afafine. They are born with male genitalia and live out their adolescence playing and behaving in a feminine way. As they mature they keep their slightly female appearance and their male genitalia. They take on typically women’s roles (cooking, cleaning, keeping house) and generally chose people who identify as male for their sexual partners. They are accepted within their community and play a key role in the gender dynamics of their village.

How does the group of third gender variations represent the spectrum of gender experience?

This particular experience is obviously not common. It is similar to the “naturally occurring variations of gender group” because the person does not chose to be born this way or to evolve this certain way. The main distinct difference is that, though these people are born with a certain “condition”, they live their lives as something completely different than male or female, which is rarer outside of small communities like this. Another difference is the environment that this particular group grows up in. These children who eventually become aware of their differences, grow up in a community that allows, accepts, and normalizes their differences. These children do not struggle from pressure, have lower suicide rates, lower depression rates, lower rates of bullying, etc unlike children with similar gender expression in the west. This group can be seen as an example of acceptance for other communities around the world. Like intersex people, these people are living normal lives with people that love them. With more exposure and understanding, third gender groups are able to integrate themselves into society easily.

How have all these groups integrated or not integrated into larger society?

-Naturally occurring variations of gender/intersex AND transgender-

In recent years the transgender community has gained more recognition than intersex and other naturally variating gender groups. With recognition comes criticism and backlash. Both transgender and intersex people feel stigma around how they identify. Intersex people not only have to “prove" to society that their body parts are normal (which cisgendered people almost never have to do), as well as explain to the world how they identify (which cisgendered people also rarely have to do). Transgender people also are asked invasive questions like “so what are you?” “what parts do you have?”. Intersex people can integrate into society easier than transgender people because they generally look either male or female, which is whats most accepted in society. Transgender people who have not completely transitioned or are in the process of transitioning generally have a hard time “passing” as their preferred gender and can often experience violence, discrimination, intolerance, judgement, amongst many other dangerous experiences. Because of social media, media, legislation (bathroom laws specifically), etc society has become extremely invasive towards these groups. Demanding to know someone’s genitals before they enter the bathroom is not something that cisgendered people have to deal with, yet this is regular for intersex and transgender people. Thankfully there is a positive side to to the exposure and recognition transgender and intersex people are getting. A survey given to millennials showed that over half of them believe that gender is a spectrum. With these kinds of societal changes of norms, it is hoped that the transgender/intersex/agender community will one day be accepted and normalized.

-Eastern third gender groups-

Because people who identify within eastern third gender groups (like people who are fa‘afafine) often live in small communities, they do not interact much with others outside of their direct community. As stated earlier, these children’s “condition” is accepted and normalized within their community. They have normal relationships (generally with men) and contribute actively to their communities regardless of their gender expression. They have a place in their communities. Because people like this in the eastern part of the world usually live in smaller towns and do not have much exposure, society on a broader scale has not been exposed to third gender types as much as transgender or intersex gender types. Perhaps eventually as people begin to learn more about the gender spectrum, people like the fa‘afafine people will become known, better yet understood and accepted.

Sources- 1. "Eva Bee Illustration: Ideas Based, Conceptual Illustrations." Eva Bee Illustration: Ideas Based, Conceptual Illustrations. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

2. Buckner, Jayme. "Community Post: 30 Strikingly Beautiful Gender Non-Conforming/Gender Non-Binary Selfies." Pinterest. Pinterest, 27 June 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

3. India Today. N.p., 13 Mar. 2013. Web.

4. Robin Marantz Henig. "How Science Is Helping Us Understand Gender." National Geographic. National Geographic, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

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