Wednesday, May 19, 2010

3rd Gender: Gender Performitivity

!!! Gender Trouble !!! – 3rd Genders and Sex


Image: Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble. Established theory of gender performitivity.

“behave like a lady!”

“be a man!”

We might say, one is not born a woman, one becomes one; but further, one is not born female, one becomes female; but even more radically, one can, if one chooses, become neither female nor male, man nor woman

(Butler, J. 1999 2nd Ed, pp. 179) (italics present in original)

In society we are conditioned and brought up in a binary system. For example, good versus bad, right versus wrong, culture versus nature and one of the biggest dichotomies, man versus women, masculinity versus femininity. Before heading into any discourse of sexual dichotomies, it must be established that there is a difference between sex and gender. There so far exists, or is accepted to be (at least in the western society), “two sexes (male and female) or genders (masculine and feminine)” (Herdt, G. 1994 pp.22) Sex is the male genital or female genitalia one is born with. Gender is the masculine and feminine identity in which the individual takes on. In western society, the idea that is generally held is that gender identity comes from the sex assignment of male or female. Hence, we are taught from birth what to wear, how to act, according to our sex. These mannerisms (how we talk, walk, dress) that we take on are part of a performance. In other words, gender is a performance (Butler, J. 1991). However, I will not be focusing on the masculine and feminine genders but the genders that fall in between. These are called the 3rd gender. It will be shown how in countries such as India, Thailand and North AlbaniardHijras in India and the Katheoys, or LadyBoys, in Thailand. My research will show how different individuals have different motivations for taking part in 3rd gender. how gender is fluid. These 3rd genders in their societies are accepted with tolerance absent from many western countries. I will explore the

!!! Hijras in India !!!

Who are the Hijras?

Hijras are a huge part of India’s unique culture. Hijra is a masculine noun that sometimes imply “woman”. They are men who are infertile and have to traditionally go through emasculation. Because of their inability to reproduce they are not seen as a man. They are instead asked by religion (Hinduism) and society to dress and act like women. According to Hinduism there are 4 types of Hijras, the “waterless” male who has no testicles, the “testicle voided” male who has undergone castration, the hermaphrodite and the “not woman”, the female eunuch or the woman that does not menstruate. The “not woman”, however, is rarely seen within the Hijra community. The Hijras have their own culture, their own god (Bahuchara Mata), their own caste and their own place in society. They often dance and perform rituals during weddings and when a male child is born into the family (a massive celebration in India). They are believed by society to contain magical powers to bless and to curse. They bless newly wed couples to be fertile. However, should one offend a Hijra, the ultimate curse would be a Hijra showing the offender her mutilated genitals. However, many now, not of choice, succumb to prostitution as traditions fade.

Hijra Gender Identity

So how are Hijras the 3rd gender if they take on the feminine identity? Although many factors contribute to the individual’s degree of masculinity and femininity (terms used for a known lucid degree of measurement), it has to be emphasised how usually, particularly in western countries, gender is prescribed according to the sex of an individual. What is not acknowledged is a mixed-gender, ambiguous role/identity… a gender identity that is fluid and able to change over one’s life span. (Herdt, G 1994 pp. 396) Returning to Butler’s idea that one can choose to be neither man nor women, this is where the Hijra’s sit. They are not naturally feminine, in a bid to cover their masculinity, they are often aggressively feminine. Herdt notices that “their feminine dress and manners are often exaggerations… and indeed are designed to contrast with the normative submissive demeanour of ordinary women”.

(more coming soon)

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