a short history of ‘third gender’
Anonymous: totally didn’t know third gender was a culture-specific, appropriateable thing. what’s the history of the term?
According to the article “Romancing the Transgender Native”:The term third gender was apparently introduced in 1975 by M. Kay Martin and Barbara Voorhies, who employed it to draw attention to the ethnographic evidence that gender categories in some cultures could not be adequately explained with a two-gender framework.
I’ve not been able to get my hands on the 1975 chapter where the term is introduced… but I’ll make the article available later for those people interested in reading it, especially since it works both as a good critique of this anthro term and from how the trans community has appropriated it. (h/t to a-bayani for suggesting this article)
Nonetheless, this paragraph alone demonstrates just how and why the term is not only racist when coming from white people, but how it is also white supremacist.
The coining of the term clearly demonstrates that these white researchers assume the supremacy and the a priori validity of their western/white binary gender system. (having a ‘third’ gender makes zero sense if your culture has always had more than two — why would we call it ‘third’ if it is traditional?)
However, the term isn’t necessarily culture specific since white people used it to describe and conflate vastly different genders they deemed ‘other’ based on their own cultural gender expectations. More than anything ‘third gender’ seems to describe any non-white/non-western gender beyond its borders. It signifies ‘other’ more than anything else.
This is why, for me at least, I think that any non-white non-binary person has a right to use the term if they wish to reclaim it. But it is also why white gq people shouldn’t use the term, ever.
If you read the article (but I’ll summarize some points), you’ll see that the later history of the term comes to be that white people like Kate Borstein come to romantise and appropriate ‘third genders’ in their politics. The existence and experiences of non-white third gender people come to be used as an almost continual rhetorical point that many white trans and/or genderqueer people seem content to use in their arguments against a binary gender system.
People like me end up being a footnote to some white gq’s ‘libratory’ discourse.
tl;dr ‘third gender’ is a racist term coined by a racist discipline to describe and exotify non-white gender identities.
from top to bottom
Last night I attended a queer erotica reading at the pleasure chest in Chicago. It was hosted by Sinclair Sexsmith, editor of the BDSM queer erotica book “Say Please.” It was a lovely group of folks - and the readers (excluding Sinclair) were all femmes!
But the readings brought something up that I find mildly annoying. To be clear before I go off — this isn’t a critique on Sinclair’s writing (which is fantastic) or about the book “Say Please” (I haven’t read it). Here’s the rub: all the stories last night involved scenarios in which the femme (or more feminine presenting person) was the bottom and the butch (or more masculine presenting person) was the top.
Why queers why are we still setting up/eroticizing this often played-out dichotomy? Which isn’t to say that it can’t be done - but out of FOUR stories - not one of them even slightly toyed with any other power dynamic. And when I do come across a rare femme top photo or story online, it’s often portrayed as “hard femme” - which is fine, but just because a femme has strapped on and has you strapped down, does not necessarily make them HARD (ahem!)
(warning: this is a little ranty)
Been thinking about this type of ish lately. Just read this post from the Trans Queers: A Transfags Sex Journal (which I love) where the author talks about his frustrations as a self described “faggy trans boy” dating cis femme women, and it bummed me out. Not because I’m angry or upset at anything the author had to say—parts of that post hit very close to home, even though I’m not a guy and I pass as a cis femme woman—but because it reminded me of the disappointment I keep running into, or hearing from others.
Sometimes I feel like queer folks got lied to. Like, we hear all this rhetoric about how the various coming-out processes are valuable, how finding community is important, how we can, after all that work, finally be complete, fearless beings.
And yet, what happens? We can’t write scripts that exist outside of the mainstream. We don’t reinvent ourselves in a vacuum. We carry a bunch of the same tired mess that some of us observed in the folks we were running from, the places where our odd-puzzle-piece selves couldn’t find purchase. We borrow the tools that broke our hearts before, repaint them so they fit in with the vocabulary we use for ourselves, and then break our hearts all over again.
And so the masculine folks are supposed to go one way, and the feminine folks are supposed to go the other,* and even though there’s technically no “right” way to be [whatever], there’s always a Legit Right Way, and you’re either working towards it or Screwing Up Big Time. And no matter how persistent you are in knowing your own truth, no matter how much you rail inside your head against the stilted movements that feel like a monstrous offense to just living your life, at the end of everything, you find yourself standing in front of the same stupid sign.
It is boring and disappointing. For all the talk about communication and breaking down the old constructs, all too often folks let a couple of outward identifiers tell the whole story.
I don’t expect strangers to get it. I don’t care if they do. But isn’t there room for our private lives to be a little more creative, for our intimates to pay closer attention to who we really are? When I say I want you naked, honey, clothes are the least of my concerns.
* I refuse to front like people don’t treat androgyny differently based on how “kinda-masculine” or not the presentation is on a given body. The complexity of multiple genders and/or the refusal to favor any of them in presentation end up getting boiled down to “boy” or “girl” in really messed-up ways.
A story on some trans experiences in China
Youths are leading the shift toward tolerance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community. Xu Jingxi in Guangzhou and Cheng Anqi in Beijing report.
Xu Hui’s parents locked him in a mill, hired an exorcist and psychologists, and forced him to undergo acupuncture that accidentally pierced his lung, in order to “cure” his feminine behavior. The boy enjoyed playing with his sister’s Barbie dolls and wore bras stuffed with tissue. “I increasingly felt like a girl but didn’t think too much about it,” says the 22-year-old, who now considers herself a woman.
This sort of thing gives me so much life.
(not because Xu Hui had this terrible experience or the misgendering but because it is good to read non-white trans experiences.)
A New Queer Agenda finally hit the online new stands!
Hello the internet!
Specifically the POC centered, gender self determining, queer liberation, disability & economic justice internet!
I co-authored a chapter in Queers for Economic Justice’s ebook, A New Queer Agenda with my sibling Che & AJ Lewis about queer & trans people resisting police violence. after many years in limbo, The Scholar & Feminist Online journal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women published it! it finally hits online newstands today! We wrote it in 2009, but clearly police violence has hasn’t stopped, nor has our resistance, so IMHO its still relevant! its also filled with beautiful photos by Syd London!
You can read it here: