Third Gender,Third Sex, and the Two-Spirit


The Third Gender/Third Sex and the Two-Spirit are notions I just happened to cross by. I have never heard of them before, but the terms make sense when referring to someone who considers themselves gender different, but not exactly sexually different. I have usually associated gender difference with sexual difference, which is not always the case. I think if we, as a society, understand the differences between sex and gender, that they are not just one and the same, that my prejudice about gender correlating with sex can be erased, understood, and that sexual difference will not automatically be connected to gender inversion or difference, etc.

Below is some information, that is now considered to relate to the transgender community (referred to as “thirdness”), about the Third gender in society, biology, extensive resources, and a personal account into what “thirdness” is.

Third Gender

“The terms third gender and third sex describe individuals who are considered to be neither women nor men, as well as the social category present in those societies who recognize three or more genders.

The state of being neither male nor female may be understood in relation to the individual’s biological sex, gender role, gender identity, or sexual orientation. To different cultures or individuals, a third sex or gender may represent an intermediate state between men and women, a state of being both (such as “the spirit of a man in the body of a woman”), the state of being neither (neuter), the ability to cross or swap genders, or another category altogether independent of male and female. This last definition is favored by those who argue for a strict interpretation of the “third gender” concept.

The term has been used to describe Hijras of India and Pakistan,[1] Fa’afafine of Polynesia, and Sworn virgins of the Balkans,[2] among others, and is also used by many of such groups and individuals to describe themselves. In the Western world, lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex people have been described as belonging to a third sex or gender, although some object to this characterization.

The term “third” is usually understood to mean “other”; some anthropologists and sociologists have described fourth,[3] fifth,[4] and many[5] genders.” (

Third Sex in Biology

“In animals that exhibit sexual dimorphism, a number of individuals within a population will not differentiate sexually into bodies that are typically male or female. In non-human animals, this is called hermaphroditism, and in humans, it is called intersexuality. The incidence varies from population to population, and also varies depending on how femaleness and maleness are understood. Biologist and gender theorist Anne Fausto-Sterling proposed in a 1993 article that five sexes may be more adequate than just two, for describing human bodies.[6]

The white-striped form of the white-throated sparrow, which has two distinct female and two male morphs.

The white-striped form of the white-throated sparrow, which has two distinct female and two male morphs.

In addition to male and female sexes (defined as the production of small or large gametes), evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden argues that more than two genders exist in hundreds of animal species.[7] Species with one female and two male genders include red deer who have two male morphs, one with antlers and one without, known as hummels or notts, as well as several species of fish such as plainfin midshipman fish and coho salmon.[8] Species with one female and three male genders include bluegill sunfish, where four distinct size and color classes exhibit different social and reproductive behaviours, as well as the spotted European wrasse (Symphodus ocellatus), a cichlid (Oreochromis mossambicus) and a kind of tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus.[9] Species with two male and two female genders include the white-throated sparrow, in which male and female morphs are either white-striped or tan-striped. White-striped individuals are more aggressive and defend territory, while tan-striped individuals provide more parental care. Ninety percent of breeding pairs are between a tan striped and a white striped sparrow.[10] Finally, the highest number of distinct male and female morphs or “genders” within a species is found in the side-blotched lizard, which has five altogether: orange-throated males, who are “ultra-dominant, high testosterone” controllers of multiple females; blue-throated males, who are less aggressive and guard only one female; yellow-throated males, who don’t defend territories at all but cluster around the territories of orange males; orange-throated females, who lay many small eggs and are very territorial; and yellow-throated females, who lay fewer larger eggs and are more tolerant of each other.[11]” (

Third Sex in Contemporary Societies

“Since at least the 1970s, anthropologists have described gender categories in some cultures which they could not adequately explain using a two-gender framework.[5] At the same time, feminists began to draw a distinction between (biological) sex and (social/psychological) gender. Contemporary gender theorists usually argue that a two-gender system is neither innate nor universal. A sex/gender system which only recognizes the following two social norms has been labeled “heteronormativity“:

This section, as introduced above, covers Thailand, India, the Western World, Indigenous cutlures, and many others.

In the Western World

“Some writers suggest that a third gender emerged around 1700 AD in England: the male sodomite.[22] According to these writers, this was marked by the emergence of a subculture of effeminate males and their meeting places (molly houses), as well as a marked increase in hostility towards effeminate and/or homosexual males. People described themselves as members of a third sex in Europe from at least the 1860s with the writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs[23] and continuing in the late nineteenth century with Magnus Hirschfeld,[24] John Addington Symonds,[25] Edward Carpenter,[26] Aimée Duc[27] and others. These writers described themselves and those like them as being of an “inverted” or “intermediate” sex and experiencing homosexual desire, and their writing argued for social acceptance of such sexual intermediates.[28] Many cited precedents from classical Greek and Sanskrit literature (see below).

In Wilhelmine Germany, the terms drittes Geschlecht (“third sex”) and Mannweib (“man-woman”) were also used to describe feminists — both by their opponents[29] and sometimes by feminists themselves. In the 1899 novel Das dritte Geschlecht (The Third Sex) by Ernst Ludwig von Wolzogen, feminists are portrayed as “neuters” with external female characteristics accompanied by a crippled male psyche.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, the term “third sex” was a popular descriptor for homosexuals and gender nonconformists, but after Gay Liberation of the 1970s and a growing separation of the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, the term fell out of favor among LGBT communities and the wider public. With the renewed exploration of gender that feminism, the modern transgender movement and queer theory has fostered, some in the contemporary West have begun to describe themselves as a third sex again.[30] One well known social movement of male-bodied people that identify as neither men nor women are the Radical Faeries. Other modern identities that cover similar ground include pangender, bigender, genderqueer, androgyne, intergender,”other gender” and “differently gendered”.

The term transgender, which often refers to those who change their gender, is increasingly being used to signify a gendered subjectivity that is neither male nor female — one recent example is on a form for the Harvard Business School, which has three gender options — male, female, and transgender.[31]”


Third Sex in History

This covers a range of countries from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indic culture, and Mediterranean among others .

If you are interested in this subject you can go to this link:


Two-Spirit (also two spirit or twospirit) people are American Indians who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles found traditionally among many American Indian and Canadian First Nations indigenous groups. Traditionally the roles included wearing the clothing and performing the work of both male and female genders. The term usually implies a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit living in the same body and was coined by contemporary gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Native Americans to describe themselves and the traditional roles they are reclaiming. There are many indigenous terms for these individuals in the various Native American languages as “what scholars generically refer to as ‘Native American gender diversity’ was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples”[1].

As of 1991, male and female bodied Two-Spirit people have been “documented in over 130 North American tribes, in every region of the continent, among every type of native culture”[2].”


To see the historical and modern examples of a Two-Spirit, go to the link above.

Terminology (Two-Spirit)

The older term “berdache” is a generic term used primarily by anthropologists, and is frequently rejected as inappropriate and offensive by Native Americans. This may be largely due to its pejorative etymology as it is a loan from French bardache via Spanish bardaxa or bardaje/bardaja via Italian bardasso or berdasia via Arabic bardaj meaning “kept boy; male prostitute, catamite” from Persian bardaj < Middle Persian vartak < Old Iranian *varta-, cognate to Avestan varəta- “seized, prisoner,” formed from an Indo-European root *welə- meaning “to strike, wound” (which is the same in English as vulnerable). It has widely been replaced with two-spirit.[3][4][5]

Two-spirit” originated in Winnipeg, Canada in 1990 during the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference. It is a calque of the Ojibwa phrase niizh manidoowag (two spirits). It was chosen to distance Native/First Nations people from non-natives as well as from the words “berdache” and “gay.”[6]


Other Examples of Third Sex/Two-Spirit

“The following gender categories have also been described as a third gender:

North America
Middle East:
  • Indonesia: Waria.[38] Additionally, the Bugis culture of Sulawesi has been described as having three sexes (male, female and intersex) as well as five genders with distinct social roles.[4]
  • In the Philippines, a number of local sex/gender identities are commonly referred to as a third sex in popular discourse, as well as by some academic studies. Local terms for these identities (which are considered derogatory by some) include bakla (Tagalog), bayot (Cebuano), agi (Ilonggo), bantut (Tausug), binabae, bading — all of which refer to effeminate ‘gay’ men/transwomen. Gender variant females may be called lakin-on or tomboy.[39]
Latin America and the Caribbean:


Outside Links about Two-Spirits

External links

Here is a link to a JSTOR article about the Third Gender, if you have access to JSTOR:

An Extra: A Blog on Thirdness

Though I do not know this person, or their name (though I could easily find out by liking on the website), I feel as if the information on this website is very useful to consider for personal reflection.

Somewhere in one of the articles, there is a very interesting quote:

“I think that Kate Bornstein’s [1995] words are very important, here. She says:

I know I’m not a man — about that much I’m very clear, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman either, at least not according to a lot of people’s rules on this sort of thing. The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other — a world that doesn’t bother to tell us exactly what one or the other is.” (


After discovering all of this information and reading a book at the beginning of this summer on being genderqueer, I have a new concept of gender and its relation to biological sex. I think its going to take me awhile to split the two and digest them and I am sure being a Gender Studies major will aid in that. Hopefully this will be of some use to understanding the sentiments and feelings of someone who is of the third sex, third gender, etc, who does not consider themselves one or the other, bu in between.



Filed under Education, Sexuality

3 responses to “Third Gender,Third Sex, and the Two-Spirit


    As one of the consequences of the Cold War from the end of World War II and up to 1989, the competition on the battlefield of sport became fiercer and fiercer, and at some point rumours started circulating in the west about female athletes, mainly from the eastern countries, who were not THAT female. Stories were told about specific athletes who never undressed together with other athletes, but came directly from their hotel, and went straight back for a shower, and of athletes who had a number of male features as for example a fast growing beard.

    Worse still, they achieved stunning results on the sports field, which, especially in athletics, could be measured and compared directly.

    Perhaps understandably a cry soon rose about unfair competition and downright cheating, followed by demands to bring an end to this intolerable situation in international sport.

    So, something had to be done, and in accordance with medical experts, gender verification was introduced in athletics by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in 1966, at the European Championships in Budapest, where all female athletes were required to parade naked in front of a panel of physicians.

    I was present in Budapest, and being at that time president of my club, I had a rather nervous and embarrassed female high jumper attending this (something similar was repeated at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg and on other occasions).

    Another female athlete in Budapest was a Polish sprinter E.K. who passed the examination. However, later after the introduction of a new test, sex chromatin testing, she was found to have one chromosome too many to be declared a woman for the purpose of athletic competition.

    A six man medical commission who subsequently investigated her case, discovered that she had a genetic condition known as mosaiicism, whereby some of her cells had an XXY sex chromosome make up, the remainder having a normal XX sex chromosome composition. She was aware of the condition and had not only undergone surgical treatment to remove intra-abdominal testes, but was also being treated with female sex hormones.

    Nevertheless she suffered public disgrace by being disqualified from further competition in women´s events and her name was later (in 1970) removed from the record books and she was forced to return her olympic and other medals, and retired from competition surrounded by controversy.

    At the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, a manual examination of the external genitalia was carried out by a gynaecologist on all female athletes, and I 1967, at the E-cup final in Kiev, close-up visual inspection of genitalia was used to establish eligibility.

    Mary Peters, gold medallist in Munich 1972 in pentathlon, is quoted as having described her experience with the gender verification test as “the most crude and degrading experience I have ever known. The doctors proceeded to undertake an examination which, in modern parlance, amounted to a grope”.

    This new practice quickly, in fact already from 1966, brought about that a number of prominent athletes did not show up at the big events, and vanished from the international scene of athletics, which in turn was interpreted widely as a great victory for the introduction of gender verification, and certainly, in some events, competition became less fierce.

    In 1968 at the Olympic Games in Mexico, the IOC introduced the sec chromatin test (buccal smear screening test) which could indicate inactivation of one of the two female X chromosomes. It was the intention of the IOC that, should the screening test prove negative, or inconclusive, a full chromosome analysis would then be conducted and blood hormone levels measured. If inconclusive results were again obtained, a gynaecological examination would follow.
    Nevertheless, the IOC´s intentions have rarely been carried out in practice. Shocked athletes, having failed the sex chromatin screening test shortly before a major competition, have tended to withdraw rather than undergo further investigations which might have proved them eligible. Indeed, these athletes were often advised by their own officials and team physicians to feign illness or injury and retire immediately to avoid public humiliation.

    From that time, every international female had to have a gender verification certificate with photo etc., stating that she had passed the sex test used by the IOC.

    At the 1985 World Student Games a female Spanish hurdler M.P. was publicly disclosed after failing her sex test, at the cost of public disgrace and loss of her athletic scholarship. It took two years and the active intercession of a number of medical authorities for her, to be reinstated – it turned out that she had Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. By that time though, her sporting career was over.

    Similar examples are to be found within other sports.

    Having used the sex chromatin testing in sport for well over 20 years (1968-1991), the medical experts stopped using it, because of its inadequacy, and because it has been realised that some women, who have genetic abnormalities that offer no conceivable strength advantage, are disqualified unfairly, some men with genetic disorder would pass the sex chromatin test, and it is an established fact that a number of genetic disorders in women and men can make the test results point in whatever direction, for example: Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Gonadal Dysgenesis, Turners Syndrome, Klinefelter´s Syndrome etc., etc.

    To my knowledge, following an IAAF workshop in 1990, the IAAF Council in 1991 adopted recommendations from the workshop that laboratory based gender verification testing be abandoned, alternatively introducing general medical examination, including simple inspection of the genitalia, to be performed by physicians accredited to each national federation. However, due to lack of unanimity regarding the exact content of the examination a second working group discussion took place in 1992. The result was to eliminate gender screening in any form at IAAF competitions.

    However, provision remain to this day in the IAAF Rules that –

    “The medical Delegate shall also have the authority to arrange for determination of the gender of an athlete should he judge that to be desirable”

    – except, that now everything related to how such an investigation is to be performed is hidden completely from the athletes and officials, as opposed to the preceding some 20 years of free and open information. Alas, this lead to criticism and embarrassing exposure of the mistakes and shortcomings of the scientific methods used, and subsequently to changes. That cannot easily happen now when everything is kept behind a white coat.

    All along the IOC kept on conducting laboratory testing for gender verification purposes. In 1992 in Albertville the new polumerase chain reaction (PCR) technique was introduced, only to be criticised for not eliminating all the issues surrounding the accuracy of the test by having the same shortcomings as sex chromatin testing, and being merely a test for presence of a DNA sequence and not a test for sex or gender.

    At the 1996 olympics in Atlanta, the IOC reverted to the buccal smear test, and a comprehensive process for screening, confirmation of testing, and counselling of individuals “detected”, was carried out. Out of 3387 female athletes 8 had positive test results. Eventually however, all of these were ruled “false positive” as it was established that 7 had androgen insensitivity, 4 incomplete, and 3 complete. The last one had previously undergone gonadectomy (removal of internal testes) and is presumed to have 5-alpha-steroid reductase deficiency (deficiency of an enzyme necessary to activate testosterone in responsive tissues). All individuals were permitted to compete.

    For the 2000 olympics in Sydney it was again intended to conduct the more and more controversial gender verification. However, shortly before the games, the IOC was forced to back down over its plans, mainly because the IOC Athlete´s Commission demanded the test being scrapped. However, the IOC described the suspension of compulsory gender verification as merely an “experiment” with no guarantees that it would become a permanent arrangement.

    And, sure enough, the IOC still has a clause in its rules which –

    “gives the IOC Medical Commission the authority to conduct any necessary investigation in order to verify the gender of an Olympic participant, should that be judged desirable”.

    – exactly along the same lines as IAAF, and with exactly the same problems and shortcomings.

    In the late 1990´ties a number of relevant professional societies in USA called for elimination of gender verification, such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The Endocrine Society, and the American Society of Human Genetics, stating that the method used was uncertain and ineffective.

    So, what is the true story behind all this ?

    Some of the best kept secrets within the human race, from ancient times and up to today,
    can be described by two words: Intersex condition.

    Every embryo has the possibility to develop either towards male or female, and therefore the possibility exist that it develops to something in between, within a vast number of variations. Such “cases” have always been hushed up, by the medical experts and, often on their advice, by the families, and in most cases the doctors have advised the parents that surgery be performed immediately to make the child look like a girl.

    Why a girl ?

    Because, until very recently, that was the easiest, in fact the only thing, they could do. To make such a baby look like a boy was much too difficult, and still is more difficult. So, the doctors decided on, which sex a baby should live with for the rest of its life, and the shocked and wretched parents, placed in this tragic situation, could do little but follow the doctors advice.

    The pain and agony, when later in life some people find themselves caught in a body, to which they cannot relate, is beyond comprehension.

    But surely this concerns only a few isolated cases ?

    With all the hush up that has always surrounded these problems, the extent on a national or global basis has not been known publicly, and statistics is hard to come by, whereas the medical world surely should have had some grasp of it.

    Only within recent years, some people, some parents and some persons with intersex conditions themselves have started to talk about it more freely and publicly, but as of today, no one can say how many people this has affected, only that it is an almost unbelievable high number.

    Recently it has been estimated that in Great Britain alone there are living more than 100.000 with some kind of intersex condition. For example 1 in every 4.000 is born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), and 1 in every 10.000 with Adrenogenital Syndrome (AGS), which is yet another of the numerous variations in gender. There is no reason why these figures should not relate to most other countries too.

    Other estimates are that in general at least one in a few thousand people are born with a body which deviates so much from the two accepted genders, as to place them at serious risk of parental rejection, stigmatisation, emotional pain of secrecy, shame and isolation and often harmful medical intervention, based not on scientific research, but for sociological and ideological reasons.

    All through the 20th century they have been hidden away as a dark secret, and their existence hushed up for a number of reasons, including the standards set by society, by relatives, and yes, by sport – the last big taboo of mankind.
    In fact, besides the male and the female gender, I think it should be considered to talk about a third gender, the Double Gender encompassing all those who are neither female nor male, but both and. As a matter of fact there is information that at least one person in Australia has been officially registered as being double gendered. It is long overdue for society, to accept these facts of life, which, in relation to sport are of minor consequence compared to the ever flourishing problem of doping.

    As a very small part of this huge, global issue, the double gender has, as specified above, caused confusion in the world of sport, where the medical experts have decided how to divide those with the double gender between the two officially accepted genders. They have, in their ignorance, performed this with various procedures and various medical techniques, which, one by one has proven to be inadequate, insufficient or just plain impossible. Procedures and techniques which the officials in sport have had to accept, as obviously they were not experts in this field.

    It is obvious that there are reasons why, after some 30 years of nude parades, groping, scraping, screening, testing and certifying, all of a sudden the compulsory gender verification is completely abandoned, and all the comprehensive activity and attention that has surrounded this has suddenly vanished, so that all that is left is a “sleeping” rule saying that it can be performed when “judged desirable”, with no further information added. (Within doping control, which is also a medical matter, this would equal that the only rule and information needed would be: “Doping control may be performed when judged desirable”. Period.)

    These some 30 years of consternation, suffering, humiliation, shattered sports careers and broken lives, and this enormous BIG BROTHER set up, causing all this, has been, and apparently still is, based completely on inadequate and inconclusive grounds.

    With the knowledge we have today, no one, but absolutely no one, with any sense of what is just and fair, can say that what was done, was done with methods and procedures which were, or has later been, proved to be beyond any reasonable doubt.

    What all this leaves us with is the fact that those who were excluded for not passing the gender verification, or femininity test which it was unpleasantly also called, were excluded wrongly on inadequate and inconclusive grounds, and therefore they should be exonerated. Those who were “just” scared away it is, unfortunately, not possible to make it up to.

    But then, what now ?
    Obviously international sport will have to relate to double gender, to intersexuality, to transsexuality and to all other related issues.

    Georg M. Facius


  2. I am writing on behalf of the Organisation Intersex International to add a link to OII, the largest grassroots intersex organisation in the world. ISNA is now defunct.

    Our link is

    Kind regards,
    Curtis E. Hinkle
    Founder, Organisation Intersex International

  3. ada

    Thank you for all this wonderful information, your blog is very helpful 🙂

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