Our society and the culture around us greatly impacts a person’s life and who they become, including gender identity. The views of each culture on non-binary genders impacts one’s believe system and impacts whether or not we should consider non-binary genders as real genders.
Historically, non-binary people have been accepted in various cultures, in some cases even considered sacred, which shows that it is important to acknowledge non-binary people as it is a sign of disrespect towards the cultures.
However, several religions, such as Christianity and Islam, do not believe in non-binary genders. Acknowledging non-binary genders would disregard their teachings and disrespect those who practice it.
Hijras, a third gender in Indian society, have existed for thousands of years. They have their own culture and role in society that is not male or female. Historically, hijras were celebrated and highly respect. However, in 1897 British colonizers were disgusted with the hijras and classified them as criminals.
According to a consensus done in 2014, which was fairly recent, there were more than 490,000 hijras living in India. Despite this, hijras are still widely discriminated. Doctors often refuse to treat them, they are often harassed by the police, and denied access to employment. Furthermore, hijras are often uneducated, as a result of banishment from Indian society. The lack of education and employment results in high poverty rates among the hijras.
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United States of America
In the United States, the Native Americans believe in a third gender called the two-spirit people. They were called ‘two-spirited’ as it is believed that the spirit of both male and female. They are recognized by over 150 tribes. Native Americans associated the two-spirits with intelligence, artistic skills, and compassion. Aside from the Native Americans, the Native Hawaiians have their own third gender called mahus, a gender falling somewhere between male and female and have their own role and responsibilities in society.
As European influence and Christianity spread, both the two-spirited people and mahus were often forced, by government officials, missionaries, or their own tribes, to conform to binary gender roles. Those who refused, either went into hiding or committed suicide. However, in recent years the two-spirited and mahus have experienced a resurgence and non-binary genders are becoming more common in the US.
Kathoeys, also known as ‘ladyboys’ are a third gender commonly seen in various media in Thailand and across the world and are also a huge part of Thailand’s growing sex tourism industry.
Although kathoeys are not legally recognized, they are generally more accepted than non-binary genders in other countries. Several schools have made facilities to accommodate their kathoey students. One example is the Kampang school in northern Thailand that build toilets for kathoeys after a poll revealed that 10% of their 2,500 students are kathoey. This shows how prominent kathoeys are in Thai society as 10% is a significant amount. However, this was taken in 2008, nearly 10 years ago, and the numbers may have increased since then. It is also only from one school and does not represent the entire situation in Thailand.
The Bugis tribe of South Sulawesi have acknowledge five different gender identities. Aside from the traditional male and female genders, they also include calalai who are anatomically female taking on a masculine role in society. On the other hand, calabai are anatomically male taking on a feminine role in society. Both the calalai and calabai fall under a grey area that is neither male and female despite taking more traditional female or male roles. The bissu are a combination of all genders. They have their own role in society, such as leading spiritual ceremonies.
Today, warias are a common third gender found in Indonesia. The term waria, a combination of the Indonesian words “wanita”, which means woman, and “pria”, which means man, is an umbrella term that includes transgenders, crossdressers, people who don’t identify as either male or female, and many more. The community is around 32,000 people strong, although founder of Indonesia’s first LGBT organization Dede Oetomo suggests that the number may be much higher and are found all over the country. This data shows how large the population of warias is in Indonesia and how significant they are. Since the latest data was from 2013, the amount may have significantly changed since then. Furthermore, it is difficult to reach the remote parts of Indonesia, making it difficult to obtain the true number, which may be even higher.
Warias are generally not accepted in most religious communities. While the majority of warias are Muslim, they are often not accepted into the community and are prohibited from entering mosques. In 2011, VICE released an article about a group of warias in Jogjakarta creating a mosque and school in the back room of a salon. The school was created as a safe place for warias and regularly holds Islamic studies classes.
I believe that non-binary genders should be regarded as real genders as it is seen as sacred in various cultures, such as two-spirit people, and disregarding their existence would be seen as a sign of disrespect towards the culture and their people. However, I do understand that several religions such as Christianity and Islam do not accept non-binary genders and as a Christian, I do understand that it is difficult to accept something that goes against the teachings of a religion. Nonetheless, I do believe that religion should not be an excuse for discrimination towards non-binary people. It is also worth nothing that a large amount of warias and hijras are Muslim. They are able to keep their faith despite their identities and being shunned by the religious community. I believe that religious communities should include non-binary people, as they still have the desire to follow the teachings of the religion.?