Third Gender, or Third Sex, is general category used most commonly in anthropology and sociology to classify the cultural specific genders that are neither man nor woman that are recognized by some non-Western cultures. For example, genders such as Māhū from Hawaii, and hijras from South Asia, are often described as third genders. It is sometimes expanded to fourth gender or even fifth gender when a culture recognizes multiple different genders outside of man and woman.
Third gender is not a specific gender, as it is a general term that is applied to many different genders from many different cultures. Cultures will have their own word to describe these specific genders, while the term "third gender" is applied to them by colonialists. The term third gender is sometimes reclaimed as an identity by some people, possibly as an English explanation for a culture specific gender, or possibly to show how their non-binary identity intersects with their cultural identity. Only third gender people are able to describe what third gender means to them, for some it is in between the binary genders, for others it may be outside the binary. As an identity, third gender should only be used by those from a culture that has genders that are described as a "third gender." Labels under the aporagender umbrella are non-appropriative alternatives for genders outside the binary.
The term third gender was first common used to describe non-heterosexual people, as before the sexual revolution of the 1960s, there was no common non-derogatory vocabulary for non-heterosexuality, and there was no clear recognized divide between sexuality and gender. One such term, Uranian, was used in the 19th century to a person of a third sex- originally, someone with "a female psyche in a male body" who is sexually attracted to men.
It was later redefined as it was commonly used by colonialists to pathologize traditional genders of other cultures. Since there was no divide between sexuality and gender, Western cultures, sometimes even today, often tried to reinterpret these third-gender identities to fit the Western concept of sexual orientation. For example, Western attempts to reinterpret fa'afafine, the third gender in Samoan culture, often make it have more to do with sexual orientation than gender. Additionally, Western scholars often do not make a distinction between people of the third gender and men; they are often lumped together because many third genders consist primarily or exclusively of AMAB people.
Since at least the 1970s, anthropologists have described gender categories in some cultures that could not be adequately explained using a two-gender framework. While currently, some mainstream western scholars have sought to understand the "third genders" solely in the language of the modern LGBT community (notably anthropologists who have tried to write about the South Asian hijras or the Native American "gender variant" and two-spirit people), other scholars- especially Indigenous scholars- stress that mainstream scholars' lack of cultural understanding and context has led to widespread misrepresentation of third gender people, as well as misrepresentations of the cultures in question, including whether or not this concept actually applies to these cultures at all.
Examples of some genders that are described as being "third genders" include:
Flag and Symbols
The flag was created on August 9, 2018 on the Tumblr blog beyond-mogai-pride-flags for people who choose to reclaim the terms as an identity. The symbol was created by a group of Brazilian non-binary people on October 2, 2014. A triangle was likely used to represent "third".
In some countries, "third gender" is a description of legal categories for genders beyond male and female, as in Germany for the third legal category, "divers."
- Duc, Aimée, 1901. Sind es Frauen? Roman über das dritte Geschlecht ("Are These Women? Novel about the Third Sex")