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  • Writer's pictureDiego Tomasino

Indigenous Peoples and Third Gender: Celebrating Cultural Diversity

The existence of a third gender has been around for years. A large part of the indigenous communities already recognized the presence of these people among their members.

However, colonization and the advance of “evangelization” (not to call it in a more violent way), took charge of eliminating this part of the population from books and history. The implementation of practices of oppression, persecution and violence, both civil and religious, against any sexual practice that will not conform to the imposed hetero-binary norm has led for many years to stigmatizing diverse identities in society.

Today, thanks to the prominence that the Native Peoples and all the groups that have been oppressed for many years are recovering, the importance of embracing cultural diversity and understanding how indigenous peoples have had unique approaches to gender identity is reinforced.

Let´s find and discuss some of the most emblematic cases in America and the rest of the world.

Muxes - Oaxaca, Mexico

Muxes are people assigned male at birth, but who adopt female gender roles and characteristics, allowing them to perform roles and functions in both the female and male spheres of Zapotec society.

In Mexican culture, muxes are respected and valued for their unique contributions. They often play key roles in religious ceremonies, festivals, and other community activities. Their presence challenges gender binary notions and highlights the fluidity and complexity of gender identity.

The "Fiesta of the Authentic Intrepid Seekers of Danger" or, simply, “La Vela” is an annual festival in Juchitán, Oaxaca, that honors and celebrates the muxes in the month of November. During this event, the muxes wear traditional costumes and participate in parades and festivities.

Two embracing muxes smiling wearing typical Mexican clothing

Two Spirit – North America

Two-Spirit" is a term used to describe people who have both masculine and feminine characteristics in the context of indigenous North American cultures.

In many indigenous cultures of Canada and the United States, "Two-Spirit" people are respected and seen as possessing a unique spiritual and social balance. This term is a broader concept that encompasses gender identity and spirituality, and is not limited simply to the binary categories of masculine and feminine. These people play important roles within their communities, as spiritual leaders, healers, and mediators.

Person "two spirit" wearing typical clothing watching the sunset

Omgadau - Bugis and Makassar Tribes, Indonesia

The "Omgadau" are gender diverse and third gender individuals within the Bugis and Makassar cultures in the Sulawesi region of Indonesia. Like the "muxes" in the Zapotec culture in Mexico, the Omgadau challenge binary notions of gender and have a significant role in these societies.

Unlike many Western societies, the Bugis and Makassar cultures have historically accepted and respected the Omgadau as valued members of the community, often performing important social and cultural roles, such as spiritual leaders , intermediaries in rituals and events, and guardians of oral traditions and ancestral knowledge. Their presence is considered as a manifestation of the natural diversity in humanity.

In contrast to the gender binary, Bugis society recognizes five genders: Oroané are loosely comparable to cisgender men, makkunrai to cisgender women, calalai to transgender men, and calabai to transgender women, while bissu les are vaguely comparable to people androgynous or intersex and are revered shamans or community priests.

Bisu performing religious ceremony

Ommegid – Kuna Yala, Panama

In the San Blas archipelago and in general in the Kuna Yala region (district), there is the traditional presence of the Omeggids, as transsexuals are called in the indigenous language and which means "like a woman". Omeggids are biological males who have relationships with men in the community who generally perform typically female jobs, such as weaving and sewing cloth called Molas.

Having an Omeggid child is a special opportunity for Kuna families. If a boy begins to have feminine attitudes, he is left free to express his personality and is not forced to have typically masculine behaviors.

A legend tells that three ancestral personalities, three brothers, gave life to the Kuna civilization. Ibeorgun, Giggardiryai and Wiggudun. The first, Ibeorgun, represented the masculine and organizing principle of the Guna people. The second Giggadiryai, was the female principle, experienced in housework, equal rights and empowerment. The third, Wiggudun, was representative of gender fluidity.

These three figures still today correspond to the current social organization of the Kuna.

Two ommegid people from Kuna Yala (Panama) smiling

Hijra - India and Pakistan

Hijra are a gender diverse community of people in the Indian subcontinent, especially in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are recognized as a "third gender" in these regions and have a unique history and cultural identity.

Traditionally, they have had specific roles in society, such as performing blessings at auspicious events such as births and weddings, and sometimes also performing as entertainers at festive events. Hijra often live in communities and groups called "gurukuls". These communities may have an internal hierarchy and support system among their members.

In India, there has been significant progress in terms of legal recognition of hijras as a third gender. In 2014, the Supreme Court of India officially recognized hijra as a third gender and granted legal rights and protections.

"Hijra" wearing typical Indian attire

Final thoughts

Despite colonization and the influence of Western gender norms, many indigenous communities are working to revitalize and preserve understanding and respect for all who comprise them.

Deep into the history and richness of these Original Peoples, makes us reflect on how traditional cultures can provide valuable lessons on the acceptance of gender diversity and, especially, the existence of this “third gender”.

Even today the trans community, non-binary and queer people, continue to be stigmatized by the rest of society. This is why it becomes vitally important to respect and learn from the experiences of communities that have accepted third genders for centuries.

Today, August 9, on the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, let us continue to celebrate and respect cultural and gender diversity around the world. Let's take this message to face the unknown and keep encouraging each other to ComeOut! 🚪🌈


https :// - Men Women: An Indigenous Third Gender by Alfredo Mirandé

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