Gender-variant identities worldwide

This page contains changes which are not marked for translation.

This article about gender-variant identities worldwide is about many cultures' and ethnic groups' traditional identities and roles that do not fit into the Western gender binary. Although it is challenging for Western writers to do so, it is important to talk about these identities without imposing modern Western ideas of gender on them, or otherwise misrepresenting them. The following article focuses on identities that are most analogous to gender outside of the Western binary. However, due to the problems of imposing outsider's views on these identities, this isn't clear in all cases. Some of the identities in the list below may be more analogous to binary transgender women and transgender men. This should not list identities that are known to be more analogous to cisgender identities that are simply gender nonconforming or non-heterosexual.

Generally, people who aren't members of the cultures and ethnic groups in question aren't entitled to call themselves by any of the following genders. That would be cultural appropriation, which means wrongfully taking parts of somebody else's culture to use for yourself. It is okay to learn about these cultures, but not to take what is not one's own. Outsiders would do well to learning about cultures that accept people who are outside the Western gender binary so that they can support those people on their own terms, and so that they are informed about political challenges that those people face today. Outsiders also benefit by learning about them in order to see that there have been hundreds of accepting cultures throughout history, that it has been done and that it has worked, and that these genders have always been real. This gives hope for other cultures to become accepting as well.

Third gender, or third sex, is not a satisfactory label for all the identities on this page, because it has meant many things. Third gender is a concept in which individuals are categorized, either by themselves, by their society, or by outsiders to their society, as not fitting into the Western ideas of binary gender and heterosexual roles. The phrase "third gender" has been used for a wide variety of meanings: intersex people whose bodies do not fit outdated Western medical concepts of binary sex, hundreds of indigenous societal roles as described (and often misrepresented) by Western anthropologists (including indigenous identities such as south Asian hijras, Hawaiian and Tahitian māhū, and Native American identities now called Two-Spirits),[1][2] transgender people who are nonbinary, homosexual people (even those who are white and in Western societies),[3][4][5] and women who were considered to be gender-nonconforming because they fought for women's rights.[6] Some people self-identify as third gender, especially in communities of people of color in the United States.[2] In the 2016 Nonbinary/Genderqueer Survey, 84 of the respondents (2.75%) called themselves third gender.[7] In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 244 of the respondents (2.17%) called themselves third gender.[8][2]

Identities in AfricaEdit


  • Name of identity: Kodjo-besia ("Kodjo" is a common Ghanaian name, and Kodjo-besia means "Kodjo is a woman [inside]" in the Twi language.)[9]
  • Culture: Ghana
  • Era:
  • Description of sex/gender: Kodjo-besia is used for a range of AMAB individuals who deviate from normative masculinity. They may be gay, transfeminine, or simply effeminate.[9]
  • Role in society: Often engaging in traditionally female occupations, Kodjo-besia are "perceived as deviant, but they are tolerated on the basis that they cannot be changed".[9]


  • Name of identity: Sarombavy or Sarimbavy[10]
  • Culture: Tanala people of Madagascar[11]
  • Era:
  • Description of sex/gender: "males who adopted the behavior and roles of women"[12]
  • Role in society:


The word "sekhet" in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.[13]
  • Name of identity: Sekhet (sht)
  • Culture: Ancient Egypt
  • Era: Middle Kingdom, 2000-1800 BCE
  • Description of sex/gender: unknown, except that the ancient Egyptians said Sekhet were one of the three genders or sexes
  • Role in society: unknown

Writings from ancient Egypt (Middle Kingdom, 2000-1800 BCE) said there were three genders of humans: male (tie), sekhet (sht), and female (hemet), in that order. Sekhet is usually translated as "eunuch," but that's probably an oversimplification of what this gender category means. Since it was given that level of importance, it could potentially be an entire category of gender/sex variance that doesn't fit into male or female. The hieroglyphs for sekhet include a sitting figure that usually mean a man, but the word doesn't include hieroglyphs that refer to genitals in any way. The word for male did include a hieroglyph explicitly showing a penis. At the very least, sekhet is likely to mean cisgender gay men, in the sense of not having children, and not necessarily someone who was castrated. Archaeologists question whether ancient Egyptians castrated humans, because the evidence for it is lacking.[14][15][16][17]

'Yan dauduEdit

  • Name of identity: 'yan daudu (plural), dan daudu (singular)[18] 'Yan daudu "means 'sons of Daudu,' a fun-loving, gambling spirit worshipped in the Muslim Bori practice, whose trance and dancing rituals are traditionally associated with marginalised poor women, sex workers and disabled people."[19]
  • Culture: Hausa people of sub-Saharan Africa
  • Era:
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine. The 'yan daudu "are categorized as neither male nor female but as an ambiguous middle category."[20]
  • Role in society:

Identities in the AmericasEdit

Two-spirited pride marchers at San Francisco Pride 2014.

There is more information about this topic here: Two-Spirit

"Berdache" was an old word used by European-American anthropologists. Berdache was an umbrella term for all traditional gender and sexual identities in all cultures throughout the Americas that were outside of Western ideas of binary gender and heterosexual roles.[21] These identities included the nádleeh in Diné (Navajo),[22][23][24] and the lhamana in Zuni,[25] among many others. In 1990, an Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering chose to internationally replace "berdache" with "Two-Spirit" as a preferable umbrella term for these identities.[26][27] Two-Spirit was chosen to distance these identities from non-Natives,[28] and should only be used for people who are Native American, because it is for identities that must be contextualized in Native cultures.[29][30] Because of the wide variety of identities under the Two-Spirit umbrella, a Two-Spirit person does not necessarily have an identity analogous to a non-Native nonbinary gender identity. Some do, but others are more analogous to non-Native gay male or lesbian woman identities. Notable people who identify specifically with the label "Two-Spirit" include Menominee poet Chrystos (b. 1946), who goes by they/them pronouns,[31][32][33] and Ojibwe artist Raven Davis (b. 1975), who goes by neutral pronouns.[34][35] In the 2016 Nonbinary/Genderqueer Survey, 8 of the respondents (0.26%) called themselves Two-Spirit.[7] In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 0.18% (20) of the responses called themselves Two-Spirit.[8][21]


  • Name of identity: Aranu'tiq
  • Culture: Chugach
  • Era:
  • Description of sex/gender: "Aranu'tiq were considered male on one side, and female on the other, taking on roles assigned to both genders."[36]
  • Role in society: A 1953 report states "They performed the work of both sexes and were, indeed, considered more skilled than ordinary persons as well as lucky like twins, but they could not marry and have children, nor could they become shamans."[37]


  • Name of identity: Biza'ah
  • Culture: Zapotec, Mesoamerica
  • Era: ??? - to present[38]
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB individuals who take on feminine roles. Similar to the Muxe, described below.[39]
  • Role in society: "The biza'ah sometimes engage in the stereotypically feminine activities of their community such as the making of ceremonial candles."[40]


  • Name of identity: kipijuituq
  • Culture: Netsilik Inuit
  • Era: ??? - to present
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB individuals raised from infancy as female, until they undergo a rite of passage and are henceforth seen as male[41][42]
  • Role in society:


  • Name of identity: kwido
  • Culture: Tewa people
  • Era: ??? to present
  • Description of sex/gender: A gender considered separate from men and women.[43]
  • Role in society:


We'Wha, a famous Zuni Two-Spirit (Lhamana) person who lived 1849-1896.
  • Name of identity: Lhamana
  • Culture: Zuni
  • Era:
  • Description of sex/gender:
  • Role in society: Mediators. They take on roles and duties associated with both men and women.

The Zuni recognize lhamana, who take on roles and duties associated with both men and women, and they wear a mixture of women's and men's clothing. They work as mediators.[44][45]


Mexican muxe social anthropologist and human rights activist Amaranta Gómez Regalado (b. 1977), speaking at the "We Move the World" event in Argentina, 2020.
  • Name of identity: Muxe, also spelled muxhe. This is Zapotec for "woman," but their society distinguishes them from women.[46] Another possible origin of the word is the Spanish word for "woman", mujer.[47]
  • Culture: Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca (southern Mexico)
  • Era: Pre-Columbian to present.[46] A post-Columbian origin myth for the muxe says the muxe "fell out from the pocket of Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of [the small town Juchitán de Zaragoza], as he passed through town, which, according to locals, means they were born under a lucky star. A second version of the saint’s legend says that Vicente Ferrer was carrying three bags: one with female seeds, one with male seeds and one where the two were mixed. According to this story, the third bag sprung a leak in Juchitán, and that’s the reason why there are so many muxes here."[48]
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine, and traditionally considered a third gender role between men and women[49]
  • Role in society: mostly women's work, but also men's work[46][38][50]

In Mexico, the Zapotec people recognize the muxe, who are assigned male at birth, and prefer to wear traditional women's styles of clothing and fashionable make-up. Muxes are thought to be usually attracted to men, though some muxes marry women.[46][51] Muxes may consider themselves homosexual, heterosexual, or asexual.[48] (Men who are not muxe, and who have relationships with muxe, are called mayetes, and are not socially thought of as gay for doing so.[48] Muxes themselves have various opinions about whether such men are really gay or straight.[46]) A person recognizes from early childhood that they want to be a muxe, based on their own natural instincts.[46] They usually do not seek gender-affirming surgery.[46] Today, muxe are accepted and integrated in society, whereas gay men and trans women are not accepted as much, though this varies by the amount of Westernization in a given community.[46] One muxe named Gala who was interviewed in 2015 explained, "We are not men or women [...] We are a third gender. Men are men and women are women— and muxes are muxes. Is that simple."[46] Much the same definition was given in a 2018 BBC interview with another muxe named Felina, who runs a group for muxe founded in the 1970s, Las Auténticas Intrepidas Buscadoras del Peligro (The Authentic Intrepid Danger Seekers).[46][48] Another muxe, performance artist Lukas Avendaño;[52], explained in a 2017 interview that not all muxe identify the same way, and some muxe do identify as women.[53] In the Zapotec language, there is no grammatical gender, which makes it easier. The Spanish language has only masculine and feminine, so muxe have to choose one, even though many muxe do not feel like either.[53] In recent years, muxe have campaigned for the right to use the restroom of their preference: some muxe (gunaa muxe, who think of themselves as like trans women) feel safer in the women's restroom, whereas other muxe (nguiiu muxe, who think of themselves as like feminine gay men) prefer the men's restroom.[53] One study estimates that 6% of people assigned male at birth in an Isthmus Zapotec community in the early 1970s were muxe.[54] Notable muxes include human rights activist Amaranta Gómez Regalado (b. 1977), who gained international prominence as the first trans candidate of Mexico, in the 2003 Oaxaca state elections;[48][55][56] and food vendor Marven, Lady Tacos de Canasta, who became famous in a viral video taken while she was selling food at a pride parade in 2016, and has been featured on multiple media outlets since.[57][58][59][60]


  • Name of identity: Quariwarmi, meaning "men-women"
  • Culture: Inca
  • Era: pre-colonial
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine
  • Role in society: shaman

In Peru, the pre-colonial Inca civilization had shamans called quariwarmi, meaning "men-women," who were a mixed-gender role. Andean Studies scholar Michael Horswell writes that third gender ritual attendants to Chuqui Chinchay, a jaguar deity in Incan mythology, were "vital actors in Andean ceremonies" prior to Spanish colonisation. Horswell elaborates: "These quariwarmi (men-women) shamans mediated between the symmetrically dualistic spheres of Andean cosmology and daily life by performing rituals that at times required same-sex erotic practices. Their transvested attire served as a visible sign of a third space that negotiated between the masculine and the feminine, the present and the past, the living and the dead. Their shamanic presence invoked the androgynous creative force often represented in Andean mythology."[61] Richard Trexler gives an early Spanish account of religious third gender figures from the Inca empire in his 1995 book "Sex and Conquest": "And in each important temple or house of worship, they have a man or two, or more, depending on the idol, who go dressed in women's attire from the time they are children, and speak like them, and in manner, dress, and everything else they imitate women."[62] This description draws into question whether the quariwarmi considered themselves a gender outside man or woman, or if they considered themselves women.

Identities in AsiaEdit


A group of Hijra, circa 1865.

There is more information about this topic here: hijra

  • Name of identity: Hijra
  • Culture: South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh
  • Era: From from 400 BCE or 300 CE to the present
  • Description of sex/gender: feminine eunuchs
  • Role in society: religious

In south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the hijra are people who were assigned male at birth, who have a feminine gender expression. Traditionally and today, some hijras seek castration. Hijras live together communally. They have important roles in religious practice. They can be Hindu or Muslim. Hijra traditions are ancient. The earliest mention of hijras is in the Kama Sutra, from 400 BCE to 300 CE.[63] In one of the earliest Western records of them, Franciscan travelers wrote about seeing hijras in the 1650s.[64] From the 1850s onward, the British Raj criminalized and tried to exterminate hijras.[65][66] Since the late 20th century, hijra activists and non-government organizations have lobbied for official recognition of the hijra as a legal sex other than male or female. This is important for them to be able to have passports, travel, hold jobs, and other rights. They have been successful at achieving legal recognition as another gender in Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.[67][68][69][70][71][72] The Hijra in India alone may number as many as 2,000,000 today.[73]


A bissu leader named Puang Matoa Saidi, in 2004.[74]
  • Name of identity: Bissu
  • Culture: the Bugis people of Indonesia
  • Era: six centuries ago to present.[75]
  • Description of sex/gender: A combination of all aspects of gender, not considered men or women. They are not necessarily intersex, can be AMAB or AFAB.
  • Role in society: Priesthood.

For the past six centuries, the Bugis people of Indonesia have divided their society into five separate genders. All five must harmoniously coexist. They are oroané (cisgender men), makkunrai (cisgender women), calabai (analogous to transgender women), calalai (analogous to transgender men), and bissu (all aspects of gender combined to form a whole).[76][77] [78][79][80][81]

The Bugis believe that someone is born with the propensity to become the mixed gender bissu, revealed in a baby whose genitalia are ambiguous (intersex). These ambiguous genitalia need not be visible; a normative male who becomes a bissu is believed to be female on the inside. This combination of sexes enables a 'meta-gender' identity to emerge. Ambiguous genitalia alone do not confer the state of being a bissu.[82] In order to become bissu, one must learn the language, songs, and incantations, and have a gift for bestowing blessings. They must remain celibate and wear conservative clothes.[75] In daily social life, the bissu, the calabai, and the calalai may enter the dwelling places of both men and women.[83]

In pre-Islamic Bugis culture, bissu were seen as intermediaries between the people and the gods. Up until the 1940s, the bissu were still central to keeping ancient palace rituals alive, including coronations of kings and queens.[75] After independence in 1949, the ancient Bugis kingdoms were incorporated into the new republic and bissus' roles became increasingly sidelined. A regional Islamic rebellion in South Sulawesi led to further persecution. As the atmosphere became increasingly homophobic, fewer people were willing to take on the role of bissu. By 2019, the numbers of bissu had declined dramatically, after years of increasing persecution and the tradition of revering bissu as traditional community priests. Bissu have mostly survived by participating in weddings as maids of honour and working as farmers as well as performing their cultural roles as priests. Hardline Islamic groups, police and politicians have all played their part in Indonesia's increased harassment and discrimination of the LGBTI community.[75]


  • Name of identity: Mukhannathun (Arabic مخنثون "effeminate ones", "men who resemble women", singular mukhannath)
  • Culture:
  • Era: pre-Islamic and early Islamic eras.[84]
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine
  • Role in society:

In classical Arabic writings, people called Mukhannathun were queer people who were assigned male at birth. They were analogous to transgender women, or to very feminine gay men, depending on the individual. In Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 41, Number 4910, Mohammed said to exile a mukhannath, and said not to kill them.[85] At one point during the Umayyad dynasty, a caliph ordered that all mukhannathun should be castrated. In response to this, a group of mukhannathun are recorded as having this conversation about it: "This is simply a circumcision which we must undergo again." "Or rather the Greater Circumcision!" "With castration I have become a mukhannath in truth!" "Or rather we have become women in truth!" "We have been spared the trouble of carrying around a spout for urine." "What would we do with an unused weapon anyway?"[86]


Potters from the Itneg people. The person on the right is a bayok in female attire (c. 1922).[87]
  • Name of identity: called asog in groups in the Visayan islands, and bayok in the Luzon islands.[88]
  • Culture: indigenous peoples of the Philippines
  • Era: traditional to present
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine
  • Role in society: shaman

In the Philippines, various pre-colonial ethnic groups had spiritual functionaries called babaylan, balian, or katalonan. A few of them were AMAB people with a feminine gender expression called asog in groups in the Visayan islands and bayok in the Luzon islands.[89] Persecution of non-Christian, non-Muslim people and the imposition of patriarchy and binary gender has led to the erasure of these social roles.[90]


Kathoeys on the stage of a cabaret show.

There is more information about this topic here: kathoey

  • Name of identity: Kathoey. Often rendered as "ladyboy" in English.
  • Culture: Thailand
  • Era: to present
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine. Not completely synonymous with trans women, gay men, or intersex people.
  • Role in society: today, kathoey often have occupations that are usually associated with women, such as in shops, restaurants, and beauty salons, but also in factories (a reflection of Thailand's high proportion of female industrial workers).[91] Kathoey also work in entertainment and tourist centres, in cabarets, and as sex workers.[92]

In Thailand, kathoey can refer to a variety of kinds of LGBT people, but more specifically it means AMAB people who are feminine, and who may seek physical transition, and who do not entirely consider themselves to be men or women.[93]


  • Name of identity: Kothi or koti
  • Culture: India/South Asia
  • Era: mid-1990s to present[94]
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine.[95] Some kothis take feminizing hormone therapy or undergo feminizing surgery.[94] One kothi in a research interview said "I am a woman. Only God has given me a body of a man."[96]
  • Role in society: "Kothis are generally of lower socioeconomic status and some kothis engage in sex work for survival."[95] Kothis are attracted to men, and term the men they have sex with "panthi". In the general public, the words "kothi" and "panthi" mean similarly to the American English "sissy" and "butch"; "panthi" can also refer to men in general.[94]

Kothi is sometimes seen as an umbrella term for gender-variant AMAB people which hijra falls under.[94]


  • Name of identity: Mutarajjulat, "women who wish to resemble men."[97]
  • Culture: Islam[98]
  • Era: ninth through eleventh centuries[98]
  • Description of sex/gender: AFAB and masculine[98]
  • Role in society: unknown

In the ninth through eleventh centuries, there were "a category of women known as the mutarajjulat, women who act or dress like men. These women were cursed by the Prophet Muhammad, who grouped them together with men who acted or dressed like women (probably effeminates or passive homosexuals). However, the grouping of these two categories together does not necessarily mean that the mutarajjulat were lesbians (because condemnations of lesbians used a different word), but more probably that these were women who participated in the world of men and dressed like men. Although there are few historical anecdotes about such women, there are a number of accounts in literary folk tales that indicate they fought in battles."[98]

Identities in Australia and OceaniaEdit

Sistergirl and brotherboyEdit

  • Name of identity: sistergirl and brotherboy
  • Culture: Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Era: to present
  • Description of sex/gender: Sistergirl is analogous to transfeminine. Brotherboy is analogous to transmasculine.[99]
  • Role in society:

In Australia, Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities recognize identities called sistergirl (AMAB people who have a feminine spirit) and brotherboy (AFAB people who have a masculine spirit). Brotherboys and Sistergirls can have binary or nonbinary genders.[100][99]


  • Name of identity: Yimpininni. Less traditionally, rendered in English as Sistagirl.
  • Culture: Tiwi Island culture
  • Era:
  • Description of sex/gender: analogous to trans woman
  • Role in society:

In Tiwi Island culture, "Sistagirl", traditionally Yimpininni, is an identity analogous to trans woman.[101][102]

Fa'afafine and Fa'afatamaEdit

Fa'afafine banner at the Auckland pride parade in 2016.

There is more information about this topic here: Fa'afafine

  • Name of identity: Fa'afafine, meaning "in the manner of a woman" [103]. Fa'atama, meaning "in the manner of a boy"[104] in Samoa.
  • Culture: Samoa
  • Era: traditional to present
  • Description of sex/gender: Third and fourth genders for AFAB and AMAB.[105]
  • Role in society: Faʻafafine are known for their hard work and dedication to the family, in the Samoan tradition of tautua or service to family. Ideas of the family in Samoa and Polynesia are markedly different from Western constructions, and include all the members of a sa, or communal family within the faʻamatai family systems.[106] Traditionally, faʻafafine follow the training of the women's daily work in an Aiga (Samoan family group).[107]

In Samoa, the Fa'afafine are people who were assigned male at birth (AMAB), have a feminine gender expression, and don't think of themselves as female or male.[108] It has been estimated that 1–5% of Samoans identify as fa'afafine.[109] Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand estimates that there are 500 fa’afafine in Samoa, and the same number in the Samoan diaspora in New Zealand,[110] while according to SBS news, there are up to 3,000 fa'afafine currently living in Samoa.[111] The masculine and assigned female at birth (AFAB) counterpart of fa'afafine in Samoa are known variously as faʻatane, faʻatama, and fafatama.[citation needed]


Papa Moe (Mysterious Water), an oil painting by the Westerner, Paul Gauguin, from 1893. It depicts a māhū in Tahiti drinking from a waterfall.[112][113]

There is more information about this topic here: Māhū

  • Name of identity: māhū (meaning "in the middle")
  • Culture: the Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) and Maohi (Tahitian) cultures
  • Era: traditional to present
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and AFAB people who are outside the Western concept of gender roles
  • Role in society:

In the Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) and Maohi (Tahitian) cultures, the māhū (meaning "in the middle") is a traditional gender role outside of the Western concept of gender. It is made of people who may have been assigned either male or female at birth. This tradition existed before Western invaders.[114] The first published description of māhū is from 1789.[115] From 1820 onward, Westerners stigmatized and criminalized māhū.[116] Māhū still exist today,[114] and play an important role in preserving and reviving Polynesian culture.[117][118] There was one māhū in the 2016 Nonbinary/Genderqueer Survey,[7] and one in the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census.[8][7]


  • Name of identity: Akava'ine. According to the Cook Islands Maori dictionary (1995) 'akava'ine comes from the prefix aka ("to be or to behave like") and va'ine ("woman"),[119] or simply, "to behave as a woman".[119][120])
  • Culture: Cook Islands Māori
  • Era: to present
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine
  • Role in society: work that is traditionally women's work, especially sewing. Some akava'ine take part in the making of tivaevae (quilts), an activity traditionally done by the women of the community.[121]

In the Cook Islands, some people who do not fit the Western gender binary are called akava'ine.[103]

Identities in EuropeEdit


Sworn virgin in Rapsha, Hoti, Ottoman Albania, at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Name of identity: Burrnesha, meaning "sworn virgins"
  • Culture: Albania
  • Era: 1400s CE to present
  • Description of sex/gender: AFAB and masculine
  • Role in society: most roles that otherwise only men are allowed to do

In Albania, the Burrnesha are AFAB people with a masculine gender expression and role. This tradition goes back to at least the 1400s, and is still practiced.[citation needed]


Il femminiello, painted by Giuseppe Bonito (1707-1789) sometime between 1740 and 1760. The femminiello's missing teeth and goitre are signs of poverty and malnutrition, but the red coral necklace represents good fortune.[122]
  • Name of identity: il femminiello (singular), or i femminielli (plural), meaning "the little female-men." This comes from femmina ("woman"), with -iello, which is a diminuitive term of endearment, with a masculine -o ending. This is neither derogatory nor an insult.[122][123]
  • Culture: Naples, Italy.[124] Specifically, they are centered in "the Spanish Quarter, the most impoverished neighborhood in the city."[122]
  • Era: from at least as far back as the 1500s CE, to the present[125]
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine[124]
  • Role in society: "Women's work," according to local traditional gender roles, such as looking after children, housework, and running errands. Sex work. Priests, and a source of good luck.[123]

In Italy, the femminielli are people who were assigned male at birth, and who begin to express femininity in mannerisms and clothing preferences from early childhood.[122] They continue to do so into old age. However, they do not hide that they were assigned male at birth.[122] The locals have always been accepting of the femminielli, and see them as good luck.[122][123] Neapolitans invite a femminiello to come with them when they gamble in order to improve their luck,[122] and mothers ask feminielli to bless their new-born babies.[123] There is a Neapolitan proverb: "If you need good luck, get blessed by a queer priest" (which uses a pejorative word rather than the word femminiello).[123] The femminielli are said to come from all over Europe to Torre del Greco to hold a secret and sacred ceremony once a year, figliata dei femminielli ("marriage of the femminielli"), led by priests from a modern continuation of the Gallae priesthood of the goddess Cybele, which came to Rome from western Asia in antiquity.[123] The figliata has been practiced for centuries, only temporarily suspended during World War II, and then resumed after the war.[123] In the figliata, the femminielli wed one another at sunset in front of a closed church. Nine months later, they simulate giving birth, and then celebrate with a banquet.[126] The remote mountain church at Montevergine is built atop what was once a temple to Cybele. Its icon, the Madonna of Transformation, Mamma Schiavona, "serving mother," is the Catholic syncretization of Cybele. According to legend, in 1256 CE, a mob had beaten a male-male couple, and then Mamma Schiavona miraculously saved the lives of the couple, so they lived happily ever after.[125] Ever since then, she has been seen as a patron of femminielli, who have gone on pilgrimage to that church for the procession of Candlemas, February 2, called juta dei femminielli. It is celebrated with the long and energetic tammurriata dance, and a candle-lit procession, by pilgrims who are visibly gender nonconforming. The celebrants chant, "Non c'è uomo che non sia femmina e non c'è femmina che non sia uomo" ("There is no man who is not female and there is no female who is not man.")[126] In 2002, a priest at Montevergine threw out a group of pilgrims who were LGBT, because he was offended by their tambourine and castanet playing.[125] (At festivals, femminielli use musical instruments such as bells and tambourines, which also came from the worship of Cybele.[123]) In response, hundreds of pilgrims who were LGBT activists and allies came to Montevergine two weeks later, and established the festival of Candlemas as also being Femminiello Pride.[125]

Identities from several world regionsEdit


Statue of a galla priest in feminine clothing, 2nd century, Capitoline Museum.

  • Name of identity: Gallae. Contemporaries who were not Gallae called them by masculine words, Galloi or Galli (plural), or Gallus (singular). Some historians interpret the Gallae as transgender, by modern terms, and think they would have called themselves by the feminine Gallae (plural) and Galla (singular).[127][128][129] The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD) says their name comes from the Gallus river in Phrygia;[130] "gallus" itself means chicken or rooster.
  • Culture: Originally Phrygia (where Turkey is today, part of Asia Minor).
  • Era: 2,300 years ago[131] to 6th century CE. Revived in the modern day by some Pagan transgender people who consider themselves Gallae.[129]
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine eunuchs. They may have been what modern people would consider a gender outside the Western binary, or else trans women.
  • Role in society: Priesthood. The Gallae were priests of the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis.[131] They were believed to have spiritual powers to tell the future, bless homes, have power over wild animals, bring rain, and exorcise evil spirits.[132][131]
  • Demographics: Unknown. In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, no respondents called themselves Gallae or any other form of that word.[8]

A significant portion of the ancient priesthood of the goddess Cybele and her consort Attis were Gallae. This tradition began in Phrygia (where Turkey is today, part of Asia Minor), 2,300 years ago.[131] After 205 BCE, it spread throughout the Roman Empire, as far north as London.[131] The Gallae were AMAB eunuchs. They wore bright-colored feminine sacerdotal clothing, hairstyles or wigs, makeup, and jewelry, and used feminine mannerisms in their speech. There were other priests and priestesses of Cybele who were not eunuchs, but ordinary men, and other priestesses who were cisgender or transmasculine Amazonian warrior women,[131] so it would not have been necessary to become a Gallae or a eunuch simply in order to become a priest of Cybele. The Gallae were not ascetic but hedonistic, so castration was not about stopping sexual desires. Some Gallae would marry men, and others would marry women, so castration was not simply about being a man attracted to men. The ways of the Gallae were more consistent with transgender people who had suffered gender dysphoria, which they relieved by voluntary castration, as the available form of sex reassignment surgery.[131]

The Gallae lived together in the metro'on temple compounds, which they tended, and cared for the statue of Cybele. They called one another by familial titles like Mother and Sister. They spent much of their time traveling in order to beg for charity, in exchange for which they told fortunes and blessed homes.[132][131] They were believed to have spiritual powers: that they could bring rain, and exorcise evil spirits. The Roman public viewed them with a mixture of awe and contempt, seeing them as practicing shocking foreign customs, so they were just as often honored as they were harassed and politically persecuted. They were not allowed to be Roman citizens, and vice versa.

The Gallae practiced annual celebrations representing the death and rebirth of the god Attis. Their best-known holiday was the Day of Blood (Dies Sanguinis) on March 24, in which the Gallae would dance around a felled and decorated pine tree. The Gallae were known for wild dancing, during which they whipped themselves and one another until they reached an altered state of consciousness. They were also known for playing loud music with drums, flutes, and cymbals. (One possible origin of the word "cymbal" is that it comes from their goddess Cybele.) Then their initiates would publicly, ritually castrate themselves on the temple steps, by means of potsherds in their own hands. This was to show that their castration was voluntary. They would throw the severed genitals into the cheering crowd, which were good luck to catch. Whatever family caught them would return thanks for the blessing by caring for the initiate while she healed.[131] Afterward, the initiate's lower belly was tattooed, and the healed wound dressed with gold leaf.[129]

Due to being criminalized, persecuted, and exterminated by the Christians, the Gallae were gone by the 6th century CE. Or, rather, the Gallae were syncretized into Christianity as the Femminiello of Italy, who have been recorded since the 1500s, and still exist today.[125] Today, some trans women and worshipers of Cybele call themselves Gallae, and one of their modern temples is in New York. Laura Anne Seabrook, a trans woman and follower of Cybele who considers herself a modern gallae, created an educational web-comic, Tales of the Galli. Her comic is a work of historical fiction about Gallae in ancient Rome, based on her extensive historical research.


  • Name of identity: Enarees, Enareis, or Anarieis (ἐναρής).[133] The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said this means "men-women" or "effeminates."[133] Some modern historians notice that it does not look like a Scythian word, but seems to have been from Greek for "Accursed."[134] It is not known today what the Enarees called themselves.
  • Culture: The Scythians, who were Eurasian nomadic horseriders. They lived in regions that are now the modern-day countries of Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Egypt, and neighboring countries. They had contact with many more, due to their use of the Silk Road.[citation needed]
  • Era: As far back as the 7th century BCE, to as late as the 3rd century CE
  • Description of sex/gender: AMAB and feminine
  • Role in society: Priests of the goddess Artimpasa, also called Argimpasa, who the Greeks thought correlated with their goddess Aphrodite. Artimpasa also had AFAB priestesses.[135] The enarees told the future, and did women's work.[133]

The Enarees were gender-variant priests of the ancient Scythian people. The 5th century Greek medical anthology, "Hippocratic Corpus," said that the Enarees wore women's styles of clothing, used feminine mannerisms in their speech, and did women's work.[133] Pseudo-Hippocrates said the Scythians believe the cause of their femininity is divine, but he theorized that they became so due to injuring their genitals from continous horse riding,[136] and from wearing trousers[137][138] (which was seen as an odd foreign custom to the toga-wearing Greeks). Archaeologist Ellis Minns (1874 - 1953) said Ovid may be partly right, because bareback horse riding has been known to cause damage to the testicles resulting in loss of the ability to have an erection or ejaculate, even for modern-day riders.[139] Riding injures alone do not account for the femininity of Enarees, which seem to be part of the cross-cultural tradition of cross-dressing shamans.[140]

In her PhD thesis about trans history and spirituality, trans woman Helen Savage noted another way that the importance of horses in Scythian culture may have led to the Enarees' discovery of another method of gender transition: "The Roman poet Ovid, who was exiled to the borders of the Scythian steppe in the first century BC, provides a tantalising hint of the practice there of drinking mare's urine, a substance so high in oestrogens that it is still used as the source of a proprietary drug, 'premarin', widely used still for hormone replacement therapy -- and to feminise male-to-female transsexuals."[141] The Enarees may have practiced the world's earliest-known hormone therapy for trans-feminine people. The practice of using mare's urine for oestrogen therapy was lost for hundreds of years, until being independently discovered by scientists in the 1930s CE.[142] This discovery was developed into Premarin in the 1940s, the first commercial oestrogen replacement drug in Western medicine,[143] and still one of the most widely used today. The Enarees may also have used their herbal knowledge to influence their hormone balance. Present-day intersex trans man and shaman Raven Kaldera notes that the Enarees "ate a lot of licorice root - so popular among them that the Greeks to whom they exported it referred to it as 'the Scythian root' - which is also an anti-androgen."[144] Between all these treatments, the Enarees could have had the most medically advanced physical transition in the ancient world.

According to Herodotus, outsiders said that in the 7th century BCE, a band of Scythians had plundered a temple to Aphrodite Urania, a Greek goddess born from the severed genitals of the god Uranus. As punishment, that goddess had cursed the Enarees with "a female disease," that is, that the Enarees wanted to become women. Other parts of Herodotus's description do not support this, so it seems the Scythians themselves did not tell this legend, and did not see the Enarees' condition as punishment.[133] Herodotus described the method of fortune-telling that the Enarees practiced:

There are many diviners among the Scythians, who divine by means of many willow wands as I will show. They bring great bundles of wands, which they lay on the ground and unfasten, and utter their divinations as they lay the rods down one by one; and while still speaking, they gather up the rods once more and place them together again; this manner of divination is hereditary among them. The Enarees, who are hermaphrodites [sic, this does not necessarily mean intersex, as it is a common mistranslation for words about all kinds of gender variance], say that Aphrodite [that is, Artimpasa] gave them the art of divination, which they practise by means of lime-tree bark. They cut this bark into three portions, and prophesy while they braid and unbraid these in their fingers.[145]

The Enarees' divination method is a form of divination by casting sticks (rhabdomancy). This sounds like it could be a description of the process of I Ching divination in China, which was done by casting fifty yarrow stalks, and methodically picking them up between the fingers. This generates random numbers, which are indexed to divinatory meanings. The I Ching dates back to between the 10th and 4th centuries BCE,[146] the same period the Scythians lived, who were connected to China via the Silk Road. The Scythians had other cultural practices associated with China, such as acupuncture. Archaeological evidence shows that the Scythians used the same acupuncture points as in traditional Chinese medicine, as seen in the tattoos of the "Pazyryk Warrior" mummy.[147]

Though Enarees are the best-known example, Scythians accepted a wide range of gender variance other than these priests. Some Scythians were masculine warriors who were AFAB. Archaeologists have found Scythian burials that may be Enarees, or other gender variant people from their culture. Some from the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE in Sibera are remains of what are thought to be AMAB people with female decorations and utensils.[148] The grave of a Scythian priestess near the Bug River in eastern Europe could be an Enaree. The grave includes what are typically women's grave goods. Archaeologists differ about whether the remains are that of an AMAB or AFAB person, which is not always clear from skeletal structure alone.[149]

The six genders in classical JudaismEdit

  • Names of identities: Zachar, Nekeivah, Androgynos, Tumtum, Ay’lonit, and Saris, each with a different meaning. See below.
  • Culture: Judaism
  • Era: 1st-8th Centuries CE to present
  • Description of sex/gender: Each one is a different sex/gender. See below.
  • Role in society: Each of the six genders has its own roles and prohibitions under Judaic law.

A Tumtum pride flag designed by Tumblr user tumtum_and_androgynos in 2018 CE. White and blue symbolize Judaism, and gray for genderlessness.

Classical Judaism recognizes six categories of sex/gender, instead of the male/female gender binary from modern Western culture. Jewish law (called halacha) recognises gender ambiguity, and has done so throughout Jewish history.[150] This ambiguity is defined according to physical presentation (or lack thereof) and primary and secondary sexual characteristics. Then Jewish law assigns six gender roles to these six sexes, each with distinct prohibitions and required duties. According to Rabbi Elliot Kukla, these six are:[151]

  • Zachar (זָכָר): This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
  • Nekeivah (נְקֵבָה): This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.
  • Androgynos (אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס): A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. In English, translated as androgyne or intersex. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd -16th Centuries CE).
  • Tumtum (טֻומְטוּם "hidden"): A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes. In Yevamot 64a, the Talmud says that the Biblical figures Abraham and Sarah were said to have been born tumtum and infertile, and then miraculously turned into a fertile husband and wife in their old age. The classical description of the physical characteristic of tumtum as skin hiding normal female or male genitals does not exactly match any intersex condition known today. Modern scholars see it as corresponding with some known intersex conditions with ambiguous genitalia.[152] In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 5 of the 11,242 respondents called themselves tumtum.[8]
  • Ay’lonit (איילונית): A person who is identified as “female” at birth, but fails to develop sexual characteristics at puberty or develops “male” characteristics, and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes. Modern scholars think ay'lonit refers to a selection of intersex conditions, such as Turner's syndrome.[153] In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 2 of the respondents called themselves ay’lonit.[8]
  • Saris (סריס): A person who is identified as “male” at birth but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam), such as a eunuch. 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

The above six categories of gender are important to consider whenever considering gender in classical Jewish texts, such as the Hebrew Bible, rather than misinterpreting them in terms of the modern Western gender binary.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Herdt, Gilbert H. Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. New York: Zone Books, 1994. Print.
  • Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Prospect Heights, Ill: Waveland Press, 2000. Print.


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  3. Trumbach, Randolph. (1998) Sex and the Gender Revolution. Volume 1: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998. (Chicago Series on Sexuality, History & Society)
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