March 04, 2014

I don't know whether to laugh or cry to see these stupid westerners trying to struggle with understanding the concept of 'third gender.'

This stupid author -- who is supposed to study gender and sexuality in non-western societies assumes that the non-western societies go to a great length in creating a 'third gender' category -- which he assumes doesn't exist in biology. Bastards. They don't deserve to be scholars of any kind. Yet, they get to decide what's what.

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Theorizing the Third

or How I Became a Queen in the Empire of Gender

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"The concept of multiple genders is a useful one, theoretically and politically. The potential of assimilation or co-optation of such a direct challenge to heterosexist binarism seems to me much less than that of an identity based on a difference that exists only in the fleeting moments of the bedroom...."

This paper was originally presented at the “Lesbian and Gay History: Defining a Field” conference at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, City University of New York, October 7, 1995. It may (or may not!) be published sometime in 2011...meanwhile I offer it here. —WR
I became interested in the possibilities of multiple genders as a result of my research on Native American two-spirits or berdaches. The first problem I encountered when I began this research was that much of the evidence I found didn’t fit the standard anthropological definition of berdaches, which explained these diverse tribal roles as instances of “a person of one anatomic sex assuming part or most of the attire, occupation, and social—including marital—status, of the opposite sex” (Whitehead, 85). I was learning about two-spirits who did not cross-dress, or who dressed in styles distinct from both women and men, or who cross-dressed but made no attempt to “pass” or disguise their original sex. In many cases they engaged in behaviors and activities of both their anatomical sex and those of the so-called opposite sex, and many of their behaviors and activities were unique to their role, especially their ritual and spiritual lives. Finally, there were myths that accounted for the origins of two-spirit roles much as male and female genders were explained. In short, many elements of these roles were inconsistent with the idea that these were persons of one sex trying to be the opposite sex.
When The Zuni Man-Woman was published in 1991 it was the first time a Native American berdache role had been comprehensively examined using a multiple gender paradigm. I was not the first, however, to recognize the role as a distinct gender status. In the 1970s, feminist anthropologists Martin and Voorhies described such roles as “supernumerary sexes,” and in 1983 Jacobs used the term “third gender.” In 1986, Williams referred to the role as the “berdache gender,” among other things. It was a paper by Evelyn Blackwood in 1987, however, later published in the Journal of Homosexuality, that convinced me to adopt a multiple gender paradigm. Blackwood argued that such a paradigm was closest to the actual native conceptualization of two-spirits, and it offered the best fit with the data. Given this, she called on researchers to abandon Western terminology and models as misleading and inaccurate, and to adopt “a more rigorous identification and labeling of the berdache role as a separate gender” (179).
Following Blackwood's advice, I began asking to what extent a third gender paradigm helped to explain my Zuni data. Rather than having to dismiss or treat as exceptions evidence that did not conform to a gender-crossing model, I found that a third gender paradigm made it possible to see all the elements of the berdache role as part of a coherent pattern. Male and female two-spirits at Zuni and elsewhere did not behave like either men or women, nor were they labeled or thought of as such, but rather as lhamana, winkte, bote, tubas', and so forth. In The Zuni Man-Woman I made the argument for a third gender model in terms of a specific case, which allowed me the luxury of postponing some of the larger issues raised by this concept. On what basis, for example, are we justified in calling a social status or identity a third gender? Answering this question requires that we define gender first, something that is not often done in the literature. Here I realized, with help from feminist and deconstructionist theory, that part of the problem is the sex/gender binary itself—an analytical tool that has, until now, served us quite well. But as I analyzed the deployment of this binary in a variety of texts it became apparent to me that as long as we continue to anchor gender in physical sex, gender becomes merely another version of sex. It collapses back into the transcendental signified of a precultural state of nature. The apparent symmetry of the binary, as Derrida would show in a much more complicated way, masks a hierarchical relationship between the terms.


[Enki] opened his mouth to speak, saying to the Lady of Birth, the Mother-womb
"O Lady of Birth, Creatress of the Fates
... let there be a third category among the people
(Let there be) among the people bearing women and barren women ...
They shall indeed be tabooed, and thus cut off from child-bearing.
Akkadian myth of Atrahasis, ca. 1700 b.c.e., 3.7.1ff.
The [clay] she [Ninmah] made into a woman who cannot give birth
Enki, upon seeing the woman who cannot give birth
Decreed her fate, destined her to be stationed in the "woman house."

The [clay] she made into one who has no male organ, who has no female organ
Enki, upon seeing him who has no male organ, who has no female organ
To stand before the king, decreed as his fate
Sumerian, Creation of Man, ca. 2000 B.C.E.

India and Southeast Asia

Kliba. Impotent, emasculated, a eunuch;...the neuter gender.
Oxford Sanskrit Dictionary, s.v.
Tritiya prakrita. The third nature, a eunuch.
Oxford Sanskrit Dictionary, s.v. (appears in Mahabharata ca. 200 B.C.E.-200 C.E., 4.59)
On certain rites requiring a kliba: "And as to why it is of a long-haired man,—such a long-haired man is neither woman nor man; for being a male, he is not a woman, and being long-haired (a eunuch), he is not a man."
Satapatha Brahmana ca. 800-500 B.C.E.,
Napumsaka (lit. "not-man"): third type (neither male nor female).
Natyasastra ca. 200 B.C.E.-200 C.E., 24.68-69
"We are neither men nor women."
Contemporary hijra, in Nanda, p. 15
Nang Itthang Gaiya Sangkasi (f.) is born from the earth and Pu Sangaiya Sangkasi (m.) is born from fire. From the four elements they conjure three sexes: female, male, and hermaphrodite (i.e., napumsaka).
Pathamamulamuli, Yuan manuscript ca. early 16th C.E.


Gallus. Someone who has been orgified by the Mother of the Gods; he who has changed his nature from male to neither man nor women.
Etymologicum Magnum, s.v.
Neither is he changed into a woman, nor does he remain a man.
Augustine, De civitate Dei, 7.24
You [pagans] too have your third race; not indeed third in the way of religious rite, but a third race in sex (tertium sexus).
Tertullian, Ad nationes, 1.20.4
Both sexes are displeasing to her holiness, so he [the gallus] keeps a middle gender (medium genus) between the others."
Prudentius, Peristephanon, 10.1071-3
He would say that eunuchs were a third sex of humans [tertium genus hominum].
S.H.A., Alexander Severus, 23.7


berdache < berdache (French) < bardascia (Italian) < bardaje/bardaja/bardaj (“sodomita paciente,” Spanish; , s.v.) < bardaj (“slave,” Arabic) < bardah (“prisoner,” Persian) < vartak (Middle Persian) < vádhri (“eunuch,” fr. vadh, “to strike,” Sanskrit; used in Atharva Veda in reference to third gender figures) < *varta- (“seized, prisoner,” Old Iranian) < *wele- (“to strike, wound,” Indo-European)
American Heritage Dictionary, 3d ed.; Alonso, Enciclopedia del idioma; Oxford Sanskrit Dictionary.
But how to define gender without depending on sex? It's easier said than done! In my contribution to Third Sex/Third Gender I argued that identifying a social status as a third gender required showing consistent labeling and other linguistic practices in a society that distinguished a class of individuals from both men and women, and attributed them with a constellation of traits comparable to those traits used to define other genders. The presence of mythologies and narratives describing the origins of such roles, as well as rites of passage for individuals entering them, are also evidence of socially recognized multiple genders.
Subsequently, I expanded my research to the rich field of ancient history. I began by studying the priests of the Greco-Roman gods Cybele and Attis known as galli, who were sometimes referred to as members of a tertium sexus. Along the way, I discovered that parallel roles existed in the Near East and Mesopotamia, as well, going all the way back to what historians like to call the "dawn of civilization." Seeking to identify the full extent of the distribution of such roles, I turned next to south Asia, where I again found gender-defined religious roles, like the contemporary hijra of northern India, with remarkable similarities to the galli. Hijra and their counterparts throughout south Asia can be traced back to Sanskrit sources from the early first millennium BCE. Indeed, as I argued in an article in History of Religions (“Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion”), multiple genders linked to specialization in religious-administrative functions are a feature of the entire area from the Mediterranean to south and southeast Asia, a region of agrarian city-state societies that have been socioeconomically interconnected from prehistoric through Islamic times.

These were not, however, tribal societies with a gender-based division of labor and egalitarian social structure such as those we find in native North America. The element of specialization in crafts production so prominent in the case of berdaches is missing in the examples of galli and hijra. However, an examination of the belief systems of these societies reveals how multiple genders were constructed. In Greek, Roman, and Indian medical texts, sex is a function of biology, but the biology involved is inherently unstable—maleness and femaleness depend on relative levels of heat and cold, dryness and moisture, solid (e.g., bones) and soft (e.g. flesh), which individuals need to carefully preserve to maintain their sexual identity. In such a belief system, gender is redundant. There is no need for recourse to social influence or disease or life experience to account for variations in maleness and femaleness. The hydraulic model of the body easily accounts for a wide range of individual differences.
Conversely, in a society like Zuni, where infants are considered “raw” and ungendered until cultural intervention makes them “cooked,” gendered adults, biology is reduced to a minimum. “Sex” counts for little compared to the requisite ritual and social experiences that render raw infants into cooked people. In contemporary North American and northern European societies, on the other hand, both sex and gender are important categories. Gender, a learned social role, helps explain why individuals can vary from what is otherwise considered the biological destiny of their sex. Gender polices sex and creates a new domain of morality. That is, gender can vary from physical sex—but it shouldn’t and it’s our job as moral citizens to make sure it doesn’t.
In other words, the concept of “sex/gender system” introduced by Gayle Rubin cannot be applied universally. Not every society has a sex and gender system. Some emphasize one element to the exclusion or minimization of the other. My research has underscored for me the importance of examining the specific beliefs about sex (i.e., what makes a body male or female or other) and gender (i.e., what makes a male body a social man and so forth) before determining whether a given society has multiple genders.
Of course, the third gender concept has its limits, and they have been clearly pointed out by my colleague Stephen O. Murray in his provocatively titled commentary in Current Anthropology, “Subordinating Native American Cosmologies to the Empire of Gender.” (It was this title that led Steve to comment that my advocacy of third gender entitles me to the rank of queen in the empire of gender.) Murray writes, “I am uncomfortable with projections of contemporary Northern American and European conceptions of distinctions between sex, gender, and sexuality on peoples in other times and places” (60). He makes the point that not every social status is a gender role. Determining if a third gender is present, he argues, requires native contrast sets that consistently distinguish a third category in relation to other genders, and clear statements from natives to the effect that there are three genders. The use of pronouns other than those for women and men would also be strong evidence of a distinct gender (60).
I have argued that Murray's criteria are, in one sense, too strict, and, in another, too easy. Terms like medium genus and tertium sexus applied to galli, and trhytîyâ prakrhyti in Sanskrit texts, all of which literally mean “third gender,” and statements like those of contemporary hijra who define themselves as “neither men nor women,” seem to me to meet his criteria. But I would not pin determinations about the presence of third genders strictly on linguistic evidence. As I have suggested, we need to determine generally how men and women are defined and constructed in a culture, and then compare these sets of traits to the evidence of alternative statuses to really determine if these statuses are parallel constructions to other genders. Although the distinction between etic, or outside concepts and models applied to cultural data, and emic, or native, concepts and models is important, I think we unnecessarily limit our analysis when we insist that only native concepts, categories, models, and terminology are valid for discussing a given culture. While I’ve cited instances that meet Murray’s linguistic criteria, I also believe that there are cases where use of the term “third gender” is justified even though the people we are concerned with might not use that precise terminology, because the concept of “third gender” still gets us closer to their understanding of gender difference—closer, for example, than homosexual, transvestite, or transsexual.
However, Murray’s point is well-taken. There are many nuances in beliefs concerning sex, gender, and sexuality, and these categories are not universal. Sexual and gender differences can be conceptualized as states of non-differentiation or as multifarious states of differentiation; as androgyny or as the product of fuzzy categories. A third gender is only one possibility, but I do think it is useful for describing those instances of roles that cannot be explained in terms of binary male or female genders, in belief systems that do not fix gender in sex or define sex as stable and finite. I also believe that cross-cultural typologies are feasible and useful; that some historically-defined culture regions are characterized by the presence of multiple genders and some by their lack, and that these patterns have correlates in the social formations and histories of the societies in those regions.
But if calling both North American berdaches and ancient galli members of a third gender leads us to think that these roles have the same socioeconomic basis, or that they are thought of and valued in the same ways, then the limits of the concept of third gender have been reached. This is not a shortcoming that is intrinsic to the term itself, however, but a matter of how we go about using it. Its use needs to be justified in each case by consideration of a variety of evidence.
I think the greatest value of the concept of third gender is heuristic and conceptual. On the one hand, it helps us see the cultural and historical coherency of roles that until recently have been treated in isolation. At the same time, third gender helps us to break the vicious cycle of projection, in which Western heterosexist binarism is constantly replicated onto the world’s cultures (and most animal species for that matter) by the language we use. Third gender suspends the assumption that hetero-binarism is universal, that behind every gender lurks a sex to pull difference back to one of two versions.
What does all this have to do with sexual minorities today? In fact, I think we have a real stake in the discovery of multiple genders. As long as the language for talking about difference is confined to the possibilities of two mutually exclusive, fixed positions, I am convinced that lesbians, gay men, and others are bound to come off looking bad—as defective, counterfeit, or imitation males and females. The only alternative in such a system is to imagine androgyny, the mixture of two. But isn’t the mixture only more of the same? Androgyny is intrinsic to a heterosexist imaginary, not a point of opposition. Third gender, on the other hand, helps us to perceive all that is left over when the world has been divided into male and female, all the feelings, perceptions, and talents that are neither male nor female. While I would not go so far as to claim that we are a third gender, I would say that like a third gender we occupy an ontologically coherent, historically constructed, multidimensional subject position called—well—call it anything, as long as we abandon the binary language of heterosexism.
I find that the idea of third gender seems to capture how many people today feel about their sexuality and gender—not only gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, but some heterosexuals as well. Many of us feel that our personalities are founded on a strong element of gender difference in relation to hetero-normativity, in addition to an emotional-sexual difference, but defining this difference as either female or male misses the mark. We are not males being feminine or females being masculine, but queers being queer—or whatever we call it. What we do and how we do it, what characterizes us, is not what either men or women do—it’s what gays, lesbians, and queer folk do.
Third gender helps us get past another confining definition, which says that our difference is singularly sexual. Scholars have shown how this “sexed being” called the homosexual was constructed and they’ve shown who did the constructing—elite European males and institutions of social control. Given these origins, I’ve never understood why we continue to employ this definition as if it were empirically-based. Did the progenitors of this term ever go out and observe “homosexuals”? Did they base the theories and terms they invented on a representative sample? No, of course, not. In fact, as George Chauncey has shown, medical-psychiatric labels such as “homosexual” had little impact on how American fruits, pansies, queers, fairies, dykes, and others defined themselves until after World War II. So much for the power of the mighty label, capable of leaping over all social boundaries, able to construct genders, sexualities, and identities in a single discursive move!
In 1987, I argued for the use of a multidimensional model in studying sexual and gender diversity, which would recognize that roles like “berdache” or “the modern homosexual” often have social, economic, religious, sexual, gender, and subjective dimensions. Here I learned of Rodney Needham’s work on polythetic vs. monothetic classification is useful. Polythetic categories are based on multiple traits and can be compared in more complex fashions than monothetic or single-trait categories, which limit one to either/or comparisons. The relationship of modern gay people to berdaches, for example, is not a matter of yes or no, but of two sets of traits. Comparing them, we see some traits are shared, others not. A third gender model does much of the same work, helping us to think about these roles without resorting to heterosexist language, in a way that encompasses sexuality but is not arbitrarily limited to it. The common connotations of “gender” are always-already multidimensional; those of sexuality already narrow and foreclosed.

Third gender really brings us full circle. David Halperin’s “one hundred years of homosexuality” may in fact be only two or three decades, the years since Stonewall in which the sexual definition represented by the term “homosexual” has held sway. But our history is not as impoverished as some social constructionists make it sound. There have been two modern homosexualities, not one—the type defined by object-choice alone without special reference to gender, about which one learns a great deal from Foucault, Weeks, and others, but also the type exemplified by the Molly and the Uranian, roles in which gender difference and same-sex desire are interpenetrated. Both rightly can be characterized as "modern" in that both were constructed in the modern era and both are understood as psychological phenomena characterizing types of persons (per Davidson 309). The individuals who founded the first lesbian/gay movement, the men and women who populated the urban subcultural enclaves of bohemians and sexual deviants that eventually became the space we now call our community, thought of themselves, defined themselves, and labeled themselves as Mollies, Uranians, intermediate types, and fairies—not homosexuals. At the same time, drawing an arbitrary line between these two modern homosexualities overlooks their genealogical relationship and their extensive co-existence; the way in which the homosexual was produced both from within as well as against the Uranian, and the debt contemporary lesbian and gay identities owe to both.
I would like to conclude by anticipating one other critique of the third model, one that in fact was made some time ago. In Homosexual Desire, originally published in 1972, Guy Hocquengham, refers to the third sex theory of Hirschfeld, and says “When it is not totally fascist, the third sex theory is dangerous” (121). This certainly gave me pause for reflection. Of course, Hocquengham considers any universalization of homosexuality to be complicit with the project of regulating and containing it, of enlisting it for the larger cause of Oedipus. This is also an early version of today’s critique of identity politics. And certainly to the extent that third gender conveys the notion of a role with definite contents, it is susceptible to this critique.
But anti-identitarianism itself is due for some revision—as several theorists have recently suggested (see, for examole, Bersani, Morton, Hennessy). The risks of not having an identity and not specifying its contents are just as great, if not greater, than those of having one. Invisibility and assimilation are not options—or at least, not options for a movement whose goal is liberation. In the same way that terms alone cannot be blamed for the ways they are used, it is not identity itself that is the pitfall but the way in which it is deployed. Identities can be constructed without recourse to crude essentialism, they can be compared as well as contrasted, and they can be powerful rallying points for progressive as well as conservative causes. If the risk of identity is that a group places itself within certain discursive regimes, what is the alternative? To talk about homosexuality in the absence of bodies that actually touch? But if we formulate the question in existential terms, knowing that construction is a part of the human condition so that there is no question of some other way of being, then the issue becomes how we live as ethical beings in these constructions; not identity vs. something else, but which identity, and what sort of contents will it have? The distinction between saying lesbians or gays are like third and fourth genders and saying that they are distinct genders, is subtle but important. The first statement is a hypothesis, a metaphor that invites elaboration; the second takes the form of a pronouncement that narrows discourse to assent or dissent.
Here, again, I think third gender is useful. The danger of assimilation or co-optation of such a direct challenge to heterosexist binarism seems to me much less than the potential for assimilation of an identity based on a difference that exists only in the fleeting moments of the bedroom. With or without the heuristic of third gender, I am convince that the discussion of our differences must be re-opened without foreclosing any lines of exploration for fear they might not conform to pre-existing ideological commitments or personal comfort levels. Much greater is the danger of saying nothing, of allowing phantasmagoric images of homosexuals to continue to stalk the landscape, of remaining culturally and historically anomalous, unable to articulate a relationship the greater strivings of humanity except by the self-effacing gesture of denying our difference in order to rejoin its ranks at the lowest common denominator. In my work, I’ve tried to take another approach—uncovering and exploring our queer differences as distinct and integral elements of the story of how humanity has come to reach the state of affairs that is the present.
©1995/2010 by Will Roscoe — do not reproduce or distribute without permission.

March 27, 2013

Falling in love with opposite sex makes you like them

Today on National Geographic Channel, on the programme titled "Madlab" they reported that when men and women fall in love, the testosterone level in men fall bringing about a number of changes in men that make them feminine, while their female partner undergo hormonal changes that make them more like men in their behaviour.
Thus, it is again estalished that heterosexuality (i.e. falling in love with women) doesn't make a man manly. The only thing sexual with women that will fall within the purview of manliness would be occasional instinct to penetrate. Any emotional or long term attachment with women or for vagina/ female body is feminizing and the ancients/ non-western societies have always known that.
In Greece e.g., while men were required to procreate/ penetrate women to be eligible for manhood, over indulgence or desire for vagina was seen as feminine/gay.
All over the world, men in manly pursuits like warriors and sportsmen were required to keep away from any kind of contact with women -- whether sexual, social or emotional in order to, as it was long known as feminizing, and harmful for those pursuits. Pehalwans in India, e.g., were, traditionally encouraged to go without marriage for their entire life -- just like their deity, Lord Hanuman -- the warrior god of manhood.

May 23, 2010

Gay chauvinist scholars distort history by reporting ancient 'third gender' as 'sexual identities'

Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America By Will Roscoe

Book overview
Will Roscoe documents one of the most widespread and least-known aspects of native North America. In many Native American tribal societies, it was not uncommon for some men to live as women and some women to live as men. In this land, the original America, men who wore women's clothes and did women's work became artists, ambassadors, and religious leaders, and women sometimes became warriors, hunters, and even chiefs. Same-sex marriages flourished. Berdaches -- individuals who combine male and female social roles with traits unique to their status as a third gender -- have been documented in over 150 North American tribes. By looking at this aspect of non-Western culture, Roscoe challenges the basis of the dualistic way most Americans think about sexuality, and shakes the foundation of the way we understand and define gender.

Limited preview - 2000 - 320 pages - History


Will Roscoe. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders In Native America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. viii + 320 pp. $16.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-312-22479-0.

Reviewed by Donna M. Dean (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-Minerva (October, 2000)


In discussing gender and sexuality, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that the Western, or Euro-centered construct of a binary, or dualistic gender structure is not necessarily held by other cultures. Nor is gender necessarily determined by genitalia, sexual activities or choice of sexual partners, or even gender-based roles.

Western culture views gender as essentially based on a binary system: " we have boys and we have girls, and they act in certain ways, have sex with the opposite sex and are suited for pre-determined roles, and any deviation from this template is a freak; unnatural, a biological accident or wantonly evil." This narrow perspective is then utilized as a perceptual filter through which all human cultures and societies are viewed.

However, many cultures did not utilize this particular construct, particularly in the past, prior to European contact with the concomitant pejorative and destructively violent imposition of Western belief systems and societal constructs, and the more insidious, but equally devastating imposition of Western religious beliefs and moral judgments in a context which would be utterly inappropriate.

North American natives comprise many tribal groupings, each unique and with its own culture and social structure. At least 155 of these tribes had documented third genders, and perhaps fourth. Roscoe defines third gender people generally as male or sometimes female tribal members who undertook a lifestyle of another gender. Often called berdaches by Europeans, most tribes had special gender designations for these individuals. Occasionally, tribes had a designation restricted to women who undertook a male lifestyle, thus the status of "fourth gender." These genders were predicated upon any number of factors; dress, genitalia, religious or spiritual roles, work roles, governing roles, sexual preference or choice, sexual practices, dream or vision imperatives, parental decisions, and other aspects of individuals' lives.

The sheer complexity of the tribal differences, and the necessity of examining them not only through a comprehensible methodology, exacerbated by a frustrating inadequacy of empirical data makes even the examination of alternative gender systems difficult. Time and distance, and the overwhelming destruction of native cultures through conquering colonization combine to make even present day tribal members largely ignorant of their own history, and also to produce in them the alien and inappropriate judgmental morality of their conquerors. Roscoe manages to pull together literally hundreds of multi-lingual sources, a multiplicity of tribes and social systems and constructs and produces a coherent, highly readable work. This alone makes the book well worth reading for anyone even remotely interested in gender studies.

While the majority of the book deals with male berdaches, Roscoe does devote one chapter to the topic of females who became warriors, chiefs, or who managed to acquire wealth and thus power through various means, normally through widowhood. Women's status in the various tribes varied; some tribes were very egalitarian, others subjugated women severely. However, all tribes had at least some ways women could gain power and prestige. Some warrior women and chiefs were well-known and admired even by Europeans post-contact.

In chapter four, devoted to the alternative identities and genders for native women, Roscoe presents arguments that not only did past chroniclers and observers report observations and opinions (often the same thing) through their own cultural biases, they often do so today. He dissects feminist theory as applied to native history as coming out of the same Euro-centered assumptions about women and their roles, and their concomitant status within the tribal groups. While work roles did tend to be genderized across the range of tribes and type of culture, whether hunter-gatherer, agricultural, warrior, highly mobile, etc., the ability to cross genders and assume roles and lifestyles as desired, or at times determined by others, the status and power attached to those roles did not align with the European social aspects of the same roles, nor did they form the conditions of pan-Indianism often assumed by many observers.

Roscoe repeatedly remarks upon the built-in bias of historical primary resources in any attempt to reconstruct what conditions and cultural and societal structures of pre-contact native tribes actually were. For the most part, chroniclers found native ways so alien to their preconceived beliefs of their own moral superiority that they were incapable of interpreting what they saw in the context within which they saw it. Additionally, Europeans operated out of extraneous agendas of desired exploitation and colonization that made it extremely desirable to characterize natives as savages, beasts, and even, in some cases, sub-humans as part of their need to justify their actions in the many brutal incidents of genocide, mass forced "conversions" while indulging in murderous behavior, enslavement, and so on. Obviously, then, accounts and observations of contact and interaction between Europeans and natives tend to be highly colored by these factors.

Native women were particularly vulnerable to biased and flawed observation, as sex enters in as an additionally complicating factor. While many chronicles of European culture meeting native cultures center around sexuality, the practices of many tribes regarding sexual activity of males and berdaches normally resulted in censorious and disgusted commentary by men who viewed those individuals and their activities by European standards and beliefs. However, those men had a different outlook when it came to women, often possessing cultural beliefs of their own that most women were sexual objects, and that what they saw as promiscuous and openly sexual behaviors in many tribal women equated to loose morality, sexual availability justifying any kind of sexual aggression against them, and a discounting of the positions of power and respect the women really possessed. At the same time, many chroniclers found themselves strongly attracted to native women, so that sexual desire contributed to the highly colored fantasy or myth of the incredibly wild and deliciously sexual wanton still prized today in such films as the regrettable Disney offense "Pocahontas" in which a twelve year old girl is depicted as a voluptuous, slender-waisted siren barely clad in a conveniently clinging designer deerskin dress.

In addition to the thorough discussion of historical native cultures, the problems associated with accurately determining what those cultures looked like because of the origin of observations, the incompleteness of those records and observations, and the lack of knowledge in the tribes themselves in the present day due to the obliteration and repression of tribal identity and cultures, Roscoe presents a discussion of today's gay and lesbian community.

It is here perhaps that this reviewer finds some question. In our society, we deem same-gender sex and associated behaviors as homosexuality, and Roscoe examines his resources minutely on that issue. While simultaneously noting the negative results and aspects of historical reports when made through cultural ignorance and bias, he appears to focus heavily upon certain sexual preference and behaviors through his own cultural lens of a dichotomous system. Admittedly, discussing the full spectrum of sexuality in our basically binary world view, trans-gender, bisexual, cross-dresser, ambiguous-gender, and true hermaphroditic people cannot be readily lumped in as "homosexual". Historical reference must by necessity lack the refinement necessary to examine sex and gender due to the lack of knowledge on the part of the chroniclers to the nuances and differences among the various individuals if they are to be discussed from our perspective. While he does emphasize that often religious or spiritual roles, work roles, parental or spiritual assignment of gender and so on could, and did, result in assignment of gender or choice of lifestyle, he does seem to ignore this in discussing present-day situations. Here it would seem that he has ready access to individual stories and motivations, as well as psychological insights and personal feelings, yet he deals only with the groups he calls "homosexual," "gay," or "lesbian." This issue is not a major one, as the primary purpose of the book is to examine the generally little known and poorly understood sex and gender roles of native people historically.

Changing Ones is a valuable contribution not only to scholars in native culture and history, but to women's studies, gender studies, and related areas as well. It is also a highly readable, well-organized compilation of hundreds of historical references and accounts from a multi-lingual bank of European records and commentaries which promotes a more realistic appreciation of alternative genders and the derivation of their establishment as constructs. Roscoe is a well-known scholar who writes on gender and sexuality in many cultures, and this work continues his outstanding contributions to the fields. This reviewer highly recommends it.

Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net and MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given. For other permission contact

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at:

Citation: Donna M. Dean. Review of Roscoe, Will, Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders In Native America. H-Minerva, H-Net Reviews. October, 2000.

Copyright © 2000 by H-Net and MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact or the Reviews editorial staff at

March 01, 2010

Simple List of Third Gender and Gender Variant Groups

21 May
By Erisis 2 Comments
Categories: transgender
Tags: anthropology, culture, Equal Rights, female, gender, Gender Variant, genderqueer, history, male, other, queer, religion, Third Gender, trans, Trans Rights, transgender, transsexual

I was going through some old notes about Trans Issues tonight and came across a list of Third Gender and Gender Variant groups from different cultures and time periods throughout the world. I compiled this list some time ago for a project that my girlfriend Widow Centauri was working on.

All of the groups listed here are considered as something other than or a variation upon what we in the Western World would consider to be “Male” and “Female”.

I have streamlined the information here so as simply to list the title or name of each “third gender” or “gender variant” cultural group I have found without specific definitions or delineations, which can be quite lengthy and/or complex.

The first such group in each culture or geographical area is followed by the name of the area and/or specific culture. All additional names and titles in the same area or culture are listed immediately below the first entry.

This list is not meant to be comprehensive or all-inclusive. I have included only entries where I could find a specific name or title or a simple English translation of such.

The reason for this list is that I could find no other collation of these materials in a simple internet search. I have drawn my information from a number of sources.

I hope that by posting this information in a simple to access and easy to digest form, I may impress upon anyone who is looking for it or who may stumble upon this blog that Trans people are not a new phenomenon or sub-culture. We have been an integral part of human history since the beginning. We are part and parcel of World Culture, now and yesterday. And we are not ever going to go away.

Please disseminate or link as you will.

Two-spirits – Native American
Berdache – Illiniwek (Illinois)
Muxes – Zapotec People, Oaxaca, Mexico

Travestís – Brazil
Guevedoche – Dominican Republic
Quariwarmi – Incan

The Sworn Virgin – Balkans
Catamites – Ancient Greece
Mollies – Modern England
Tertium genus hominum (a third human gender) “eunuchs” – Ancient Eastern Mediterranean

Ashtime – Maale culture of Southern Ethiopia
Mashoga – Swahili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast, particularly Mombasa
Mangaiko – The Mbo people, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Sḫt (“sekhet”) – Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2000-1800 BCE)

The Kurgarûs – Sumer
Zenanas – Arab
Xanith or Khanith – Oman

Alyha – Mohave
Hijras – India, Pakistan & Bangladesh
also known as: Aravani/Aruvani or Jogappa
Hijira (alt. sp.) – India
Sadhin – The Gaddhi in the foothills of the Himalayas
Basivi – Madras (area of India)
Tritiya-prakrti (third-nature) – Indic culture of premodern India
Ubhatobyanjanakas – Buddhist Vinaya
Kathoey – Thailand
Pandaka – Ancient Buddhist Societies

Fa’afafine – Samoa Polynesia
Fakaleiti – Tonga
Mahu Wahine – Hawaii
Mahu Vahine – Tahiti
Whakawahine – Māori
Akava’ine – Cook Islands
Kwolu-aatmwol – “Sambia” community in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea
bakla – Tagalog
Bayot – Cebuano
Agi – Ilonggo
Bantut – Tausug)

If you should happen to notice any omissions or would like to add to this list, please leave a comment or email me at:
I would love for this list to continue to grow. I’m sure there is much, much more that I have not yet found.

Homosexuality in Viking Scandinavia

Dear Viking Answer Lady:

How did the Vikings regard and treat male and female homosexuals? I am considering adding a blue feather to my Viking garb, but I wonder how this will affect my persona?

(signed) They Call me Strange Oddi

Gentle Reader:

My personal research into homosexuality in the Viking Age shows clearly that the Vikings had words (and therefore mental constructs and concepts) of same-sex activity; however since the needs of agricultural/pastoral living require reproduction not only to work the farm but also to provide support for the parent in old age, it was expected that no matter what one's affectional preferences were that each individual would marry and reproduce. There are no recorded instances of homosexual or lesbian couples in the Viking Age: moreover, the idea of living as an exclusively homosexual person did not exist in most cultures until present day Western civilization appeared. One's sexual partners mattered little so long as one married, had children, and conformed at least on the surface to societal norms so as not to disturb the community. Those Scandinavians who attempted to avoid marriage because of their sexuality were penalized in law: a man who shunned marriage was termed fuðflogi (man who flees the female sex organ) while a woman who tried to avoid marriage was flannfluga (she who flees the male sex organ) (Jochens 65).

The evidence of the sagas and laws shows that male homosexuality was regarded in two lights: there was nothing at all strange or shameful about a man having intercourse with another man if he was in the active or "manly" role, however the passive partner in homosexual intercourse was regarded with derision. It must be remembered, however, that the laws and sagas reflect the Christian consciousness of the Icelander or Norwegian of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, well after the pagan period. The myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality, and history is altogether silent as to the practice of lesbianism in the Viking Age.

Old Norse Terminology Regarding Homosexuality and Related Concepts

The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was níð , which may be defined as "libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality" (Markey 75). From níð are derived such words as níðvisur ("insulting verses"), níðskald ("insult-poet"), níðingr ("coward, outlaw"), griðníðingr ("truce-breaker"), níðstông ("scorn-pole") (Markey 75, 79 & 80; Sørenson 29), also níða ("to perform níð poetry"), tunguníð ("verbal níð"), tréníð ("timber níð", carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niíðstông, above) (Sørenson 28-29). Níð was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) ("willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly"); ergjask ("to become argr"); rassragr ("arse-ragr"); stroðinn and sorðinn ("sexually used by a man") and sansorðinn ("demonstrably sexually used by another man") (Sørenson 17-18, 80). A man who is a seiðmaðr (one who practices women's magic) who is argr is called seiðskratti (Sørenson 63).

Attitudes About Homosexuality Introduced By Christianity

The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church. The Icelandic Homily Book (ca. 1200 C.E.) has a sermon which states that among grave sins are "those appalling secret sins perpetrated by men who respect men no more than women, or violate quadrupeds." Bishop Þorlákr Þórhallson of Skáholt's Penetential (ca. 1178-1193 C.E.) lists penances of nine or ten years that include flogging for "adultery between males, or that committed by men on quadrupeds," and says of lesbianism that "if women satisfy each other they shall be ordered the same penance as men who perform the most hideous adultery between them or with a quadruped." (Sørenson 26) Christian belief condemns both the active and passive roles of homosexual intercourse, whereas the pagan Scandinavians attached disapproval only to the male who was homosexually passive.

Viking Attitudes About Homosexuality and Manliness

Homosexuality was not regarded by the Viking peoples as being evil, perverted, innately against the laws of nature or any of the other baggage about the concept that Christian belief has provided Western culture. Rather, it was felt that a man who subjected himself to another in sexual affairs would do the same in other areas, being a follower rather than a leader, and allowing others to do his thinking or fighting for him. Thus, homosexual sex was not what was condemned, but rather the failure to stand for one's self and make one's own decisions, to fight one's own fights, which went directly against the Nordic ethic of self-reliance. (Sørenson 20).

Being used homosexually by another man was equated with cowardice because of the custom of sexual aggression against vanquished foes. This practice is documented in Sturlunga saga, most notably in Guðmundar saga dýra where Guðmundr takes captive a man and his wife, and plans for both the woman and the man to be raped as a means of sexual humiliation (Ok var þat við orð at leggja Þórunni í rekkju hjá einhverjum gárungi, en gera þat vi Bjôrn prest, at þat þætti eigi minni svívirðing.) (Sørenson 82, 111; Sturlunga saga, I, 201). In addition to rape, defeated enemies were frequently castrated, again testified to in several places by Sturlunga saga. Grágás records that a klámhogg or "shame-stroke" on the buttocks was, along with castration, a "major wound" (hin meiri sár), ranked with wounds that penetrated the brain, abdomen, or marrow: the klámhogg was thus equated with castration as "unmanning" the victim, and classed with wounds that cause major penetrations of the body, strongly suggesting that the term refers to rape or forced anal sex such as was inflicted on a defeated combatant (Sørenson 68). It is not known how widespread the practice of raping defeated foes actually was, or if it existed before the advent of Christianity, but in other cultures which have had as strong an ethic of masculine aggression as existed among the Vikings, the rape of defeated foemen was obligatory.

The attitude that homosexual usage of an enemy was a means of humiliation in turn would have weighed heavily against men in homosexual relationships: if it was a shameful humiliation of an enemy, performing intercourse with a beloved friend would have been regarded as a the worst sort of betrayal or lack of loyalty (Sørenson 28). Since all the references in literature and especially insults indicate that to be sansorðinn, ragr, níðingr or to be accused of ergi is to be a man who is the passive recipient of anal sex, we do not know if the Vikings regarded oral sex between men unfavorably or not (or, in fact, how they regarded oral sex in general, no matter who, male or female, was doing it, or to whom, male or female, it was being done).

It is interesting to note that the Vikings considered that old age caused a man to become argr. A well-known proverb stated svá ergisk hverr sem eldisk, "everyone gets argr as he gets older." This possibly could point to an increasing acceptance of homosexuality after a man had raised a family and grew older (Sørenson 20), although a man such as the chieftain Snorri goði who fathered 22 children, the last at the age of 77 (just before he died), certainly proves that a man never was really too old to father children! (Jochens 81). For a man who could not have children (whether due to impotence, sterility, age, etc.) homosexual relations may have been acceptable. One slang term for such a man seems to have been kottrinn inn blauði, or "soft cat" as reported in Stúfs þáttr, an epilogue to Laxdæla saga, in a conversation between the Norwegian king Haraldr harðráði and Stúfr, the son of Þórðr kottr (Þórðr the Cat): puzzled by the unusual nickname, Haraldr asks Stúfr whether his father Þórðr was kottrinn inn hvati eða inn blauði, "the hard or the soft cat." Stúfr declines to answer despite the implied insult, but the king admits that his question was foolish because "the person who is soft (blauðr) could not be a father" (Jochens 76).

Insults Alleging Homosexuality

There is ample documentation of homosexuality in insults. Judging by the literature, the Vikings were the "rednecks" of medieval Europe... if you went into the mead hall and called a man a faggot, he'd do the same thing that any good ol' boy at a Texas cowboy bar would do. The end result would be a big axe in your head instead of a big cowboy boot in your face, but the idea is the same. Furthermore, in every one of the instances where níð or ergi is encountered as an accusation, no one seriously believes that the accused party is in fact homosexual: the charge is symbolic, rather like calling a modern redneck "queer" to provoke him to fight. (Sørenson 20)

Because, then as now, some sorts of insults were "fightin' words" or even killing words, Scandinavian law codes made certain types of insults illegal, and either condoned the victim's slaying of the slanderer or penalized the utterance of insults with outlawry. The Gulaþing Law of Norway (ca. 100-1200 C.E.) Says:

Um fullrettes orð. Orð ero þau er fullrettis orð heita. Þat er eitt ef maðr kveðr at karlmanne oðrom at hann have barn boret. Þat er annat ef maðr kyeðr hann væra sannsorðenn. Þat er hit þriðia ef hann iamnar hanom við meri æða kallar hann grey æða portkono æða iamnar hanom við berende eitthvert.

Concerning terms of abuse or insult. There are words which are considered terms of abuse. Item one: if a man say of another man that he has borne a child. Item two: if a man say of another man that he has been homosexually used. Item three: if a man compare another man to a mare, or call him a bitch or a harlot, or compare him to any animal which bears young. (Markey, 76, 83)

Similarly, the Icelandic law code Grágás (ca. 1100-1200 C.E.) has:

Þav ero orð riú ef sva mioc versna máls endar manna er scog gang vaðla avll. Ef maðr kallar man ragan eða stroðinn eða sorðinn. Oc scal søkia sem avnnor full rettis orð enda a maðr vigt igegn þeim orðum þrimr.

Then there are three terms which occasion bringing such a serious suit against a man that they are worthy to outlaw him. If a man call a man unmanly [effeminate], or homosexual, or demonstrably homosexually used by another man, he shall proceed to prosecute as with other terms of abuse, and indeed a man has the right to avenge with combat for these terms of abuse. (Markey, 76, 83)

The Frostaþing Law likewise tells us that it is fullréttisorð (verbal offenses for which full compensation or fines must be paid to the injured party) to compare a man to a dog, or to call him sannsorðinn (demonstrably homosexually used by another man), but goes on to penalize as hálfréttisorð (requiring one-half compensation) terms which in our culture would almost be considered complementary, including comparing a man with a bull, a stallion, or other male animal (Sørenson 16).

Many exchanges of insults are to be found in the Poetic Edda, particularly in Hárbarðljóð , a man-matching between Óðinn and Thórr; Lokasenna, in which Loki insults the Norse gods; Helgakviða Hundingsbana in the exchange of deadly insults between Sinfjotli and Guðmundr; Helgakviða Hjorvarðssonar in the exchange of threats between Atli and the giantess Hrimgerð. Other instances may be found in the sagas such as Egils saga Skallagrimssonar and Vatnsdæla saga.

Insults directed at men come in several varieties. Taunts might sneer at a man's poverty, as Óðinn does when he tells Thórr that he is "but a barefoot beggar with his buttocks shining through his breeches" (Hárbarðljóð 6), or declare a man to be a cuckold (Hárbarðljóð 48, Lokasenna 40). Some insults were scatological:

Þegi þú Niorðr! þú vart austr heðan
gíls um sendr at goðom;
Hymis meyiar hofðo þic at hlandtrogi
oc þér í munn migo.

Be thou silent, Njorðr! you were sent eastward
to the gods as a hostage;
Hymir's maidens used you as a piss-trough
and they pissed in your mouth.
(Lokasenna 34)

Insults of this nature seem to have been merely rude or disgusting. More serious were those which were mentioned in the laws, concerning cowardice or unmanly behavior. Cowardice was perhaps the lesser of the two types of insults, although the categories blur:

Enough strength hath Thórr, but a stout heart nowise:
in fainthearted fear wast fooled in a mitten,
nor seemed then Thórr himself:
in utter dread thou didst not dare
to fart or sneeze, lest Fjalar heard it.
(Hárbarðljóð 26)

Other insults alleging craven behavior may be found in Hárbarðljóð 27 and 51, as well as Lokasenna 13 and 15.

More dangerous still were insults that called a man "gelding," implying cowardice as well as touching on the connotations of sexual perversity connected with the horse, as in the insult where Hrimgerð calls Atli "a gelding who is a coward, whinnying loudly like a stallion but with his heart in his hinder part" (Helgakviða Hjorvarþssonar 20).

The very deadliest of insults were those which attributed effeminate behavior or sexual perversion to the victim. Accusations of seiðr, women's magic or witchcraft, implied that the practitioner played the woman's part in the sexual act (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 66-68). Óðinn, a practitioner of seiðr, was often taunted with the fact, although this insult is found in other contexts as well (Lokasenna 24, Helgakviða Hundingsbana 38). Similarly, an insult might call a man a mare, either directly or via a kenning such as "Grani's bride" -- Grani being the famous stallion belonging to Sigfried the Dragonslayer (Helgakviða Hundingsbana 42). Loki's shapeshifting into the form of a mare may have resulted in the best of horses, Óðinn's mount Sleipnir, but the implication of (at best) bisexuality was an inescapable slur on Loki's reputation ever after (Markey, 79). As the Gulaþing Law states, it was equally insulting to liken a man to any creature that bears young. One of the more comprehensive insults of this class is to be found in Helgakviða Hundingsbana:

A witch wast thou on Varin's Isle,
didst fashion falsehoods and fawn on me, hag:
to no wight would'st thou be wed to but me,
to no sword-wielding swain but to Sinfjotli.

Thou wast, witch hag, a valkyrie fierce
in Allfather's hall, hateful and grim:
all Valhôll's warriors had well-nigh battled,
willful woman, to win thy hand.
On Saga Ness full nine wolves we
had together -- I gat them all.
(Helgakviða Hundingsbana 38-39)

This was directed at Guðmundr Granmatsson, one of King Helgi's captains and a formidable warrior!

In pagan Scandinavia, a ritual form of insult was also practiced at times, the erection of a níðstông or scorn-pole. This ritual had five basic elements:

  1. an overt or covert association of ergi [effeminate behavior];

  2. implementation of an animal, usually female [i.e., a mare], as a totemic device whereby lack of masculinity is implied;

  3. an animal's body or head is mounted on a pole and turned toward the dwelling place of the person towards whom the níð is directed;

  4. formulaic verse, often inscribed in runes on the pole supporting the totemic device;

  5. appellant incantations to the gods or spirits to confer magical power on the totemic device and/or carry out the desires of the níðskald (Markey 77-78).

Mention of this ritual is made in Book V of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum and in chapter 33 of Vatnsdæla saga, but the most complete description is given in Egils saga Skallagrimssonar:

Egil went ashore onto the island, picked up a branch of hazel and then went to a certain cliff that faced the mainland. Then he took a horse head, set it up on the pole and spoke these formal words:

"Here I set up a pole of insult against King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild."

Then, turning the horsehead towards the mainland:

"And I direct this insult against the guardian spirits of this land, so that every one of them shall go astray, neither to figure nor to find their dwelling places until they have driven King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild from this country."

Next, he jammed the pole into a cleft in the rock and left it standing there with the horsehead facing towards the mainland, and cut runes on the pole declaiming the words of his formal speech
(Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, trans. Egil's Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1976. p. 148)

Lesbians in Viking Scandinavia

There is little mention in the sources regarding lesbianism in the Viking Age. When the feminine form of the word argr, (org), is used about a woman, it does not indicate that she is homosexual, but rather lecherous or immodest. (Sørenson 18). Staðarhólsbók, one of the existing versions of Grágás, prohibits a woman from wearing male clothing, from cutting her hair like a man, bearing arms, or in general behaving like a man (chapters 155 and 254), however it does not mention behaving sexually in the male role. After the onset of Christianity, of course, lovemaking between women was condemned by the Church as mentioned above. During the Viking Age, however, women were in short supply, at least in Iceland. Exposure of infants (barnaútburðr) was a Viking Age practice, and female infants were preferentially exposed, leaving fewer women (Jochens 86). This meant that every woman who survived to reproductive age was going to be married to at least one man in her lifetime and would bear his children unless she were barren. This gave women quite a lot of their apparent power as reflected in the sagas, as a woman could control her husband quite well by threatening divorce (Clover 182).

However, men also could have concubines so long as these were lower class (thrall) women (Karras). In many societies when there are several women living in a household who are all sexually tied to a single man, especially when the woman had no say in the arrangement of marriage or concubinage, then lesbian relationships could and did exist. There is good reason to see an almost "harem" atmosphere prevailing among the Vikings... the women tended to gather in the kvenna hús (women's quarters) (Jochens 80), or in the dyngja (weaving room) where a man could not go without accruing shame for unmanly interests excepting only truly mighty ---i.e., virile--- heroes. Helgi Hundingsbana was able to hide disguised as a maid in the kvenna hús, but for any lesser man such an act would have been regarded as cowardice, and the man who braved the dyngja would have been labeled as níðingr and ragrmann simply because the location was so strongly associated with women's activity and central role in the society as weavers (Helgakviða Hundingsbana II 1-5). In most societies where polygamy is common and women are denied sexual outlets other than their husband, there is frequently lesbian activity to fill not only sexual but also emotional needs. If a husband had objected to his wife having a lesbian relationship, there would have been little he could have done about it, as she could always divorce him if he complained. This gave women, lesbians or not, quite a bit of power due to the relative scarcity of marriagable women, so long as they fulfilled their societal roles as wives and mothers.

Homosexuality and the Gods, Priests, and Heroes

Another aspect to the question of homosexuality is the fact that certain of the gods, heroes and highly respected priests of the gods, apparently indulged in homosexual, "unmanly" or "questionable" practices. Loki, of course, is clearly bisexual as he certainly took the female role sexually at least during the encounter with the giant's stallion in Gylfaginning, which says that "Loki had had such dealings with Svaðilfari (the stallion) that sometime later he bore a foal," the most wonderful of all horses, Óðinn's eight-legged steed Sleipnir (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 68).

Óðinn himself, the Allfather and King of the Gods, was justly accused of ergi or unmanliness because of his practice of seiðr or women's magic, as learned from the goddess Freyja. We are not certain what it is about seiðr that made it "unmanly" for a man to practice the art: it could be anything from the idea of cowardice as a result of being able to harm your enemies through magic rather than in open battle, to overt sexual rituals involving the seiðr-practitioner as the passive sexual partner, or even as the passive homosexual partner. Ynglingasaga explains:

Oðinn kunni þa íþrótt, er mestr máttr fylgði, ok framði siálfr, er seiðr heitr, en af þuí mátti hannvita ørlog manna ok óorðna hluti, suá ok at gera monnum bana eða óhamingiu eða vanheilendi, suá ok at taka frá monnum vit eða afl ok geta oðrum. En þessi fiolkyngi, er framið er, fylgir suá mikil ergi, at eigi þótti karlmonnum skammlaust við at fara, ok var gyðiunum kend sú íþrótt.

Óðinn had the skill which gives great power and which he practiced himself. It is called seiðr, and by means of it he could know the fate of men and predict events that had not yet come to pass; and by it he could also inflict death or misfortunes or sickness, or also deprive people of their wits or strength, and give them to others. But this sorcery is attended by such great ergi that men considered it shameful to practice it, and so it was taught to priestesses (Ynglingasaga 7).

Image of the god Freyr Apparently homosexuals had a role within the worship of the Vanic gods. The Christian chronicler Saxo Grammaticus scornfully reported in his Gesta Danorum that some priests of Freyr used "effeminate gestures and the clapping of the mimes on stage
and . . . the unmanly clatter of the bells." Dumézil sees evidence for a group of priests of Njôrðr and Freyr who were honored, yet seem to have engaged in acts of argr, and who may have worn their hair in styles reserved normally only for women or even dressed themselves as women (Dumézil 115).

One might assume that the morals expected of gods cannot necessarily be applied for humans. However, there were likewise a number of heroes known to have been guilty of ergi such as Helgi Hundingsbana (see above). Another famous ragr hero is the famous Icelandic hero Grettir, who in the poem Grettisfærsla is said to have had sexual intercourse with "maidens and widows, everyone's wives, farmers' sons, deans and courtiers, abbots and abbesses, cows and calves, indeed with near all living creatures," (Sørenson 18) yet no one attached opprobrium to Grettir because of his vast, and omnisexual, prowess.

Gay Prostitution

Other evidences of the acceptance of homosexuality in some circumstances at least is provided by the fact that apparently there were some men who acted as homosexual concubines or prostitutes. Olkofra þáttr, a short tale preserved in the manuscript Moðruvallabók (ca. mid 14th century C.E.) preserves the term argaskattr, which has the sense of "a fixed rate or other payment made to an argr man for his sexual performance" and further indicates that the worth of such a payment was very low indeed. (Sørenson, 34-35). It would be logical to conclude that, like other concubines, these men selling sex to other men would have been of the lowest social class, thralls (Karras).

Same-Sex Couples in Art

A provoking bit of information is provided in the art-historical evidence as well. There exist a good number of small gold foil plaques known as goldgubber which depict a couple embracing. Frequently these are assumed to be Freyr, god of fertility, and Gerð, the beautiful giant maiden, and many commentators such as Hilda Ellis-Davidson believe that they may have been used at weddings.(Ellis-Davidson, Myths and Symbols, pp. 31-31 and p. 121). However, if one looks closely, at least two of the surviving goldgubber depict same sex couples embracing, one two bearded figures, another two women with the typical long, knotted hair, large breasts, and trailing dresses!

Since these plaques in general are associated with weddings and sexual union, it is tempting to assume that these two same sex examples represent and/or commemorate homosexual relationships. Of course, the plaques in question could simply depict two friends embracing. Another possible explanation is that, in many cultures, people do not dance with the opposite sex, only with members of their own gender, and that therefore these figures may be representations of dancers.


Overall, it is most important to realize that our written records of the Viking Age typically date from 200 to 300 years AFTER the events described. If you ask a room full of Americans to describe for you, in detail, the life of George Washington, you will be able to elicit no more than a handful of "facts," most of which will be demonstrably false... and we have classes and are forced to study Washington! This does not bode well for the accuracy of the saga accounts in regards to ancient practice. Accounts written in 1200-1300 were also written by Christian men, using the Christian technology of writing, and whose worldview would have roundly condemned homosexuality. Homosexuality did not have a good reputation during the Viking age as portrayed by the Christian writers. If homosexuals enjoyed a better reputation earlier than these accounts, we have no record of it, as the "golden age" of the culture probably occurred between 600 and 800, before the actual start of the Viking Age proper, and is unrecorded except dimly through legends.


  • Bax, Marcel and Tineke Padmos. "Two Types of Verbal Dueling in Old Icelandic: the Interactional Structure of the senna and the Mannjafnaðr in Hárbarðljóð" in Scandinavian Studies 55:2 (Spring 1983) pp. 147-174.

  • Clover, Carol J. "The Politics of Scarcity: Notes on the Sex Ratios in Early Scandinavia." Scandinavian Studies 60 (1988): 147-188.

  • Damsholt, Nanna. "The Role of Icelandic Women in the Sagas and in the Production of Homespun Cloth." Scandinavian Journal of History 9 (1984): 75-90.

  • Dumézil, Georges. From Myth to Fiction: the Saga of Hadingus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1970.
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  • Ellis-Davidson, Hilda R. "Insults and Riddles in the Edda Poems," in Edda: A Collection of Essays. eds. Robert J. Glendinning and Haraldur Bessason. Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press. 1983. pp. 25-46.
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  • Ellis-Davidson, Hilda R. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 1988.
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  • Hollander, Lee M. trans. The Poetic Edda. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1962.
    [References to poems of the Poetic Edda are indicated in the text by the name of the poem and the verse number].
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  • Jochens, Jenny. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1995.
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  • McGrew, Julia H. and R. George Thomas, trans. Sturlunga Saga. 2 vols. New York: Twayne. 1970 and 1974.
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  • Karras, Ruth M. "Concubinage and Slavery in the Viking Age," Scandinavian Studies. 62 (1990): pp. 141-162.

  • Markey, T.L. "Nordic Níðvisur: an Instance of Ritual Inversion?" in Studies in Medieval Culture 10 (1977) pp. 75-85.

  • Sørenson, Preben M. The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society. trans. Joan Turville-Petre. The Viking Collection, Studies in Northern Civilization 1. Odense University Press. 1983.
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  • Stromback, Dag. Sejd: Textstudier I Nordisk Religionshistoria. Stockholm: Hugo Gebers Förlag. 1935.

  • Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. Lee M. Hollander, trans. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1964.
    [References to selections of Heimskringla are indicated in the text by the name of the selection (i.e., Ynglingasaga) and the chapter number
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  • Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Anthony Faulkes. Everyman Paperback Classics. London: J.M. Dent. 1995.
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  • Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Jean I. Young. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1954; Reprint 1962.
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February 13, 2010

Research says that Gays are seen as being third genders

Beliefs about the characteristics of male and female homosexuals and heterosexuals were assessed to determine the degree to which stereotypes of homosexuals are consistent with the inversion model proposed by Freud (1905) and others, i.e., the assumption that homosexuals are similar to the opposite–sex heterosexual. Results showed that people do subscribe to an implicit inversion theory wherein male homosexuals are believed to be similar to female heterosexuals, and female homosexuals are believed to be similar to male heterosexuals. These results offer additional support for a bipolar model of gender stereotyping, in which masculinity and femininity are assumed to be in opposition.

October 07, 2009

Reviews in History: Sex and the Gender Revolution: Volume One: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London

Randolph Trumbach
Sex and the Gender Revolution:
Volume One: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London
Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 1998 xviii + 509 pp.

Reviewed by: Dr. Robert Shoemaker
University of Sheffield

One of the first aspects of the history of gender to be extensively researched has been, unsurprisingly, sex. A frequent meeting ground of the sexes, historians have shown how attitudes towards and practices of sexual intercourse reveal fundamental cu ltural assumptions about gender difference. But it is not only heterosexual activity that is relevant. Even before gender became a popular subject among historians, Randolph Trumbach's work on male homosexuality in eighteenth-century London contributed the important insight that beliefs about homosexuality are a constituent part of understandings of gender difference. This book, the first of two volumes (the second will examine 'the origins of modern western homosexuality'), develops his arguments with material amassed during more than twenty years of research. It appears at a propitious but inevitably contentious time, for sex in the eighteenth century is a hot topic, and this book will have to compete with several other recent and forthcoming public ations on prostitution, illegitimacy, and sexual reputation.

The main argument of the book will be familiar to those who have read Trumbach's earlier articles. Around 1700, stimulated by 'the emergence of individualism and equality', a 'new regime of sexual relations for men' developed. Those men who had sex w ith other men or boys became marginalised and labelled as 'sodomites' (the 'third gender'), and all other men assumed an exclusively heterosexual identity, with their sexuality shaped by the need to prove that they did not desire other men, while maintain ing their superiority over women despite experiencing greater intimacy with them. This change had important consequences for extramarital sex in London: seeking to affirm their heterosexual masculine status, men resorted to prostitutes in greater numbers , as 'a new, heterosexually inspired prostitution' developed, and it led to high rates of illegitimate births and the spread of venereal disease. Violence towards women, both in the form of rape and wife beating, although not new, was also encouraged by these changes.

In the next generation these patterns were both reinforced and somewhat modified by the growing influence of sentimental, romantic and domestic ideas among the middle and upper classes. Attitudes and the practice of prostitution changed as prostitutes came to be seen more as a separate class of women, were sentimentalised, and became the targets of attempts to reform rather than punish them. Some men became more faithful to their wives, and some became less violent. Nonetheless most men, driven by t he need to prove their heterosexual identity, continued to consort with prostitutes, thereby facilitating the spread of venereal disease to a substantial proportion of the population. Influenced by romantic ideas, elite wives started to form adulterous l iaisons with men, either servants or friends of their husbands, whom they met in their homes. 'By 1750 the entire system that this book has described was fully established'. (427)

This is an ambitious web of arguments, and they are supported by extensive research in legal records (of the Consistory Court, Quarter Sessions, and the Old Bailey), notably depositions, examinations and accounts of trials; the records of charitable i nstitutions (the Foundling and Lock Hospitals); printed literature including pamphlets and newspapers; and letters and diaries. As such, this book provides the most extensive and richly documented treatment of eighteenth-century sexual behaviour ever p ublished. The sources are effectively used to shed light on a wide range of subjects, including (in addition to those discussed elsewhere in this review) the changing ideological basis of male libertinism; the geography of London's brothels; the origin s of the Foundling, Lock and Magdalen Hospitals; the shift in the significance of adultery from an issue of public concern to a domestic tragedy; attempts to cure venereal disease (notably the belief that men could be cured by having sex with prepubesce nt women); contrasting courtship and illegitimacy patterns found in four metropolitan parishes; changing attitudes towards infanticide; the central role played by male violence in courtship and seduction; the various strategies for marital dissolution i n different social classes; and patterns of marital violence.

In assessing the overall argument, two questions need to be asked. First, has Trumbach convincingly documented the changes that he says took place? And second, has he correctly identified the causes of those changes? Trumbach certainly has identifie d many important transformations in sexual attitudes. The growing condemnation of any form of homosexuality and the concurrent development of a homosexual subculture in early eighteenth-century London were documented in his previous articles (and will be covered in volume 2) and they have been confirmed by other research. Similarly, the arguments concerning changing attitudes towards prostitution, and towards female sexual immorality more generally, with the increasing belief in female sexual passivity and the tendency to treat prostitutes as victims, fit in well with the work of other historians. The analysis of defamation cases convincingly shows that women continued to be concerned about defending their sexual reputations longer than men, thus provi ding evidence of the growing tolerance of male heterosexual promiscuity. The overall decline of defamation cases may reflect the growing belief that women's sexuality was too delicate a matter to be discussed in public, though the argument that consistor y court judges and lawyers discouraged prosecutions is not substantiated. The increasing influence of romantic ideas on the lives of the upper and middle classes, documented in divorce cases, is also unlikely to prove controversial. But the arguments con cerning the changing nature of prostitution and illegitimacy are less convincing. Here we come up against a fundamental problem that confronts historians of a subject as personal as sexuality, the limitations of the evidence.

There is plenty of evidence of concern about the growth of prostitution, especially streetwalking, in eighteenth-century London, but Trumbach fails to consider whether elite discourses, or the records of law enforcement, can satisfactorily docum ent changing patterns of activity in the world's oldest profession. It is not convincing to argue from such evidence that there was 'a new, heterosexually inspired prostitution' in the eighteenth century. This would certainly come as a surprise to histo rians of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London, and in any case demands an explicit comparison with prostitution in the earlier period, which is not attempted. The arguments about the changing character of prostitution during the eighteenth century, that it developed as a subculture separated from conventional life, are based on similarly thin evidence, such as the patterns of sureties prostitutes presented when bound over by recognisance (women became less likely to be bailed by members of their own families). Since the recognisance was not a common method of prosecuting prostitutes (most were punished with a commitment to a house of correction), this evidence must be of limited relevance, especially since we know so little about the ways in which sureties were chosen and approved by justices of the peace, and how what constituted an acceptable surety might have changed over the course of the century. Trumbach is more cautious when arguing that increased levels of illegitimacy were another consequ ence of the new male heterosexual identity, but here too there is danger in reading the examinations of the mothers of bastard children too literally, and failing to make allowances for the fact women may have constructed stories for their examiners which , by portraying themselves as helpless victims, maximised their chances of obtaining help.

In assessing whether Trumbach has correctly identified the causes of changes in heterosexual behaviour we come to his central point, that the root cause of 'the new male heterosexuality' was the emergence of the 'third gender', the sodomite, in the ear ly eighteenth century. But here at the core of his argument there is something of a vacuum, since, with the exception of some prosecutions for sodomitical assault and blackmail in the Quarter Sessions and Old Bailey records, there is very little direct e vidence to support the contention that heterosexual men's attitudes towards sex in the eighteenth century were fundamentally shaped by their fear of being labelled a 'sodomite'. Of course there is plenty of evidence of increased hostility towards male ho mosexuals, but this is not sufficient to prove the central contention that men's conduct towards their wives, mistresses and prostitutes was entirely shaped by this fear; that this is why, for example, men consorted with prostitutes. Here we come up aga inst some significant limitations of this study. First, it is explicitly a study of extramarital sexual relations, not simply because such behaviour produced the best evidence, but also because Trumbach alleges that 'the history of modern male het erosexuality is substantially a history of extramarital relations'. (13) By failing to consider men's sexual conduct with their wives (except where it involved violence) Trumbach has ignored in a book on heterosexuality the vast majority of the heterosex ual activity which actually took place in the eighteenth century. Second, by locating the source of all change in a shift in attitudes towards, and practices of, male homosexuality, he has largely ignored female sexuality, except when portraying poor wom en as the victims of the new male heterosexuality. Because, there was not, until at least the 1770s, a lesbian subculture against which to define themselves, he argues that most eighteenth-century women 'did not have an exclusive heterosexual identity', (429) and hence he sees little need to examine their sexuality. The one change identified, that some elite women, influenced by romanticism, experienced in adulterous affairs 'a second, deeper sexual awakening' than their first sexual experience with the ir husbands, (423) comes close to accepting uncritically later eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stereotypes that women were sexually passive until aroused by their husbands, 'since the majority of women would probably not have masturbated before their f irst intercourse with their husbands'. (395) One can't help wondering whether the evidence can really support such a statement.

This is thus a frustrating book. On the one hand, Trumbach has developed the important insight that the histories of homosexuality, heterosexuality, and gender are intricately interrelated, an insight which, unlike the approach adopted by most gender historians, identifies important changes in masculine as well as feminine behaviour. On the other hand, by viewing all eighteenth-century sexuality through this one lens, he has failed to examine other important forces which shaped ideas and practices in London, including changing understandings of the body and the shift from a belief that women were the most lustful sex to the opposite; the impact of urbanisation and the spread of print culture on the ways sexual knowledge was diffused, interrupting ch annels of information traditionally controlled by women; a growing distinction between public and private life which marginalised public discussions of sex, especially female sex, and pushed them behind closed doors; and the impact of early industrialis ation on traditional courtship patterns, encouraging earlier marriages but also destabilising them. Most of these changes served to encourage male heterosexual initiative at the expense of women, but not necessarily as a result of fears of homosexuality. But the new courtship patterns, as well as the adoption of the romantic ideals discussed by Trumbach, also allowed some London women the chance to take the initiative in their relationships, a point illustrated by several of the case studies in this boo k. This is an important and complex subject, unsuited to an essentially monocausal argument.

September 1999

Author's Response

May 29, 2009

"Feminine" Heterosexual Men: Subverting Heteropatriarchal Sexual Scripts?

JournalThe Journal of Men's Studies
PublisherMen's Studies Press
ISSN1060-8265 (Print) 1933-0251 (Online)
IssueVolume 14, Number 2 / Spring 2006
Online DateMonday, February 19, 2007
Darryl B. Hill1

1College of Staten Island, City University of New York


Little is known about the sexual lives of "feminine" heterosexual men (i.e., men who eschew traditional rigid "masculine" gender roles in favor of more stereotypically "feminine" gender roles and characteristics). Based on an analysis of gender and sexuality discourse, mostly from social psychology, this paper proposes a model of the sexual subjectivity of the feminine heterosexual man. This model suggests that these men may find it difficult to attract a partner and maintain satisfying sexual relationships, but once established they appear to build strong relationships. This conceptualization proposes that feminine heterosexual men subvert overly restrictive heteropatriarchal sexual scripts, freeing both traditional and nontraditional men to explore ways of being sexual with women outside a dominant-submissive dialectic.