New Gender Identities – Not So New

A lineup of Mattel's new gender-inclusive Creatable World dolls. (Mattel/TNS)

By Isaiah Hernandez

When the term “gender” is brought up, many people think of sexual characteristics associated with a person’s biological sex. In other words, their maleness or femaleness.

While the etymology of the word “gender” has aligned with that of the word sex since the 14th century, a person’s physical characteristics can line-up with their gender identity.

Gender identity is described by anthropologists and sociologists — and confirmed by the Merriam-Webster dictionary — as a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of the two or neither male or female.

Gender is a social construct that focuses on cultural influences rather than gender roles with an acknowledged, but not prioritized, contribution of biological factors.

One can personally disagree with the definitions of “gender” and “sex” by stating religious values limit gender to being male or female or that there are physically only two genders, but anthropologically and sociologically speaking, that is wrong.

Gender identity is a phenomenon that has existed for thousands of years in indigenous societies. In fact, according to genderspectrum.org, gender was known until recent centuries to have connections with a person’s role in society; their form of expression; their spiritual connections; how they personally identified themselves, or rather, their feelings regarding their gender identity in relation to their birth sex.

With the spread of colonialism came the spread of Abrahamic religions. In this case, most profoundly Christianity. With the spread of Christianity came the belief that a person’s sexual characteristics made up their gender and identified a limited means of gender expression and the roles that they played in society.

The emphasis of biological factors in response to a variety of expressions across many cultures only creates limitations for social variance and a person’s ability to express themselves.

For instance, in Italy there is an identity named “Femminiello,” as per pbs.org. These people are biologically male who hold traditionally female roles in Neapolitan society and typically present as feminine in their dress. Up until the turn of the 19th century, these individuals held high positions in society, which came with special privileges.

Another example of a nonbinary gender identity is the third gender known as Metis, which has indigenous Nepalese origins and refers to biological males who typically assume feminine dress and stature but consider themselves to be outside of the binary male and female identities.

Pbs.org reports yet another identity which has existed for countless generations and has been recorded by Western culture in recent years, more specifically the 1970’s, is the “Guevedoche” of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has a population who express a unique, pseudo-hermaphroditic genetic trait, in which members with undifferentiated genitalia are raised as female with female gender roles until they develop masculine traits around the age of puberty.

The official name of this recognized third gender varies upon region, but is commonly known as Guevedoche. The Guevedoche in the Dominican Republic hold distinct social roles in their society as well.

In North America, gender identity variance is also present in indigenous tribes. While each tribe has their own names and responsibilities for these identities, according to kewtoday.com, a common term used by members of such tribes is ‘Two-Spirit.”

In an effort to give a relevant example of a specific tribe, the Navajo of Southwest North America have two specific identities that are Two-Spirit: the “Nadleehi” and the “Dilbaa.”

As kwetoday.com explains, the Nadleehi are individuals who are born male but who represent both the feminine and masculine spirits. The Dilbaa are female-born and represent both the masculine and feminine spirits.

In native societies, many cultures revered members of the Two-Spirit Community as shamans and religious leaders. Traditional emphasis was placed on one’s position in the tribe rather than on defining sex.

In response to historical examples of gender variance outside of the binary system, which is viewed by much of the world today as normal and traditional, more modern examples themselves are also necessary.

In continuation with the focus on physical differences in sexual characteristics to determine gender, intersex people are not to be forgotten.

According to genderspectrum.org, the term “intersex” refers to anyone who is born with any natural variance to their sex characteristics from differences in chromosome patterns, genotypes and phenotypes or whose sexual characteristics do not fit the traditional expectations for female or male sex characteristics.

Other modern variations of gender include the Western transgender and nonbinary identities. While there are many different subcategories for nonbinary identities, it is important to remember that each is valid and is, scientifically speaking, their own gender.

It is also important to remember that gender identity and gender expression hold no specific connection to sexuality or romantic attraction.

Before the spread of Eastern European Colonialism and its ethnic cleansing of indigenous identities and religions across the world, gender variance flourished in many unique forms.

Therefore, it is imperative to recognize that transgender and nonbinary identities are not a pop culture phenomenon and will never cease to exist. We have always been here, and we will remain as long as humanity breathes.

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