Gender identity is something we’re all hearing about more and more these days. People even question whether or not it’s needed. ‘Why does it matter?’ or even ‘It’s just a new fad’.
Gender Identity and Culture
But that’s the point. It’s not new at all. India actually has a long documented history of terminology for those who identify outside of the Western gender binary.
Some of these terms include hijra, kothi, aravani which all mean very different things and have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. This is not a new concept.
To give a quick explanation, hijras are biological males who reject their masculine identity and identify either as women, or “not-men”, or “in-between man and woman” or “neither man nor woman”. An aravani would identify themselves as women trapped in male bodies, and kothi refers to biological males who show varying degrees of being effeminate.
What’s more, Native American’s used the term two-spirit to describe members of their communities who perform a third-gender or ‘gender-variant’ role in their ceremonies.
It seems that the concept of gender neutrality or gender non-binary is only new to western cultures, and that could be why people struggle to understand it. After all, it was Britain who introduced the sodomy law into India which criminalised homosexual behaviour, not the other way around. It’s predominantly the western world that has had a problem with people from what they deem to be the norm, but in actual fact it’s steeped in our world history.
The way people choose to identify is more than just their behaviour or appearance. For example, as a child I was known as a tom-boy. I loved playing sports of all kinds and most of my friends were boys, until I hit a certain age. I tended to dress in a way that many consider to be masculine. But I never thought of myself as a boy – I always knew I was a cis-gendered woman.
I now identify as an out-and-proud lesbian woman and that fact has never been stronger. I am a cis- gendered female, I always have been and I don’t identify as anything different. For others, it’s not just that they play football and dress masculine, it’s that they feel like they were born into the wrong body, or that they don’t feel like one particular gender.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It can be difficult for some to understand, and I think it will remain a controversial subject for years to come. I think the confusion comes from people not understanding the correct terms, or being able to relate to someone, not necessarily because they disapprove. Ignorance is the biggest cause of hurt for many, whether the subject is gender identity, sexual identity or self-identity.