Gender spectrum

There are many genders around the world beyond the stereotypical two. Below is a non-exhaustive list of just some of the diverse genders you can find on Earth that defy the lie that gender is binary:

  • The five genders of Burgis society in Indonesia. Burgis society continues to recognize its five traditional genders—makkunrai, oroané, calabai, calalai, and bissu. Bissu are regarded as a gender of spiritual practitioners believed to have the ability to harness the powers of other genders, while Calabai and Calalai somewhat resemble the Western concepts of transwomen and transmen.
  • The muxes gender of Oaxaca Valley, Mexico. Muxes (pronounced “mu-shay”) are still recognized as a traditional, ancestral gender in Zapotec Culture in Mesoamerica. This gender is often associated with pageantry, and it is considered lucky to have one in the family. 
  • The femminielli of Italy. An ancient gender that can be traced back roughly 2 millennia, associated with luck. Featured in Renaissance paintings.
  • The hijra gender of Old India. A surviving traditional gender in India. Gained legal recognition in Pakistan in 2009, Bangladesh in 2013, and in India in 2014. Problematically called a “3rd Gender” by mainstream media—this term being problematic because it implies there are only 3 genders. According to researcher Gopi Shankar, there were over 20 distinct genders in India prior to British colonization.
  • Isangoma in Zulu culture. Recognized as a spiritual gender, their gender identity shifts depending the ancestor they are working with. They often serve a social role as healers.
  • Burrnesha in Albania. The burrnesha gender might be compared to (but doesn’t neatly fit into the categories of) “asexual” and “transman.”
  • Two-Spirit gender on Turtle Island (North America). Two-Spirit (2SQ) refers to Indigenous people of a variety of genders outside of the imperial binary. A person might identity as two spirit, as well as other gender identities specific to their tribe. Early European settlers on Turtle Island documented over 80 tribal nations with genders unknown to them. Many Indigenous groups were later forced to give up their traditional genders as part of negotiations with the U.S. government or risk further land loss and harm, as explored in the research of Mark Rifkin. Many colonial projects operate through what has been called “gender theft” by 2SQ poet Joshua Whitehead (Oji-Cree), in which colonizers steal 3rd, 4th, 5th, and fluid genders from Indigenous groups.
  • 5,000-year-old transgender burial site found in Czech Republic in 2011. Genders that defy the imperial binary have been around since time immemorial! There is currently a movement in archeology to identify remains based on gender signifiers associated with the body rather than modern imperial ways of conflating sex with gender. 

Acknowledging without appropriating. It is important to know about genders of cultures outside of our own so we can avoid the harm of erasing them. But also, two-spirit activists including Michelle Cameron (Dakelh) and Joshua Whitehead (Oji-Cree) have pushed back against settler attempts at gender appropriation, reminding us that it’s important to avoid claiming to be a gender that isn’t part of our own culture—this can cause harm to that culture. 

Rebuilding gender diversity. If your culture’s many genders have been dismantled, you can become part of the movement to rebuild gender diversity—both by authentically expressing yourself and by supporting others in their gender expression. Gender diversity is like a phoenix—no matter how hard the empire tries to destroy it, our ways of knowing and expressing the truth of who we are will always rise from the ashes.