Living Between the Lines: Identifying as Third Gender


Somewhere In-between

For as far back as we can tell certain societies, or cultures, have made room in their gender spectrum for more than one gender. This seems to be a way in which these cultures worked with naming those, or making space for those, who did not fit neatly into set ideas about male and female, masculine and feminine. This was rarely seen as negative, but as different. In this context different was valued, not something to be purged from the culture. Rather it was, though misunderstood, respected for what it might offer the culture, or society, as a whole.

There have always been those who live in-between the gender and sexual normalcy. Those who we call trans, gay, non-binary, gender-queer, and so on, are simply modern reflections and terms for ancient ways of being and living. From the start the idea is met with criticism. The modern argument that has followed in the west for the last several hundred years is that those who live outside of these sexual and gender norms do not reflect nature. That in some way living in such a way calls into question the authority of nature. Nature here is used as mirror in which human life is held up against in comparison to the mineral, plant, and animal, kingdoms. Critics have sited that nature is in essence heterosexual- or heteronormative.

Western science has brought a host of examples that defy this line of logic. The male seahorse bares and births its offspring, we know of almost 5000 specie that engage in homosexual activity, the plant kingdom is brimming with hermaphroditic propagation, and we now are gathering enough genetic, and epi-genetic, information to come to look at the gender-complex and sexually diverse world that we live in.

No longer can we look away from the data that validates those of us who come to live in in the world via a third gender expression.

These gender and sexual expressions can manifest for us in a multitude of ways. In fact the complexity of gender and sexual expression is too vast to engage in here, but it is imperative to note that the multiplicity of gender and sexual expression number as many of those of us who identify within our given spectrum.

A New Era

In these cultures where third gender peoples were accepted and respected it is important to note that often they were seen as fulfilling some vital function of that society. There is a Navajo legend that speaks about a third gender person called Turquoise Boy. In the story the men and women go to live in opposite places. Turquoise boy finds himself in a bad way because all of his friends, the women, and his husbands do not live in the same place. He works daily going back and forth as an ambassador until he finally is able to reconcile the men and women back to one another. In this myth we see the third gender person as that who bridges the gap between masculinity and femininity. We see that those First Nations people saw their third gender peoples as those who could bring balance and non-duality to a world often held between the duality of male and female, or masculine and feminine.

Third gender people are called many things by their individual cultures. Sometimes they are priest, sometimes they are healers, sometimes they are those who excel in carrying on certain traditions that are vital for cultures to survive with with their cultural identities intact.

More often than not we were seen as needed parts of the communities that we lived in. With colonialism came a great purging of practices, roles, ways of living, that existed outside of a white heteronormative lens. The ways of my people, those who live as a third gender, were wiped away from their cultures, their lands, and their written and oral histories.

The spirits of the land have not forgotten us, and neither has creation. Our ancestors still call out to us in visions, dreams, and in our hearts. I still remember having moments of time where I questioned my gender as a young person- moments where I questioned the role that I was born into. I remember visions of myself as female- a vision I have since come to realize was the “she” that lives within me. Those visions were given to me so that I might fuse together the physical (masculine) and the immaterial (feminine).


My ancestors were also calling out to me. They brought books, research, and resources, to my attention that have helped me rediscover even their presence in my life. They have helped me craft together a path and a vision for others like myself. I have been blessed to see the very queer nature of existence- and how queer this world truly is. That has made all the difference; to have the constructs of male and female come crashing down so that I could be offered new eyes to see a very androgynous world.

Sometimes I think it is we, the third gendered ones, who are closer to home in the natural world than are my heteronormative brothers and sisters. Sometimes I am granted a vision in which the prisons of separation, colonialism, marginalization, and bigotry are broken, and my cis-heteronormative kin reach out to our queer and bright-faced hands and allow us the honor of leading them back home.

There is a revival, at least in my own life, of reclaiming this powerful archetypal way of being. What healing will come to those in the LGBTQ+ community when we are given our sacred functions back? When we are released from our prison of isolation and self questioning we will be free to be powerful conduits of radical change and profound justice on the earth. We need not appropriate other cultures, or their third-gender ways, as the archetypal roles simply need new, fresh, and creative, life blown back into them. These archetypes are not created because of us, but rather it is because we live and move in the world that they are identified and documented. They are our birthright. It is we, those of us who are third gender, who must make them come alive again.

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