In Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, muxes, a part of the Indigenous group, the Zapotecs, play an important role in families and communities. A muxe is a person who is assigned male at birth yet adopts roles traditionally associated with women. They cook, care for children and elderly relatives, and sew the community’s ornate embroidered wares.
In the Philippines, the bakla, who transcend the duality between men and women, have been historically renowned as leaders. “More man than man, more woman than woman,” the bakla are seen as a third gender and regarded as one of the most visible and celebrated LGBTQ+ cultures in Asia.
In the United States, Native Americans have long embraced two-spirit people, who identify as having both feminine and masculine spirits. In fact, more than 150 different Native American tribes acknowledge third genders in their communities.
For centuries, cultures across the world just like these have recognized the fluidity of gender and accepted and celebrated gender nonconformity. Many of these communities have not only survived despite colonization and Christianization, but they have also been embraced as part of society and helped to cultivate tolerant, peaceful cultures. Take, for example, the Philippines, which is one of Southeast Asia’s most open-minded countries toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people despite a history dominated by conservative morals taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Or India, which recently abolished a British colonial law that banned homosexuality, shedding a damaging legacy and restoring the country’s history of gender fluidity. These communities and cultures show us what it means to be human, hold multiple identities, and live along the full continuum of self expression.
As we celebrate Pride this month, there are valuable lessons to be learned from these communities on gender equality. Gender, like race, is a social construct and there have been systems and structures at play throughout history that have boxed people into false binaries. Alok Vaid-Menon, renowned gender nonconforming artist and author of “Beyond the Gender Binary,” reminds us that none of us have simple stories. Reducing a multi-dimensional person to one identity to target and discriminate diminishes not just them but our shared humanity. Generalizations and classifications shape how people see the world, narrowing their perspective and creating and perpetuating stereotypes, discrimination, and oppression.
Read the full article about the evolution of gender by Hilary Pennington at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.