Non-Binary People Have Always Existed

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Are Western views on binary gender roles social constructions? A number of cultures have been challenging the bounds of gender for years.

  • Non–binary and trans people have always existed, yet are often absent from Western historical narratives. Why is this The answer lies, partly, with how history is written and who writes it.
  • Our understanding of gender has evolved rapidly over recent decades. The belief that the gender assigned at birth does not always align with the gender one identifies with is widely accepted.
  • Contrastingly, there are many non-Western cultures who embrace non-binary practices for centuries: in Hawaii there are mãhū, in India the hijras and the ‘two-spirt’ people of Native Americans.
  • In indigenous North American Navajo culture, non-binary people have a spiritual purpose in society and are respected tribal members. The Navajo people consider trans people to be “very fortunate”.
  • In Polynesian culture, there is a third gender known as mãhū. Mãhū people are highly regarded members of native culture and continue to exist in Hawaii today.
  • Often colonialism omitted such practices - or attempted to. The colonizers viewed such practices as immoral or unnatural. They put laws in place to prevent the acceptance of non-conforming genders.
The Guardian
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5 articles on this topic


How Britain tried to 'erase' India's third gender

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5 min read

What native Hawaiian culture has to teach about gender identity

3 min read
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10 cultures that have accepted non-binary gender identities for centuries

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4 min read

Nonbinary adults on finding the wordsand the strength — to be themselves

15 min read