Current Scenario and the Third Gender

By Srikanth Bhaskar & Swetha Vadarevu, GNLU

Editor’s Note:  The terms third gender or third sex are used to describe individuals who are neither male nor female and form a certain different section or gender in a society that promotes three or more genders to co-exist. The recognition of the third gender is not the only problem but the expectations from each gender of the society also pose difficulties. The biological differences between men and women have always been used as a justification to assign different societal roles and characteristic traits to each of the sexes which tend to restrict and constrain their behaviour. A boy from his childhood is encouraged to imbibe qualities such as courage, loyalty, strength and other necessary physically challenging attributes while a girl is expected to be modest, subdued and often physically less able in terms of stamina and power as in comparison to her male counterparts. This system is referred to as the concept of gender role and identity in the field of sociology. So this brings us to think if gender is a biological, cultural or bio-cultural concept. The state of being neither male nor female may be understood in relation to the individual’s biological sex, gender role, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In a more evolved and accepting society, men and women are expected not be judged on the basis their physical attributes but in a new age society people whose opinions do not agree with those of the majority shall not be judged for thinking or being different or at least so is the hope. Such a society will redefine the concept of gender, widening its boundaries, and introducing three main categories, i.e, male, female and androgynous or the third gender.


The condition of the third gender across the world varies as different parts of the world practise different cultures and to follow different norms and traditions. The present scenario of the lives of the people of this community is unacceptable and in some cases pitiable but again there are a few countries that are moving towards providing them with equal status and recognition in the society for proper and dignified survival. The paper shall discuss the conditions of these people in various countries and this particular section will be mainly dealing with two important countries, namely, Germany and Thailand.

As it can be stated, in order to know how to solve a certain problem a community faces, you must know what the position of the community in society is. In this section, we will try to address how the third gender is across various societies and also in different spheres of society like education and sports.



Australia, one of the most advanced and liberal countries in the world have attempted to integrate the third gender with society by giving them legal recognition. The government has taken many steps in the last decade in order to give them more recognition in society. One of the first steps Australia took was in January 2003, Australians can use “X” as their gender in many government documents, including the passport and birth certificate. Alex MacFarlane is believed to be the first person in Australia to obtain a birth certificate recording sex as indeterminate, and the first Australian passport with an ‘X’ sex marker in 20031 which was issued by the state of Victoria and the Australia passport office respectively. Regarding issuing passports to people belonging to the third gender has been in a progressive evolution in Australian law. Firstly, Government policy towards issuing passports between 2003 and 2011 was to issue passports with an ‘X’ marker only to people who could “present a birth certificate that notes their sex as indeterminate”.2

After this, In 2011, the Australian Passport Office introduced new guidelines for issuing of passports with a new gender, and broadened availability of an X descriptor to all individuals with documented “indeterminate” sex. The revised policy stated that “sex reassignment surgery is not a prerequisite to issue a passport in a new gender. Birth or citizenship certificates do not need to be amended.3 Most recently, Australian Commonwealth guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender, published in June 2013, now extend the use of an ‘X’ gender marker to any adult who chooses that option, in all dealings with the Commonwealth government and its agencies.4 The above steps are a part of the reforms the Australian government has undertaken in order to integrate the third gender in Australian society. Although it is a society where the government is one where it has tried through legislation to integrate the third gender with society, Society itself has not. There have been many articles written by the Organization Intersex International where it has been repeatedly stated that the Government there has provided legislation for recognition but not against discrimination.


When speaking about the third gender with regard to India, we see there is a unique position here. Here is a society that has accepted the third gender, or Hijra’s as they are commonly called in mainstream society. People here have thought of Hijra’s as normal and it has gone upto the extent where some people consider them as sacred. The Indian position becomes unique as compared to the rest of the world whereby although society has accepted the third gender, for a long time, there was no legislation which recognized them unlike in most other cultures. Due to this Hijra social movements have campaigned for recognition as a third sex5. Due to this increasing demand, in 2005, Indian passport application forms were updated with three gender options: M, F, and E (for male, female, and eunuch, respectively).6Furthermore, In November 2009,with the intention of ensuring further recognition for the third gender India agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people as “others”, distinct from males and females, in voting rolls and voter identity cards. These steps are some of the ways in which the Indian government has tried to integrate The Third gender in Indian society but this has not been a complete success as there is still a section of society who fail to understand the third gender which leads to discrimination. Some people fail to understand them as they fail to recognize them as a separate gender and instead think of them of them of either being a male or a female. Many activists and people belonging to the third gender feel that this is the main reason for discrimination.


Germany has seldom been criticised for its approach towards the LGBT community as the country takes pride in itself as it believes its people to be tolerant, open-minded, easy-going and progressive. However, its attitude towards the intersex population or the third gender earned them a lot of appreciation and respect. On the first of November, 2013, Germany became the first European country-and the first country in the world as well-to allow the parents of babies without “clear gender-determining physical characteristics” to register them not as male or female, but to choose a third blank box instead7. This new policy of the country was initiated as it became important to address the ethical issues that were raised when the parents of the children born with indeterminate sex were asked to choose whether they wanted their child to be male or female within a week of the birth of the child so as to get them registered at the registry office called the standesmat. This so-called disorder was then

“rectified” through surgical procedures which resulted in the baby being forced into operations in the genital area and these decisions were in most cases made in a state of panic and haste by the parents due to the deadlines. In recent years, this problem was understood by the public and many of those who had undergo these ‘normalizing’ procedures felt cheated and disrespected. They said that they felt as though they had been subjected to mutilation at the whims and fancies of others and that they would never have agreed to undertake any such surgery as adults. Since the beginning of this policy, German parents of ‘intersex’ children are able to choose to avoid choosing. Alongside the categories of ‘M and ‘F’, is a new category: ‘X’. This is considered to be a great victory for the rights of the intersex community by institutions like the German Ethics Council but at the same time there are a few legal experts who would argue that this is not exactly a gender but a temporary solution for those children who are not expected to lead their lives as Xs, but as male or a female which decision is to be made at a non-specified period of time. Some social activists argue that this policy made lead to parents trying to ‘fit in’ their children in either male or female categories in order to avoid the third box due to peer pressure. It is to be however noted that this new policy introduced does have its own flaws and all such initiatives are far from perfect. What matters is that the German government is making progress and is definitely moving in the right direction. Other countries which have introduced similar legislation include Nepal, New Zealand and Australia.


The third gender in Thailand form a community referred to as the ladyboys or kathoeys. They are tolerated and accepted to a certain extent as their religion, Buddhism, encourages them do so. In big cities like Bangkok and Pattaya, they are respected and treated as separate individuals and can hence lead a proper and independent life. However, in the countryside, some of the sections of the society consider these people a disgrace and are thus not very welcoming8. Some steps taken by the individual institutions are encouraging people to accept this section of the population more easily and without hesitation. For instance, in 2004, the Chiang Mai Technology School allocated separate restrooms for the people belonging to the third gender with an intertwined male female symbol on the door as they recognize them as a separate group of people who deserve their own set of individual rights. This initiative may seem extremely silly to some, but a small step towards change is what we need at the moment. Kathoey are predominantly involved in female-oriented professions like beauty salons, waitressing and housekeeping but they also tend to work in factories as well. They also work in entertainment and tourist centres, in cabarets and as sex workers. Following the 2006 Thai coup d’état9, kathoeys are hoping for a new third sex to be added to passports and other official documents in a proposed new constitution. It’s not that are readily accepted in all situations or at all times but in general they are respected much more than the transgender are in Western countries or the Indian subcontinent. Thailand till date happens to be, hence, one of the most tolerant countries where Kathoey are equally able and talented and recognized for it. Some famous people from this community include Bell Nuntita who featured in Thailand’s Got Talent and went on to become a huge hit on the YouTube channel10 . Also, the volleyball team called The Iron Ladies became the national champions in the year 1996 and comprised only of kathoey and a few gay members. Equal rights and equal opportunities are all that this community demands.


Regarding this subtopic, there can be two further subdivisions. First we need to look at the level of education given in school regarding the third gender and secondly, the level of education being provided to the third gender.

Regarding the First issue, we see that in most societies if not all there is very little education being provided to students about the third gender, even if provided portrays them in a negative sense. Students are not told that it is a biological effect and are rather told that is more of an abnormality. This can be stated as one of the main causes for discrimination against the third gender. Most curriculums across the globe don’t even mention anything about the third gender. One of the reasons for this might be the fact that the needs for recognizing third gender has not gained necessary political attention like the problems of other communities like the gay community where people are now being about them and the need to accept them into society like normal people from a very young age. There is need for both governments and people to recognize that the third gender is an important section of society and the need to be educated about them should be thought of seriously. This is now slowly being recognized by governments. The Nepal government recently in their recommendations recommended the following all staffs should be educated about gender and sexual minorities, and prevalent terms in the areas where they work.11

Coming to the second issue, there has been a lot of discrimination regarding education for the third gender. In Most societies, both east and west, there has been a huge discrimination against the third gender in the field of education. Many educational institutions hesitate to give seats to the people belonging to the third gender for reasons such as “other students feeling uncomfortable etc.” Such discrimination is not beneficial for any society where a certain section of society is discriminated against in the field of education. Many people feel that this is an important reason for such despicable living conditions for people in the third gender. This need for ensuring education for the third gender was first recognized by Bangladesh November 11 2011 where the government made a pioneering move in extending official government recognition to people who identify as Hijra or the Third Gender. Recognition means the extension of several state benefits to hijra communities, including priority access to education12. Although this is a small step in a small country, it gives us a hope that more countries might follow the example of Bangladesh thus ensuring proper education for the third gender.


“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

–        Barack Obama

The above quote shows us the importance of one person for changing society. This section will deal with those individuals who have led to the problems faced by the third gender. It will include famous people who had to face problems to thinkers who brought to light the reality about the Third Gender to activists who want more rights for People belonging to the third gender.

If speaking about the third gender, one of the most important names that comes to mind is Evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden argues that, in addition to male and female sexes (as defined by the production of small or large gametes), more than two genders exist in hundreds of animal species.13 He was one of the first people to tell the world that is natural for the third gender to exist in society.

Another important person is Karl Heinrich Ulrichs who was an important American writer in the late 19th century who through allowed people to announce about their gender and the problems they face through his books.

An important name for the Third gender has to be the South African athlete caster Semenya who during the London Olympics had to forfeit the women’s 100 meter race after it was found out that she was neither male nor female. This raised questions about the recognition of the third gender in sports which is still virtually nonexistent.

In addition to all the above mentioned names above, there are many activists like Norrie May-Welby, Indian photographer Dayanita Singh and Gopi Shankar who have been continuously fighting for better recognition of the Third gender.

The above mentioned people are just a small number of people who have tried to bring some form of recognition regarding the Third gender to society and they mainly the reason we can see a change in society regarding the Third Gender.


A general aspect that is to be associated with most people belonging to the third gender is that of prostitution. South-East and Southern parts of Asia shelter a large number of such people and most them are involved in prostitution in one way or the other. The situation in India is considered the worst as they are placed at the lowest possible in the hierarchy of sex workers as well. They are; hence, usually ready to accept any man’s proposal as they are not usually preferred due to their ‘position’.

They are not well informed about the problems in the sex industry especially the diseases that be transmitted like HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They are, thus, often available for high risk sex in which case most female sex workers tend to object. They end up in this industry as nobody wishes to employ them because of their gender identity. This results in their having little bargaining power and being unable to ensure that their customers practice safe sex. This brings us to another issue which is the brutal violence that the transgender sex workers are subjected to. As a matter of fact, nearly every type of violence is under-reported; especially the ones inflicted upon marginalized groups of the society as they usually lack knowledge and access to these services and privileges. “I need to be believed”-is what a trans survivor said during a survey conducted in the year 2011 by FORGE. They live in the fear of being victimized or even worse, being re-victimized by the agencies and individuals that are expected and supposed to offer them help and support. The following statistics emphasize on that point14:

  • Law enforcement:

22-38% of trans people have been harassed by police, with upwards of 15% experiencing physical abuse and 7% being sexually assaulted by law enforcement.

  • Health care:

Trans people have also experienced violence at the hands of health care professionals: 26% experiencing physical assault and 10% living through sexual assault.

  • Schools:

Even in schools, where we hope students can seek solace and support from teachers, 78% of gender non-conforming youth reported

“significant abuse at school.

” —31% of the youth noted the abuse was from teachers.

Multiple studies indicate that over 50% of people from the third gender have experienced sexual violence at some or the other point in their lives. This rate is nearly double (1 in 3 girls) or triple (1 in 6 boys) the commonly reported rates of sexual abuse. As they are involved in the sex industry as well, they are subjected to violence by police officials and their clients very often. They do not raise their voice and even when they do, they are blatantly ignored, hence, making them one of the most disempowered groups of the society.

Edited by Hariharan Kumar

1. – cite_ref-asa_25-0 32  ^ Newsletter of the Sociology of Sexualities Section of the American Sociological Association, American Sociological Association Sexualities News, Volume 6, Issue 1, Summer 2003.

2. ^ Sex Files: the legal recognition of sex in documents and government records. Concluding paper of the sex and gender diversity project (2009), Australian Human Rights Commission, March 2009. On Australian passports and “X” for sex, Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia, 9 October 2011

3. “Sex and Gender Diverse Passport Applicants”. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Australian Government. Retrieved 23 December 2011

4. Australian Government Attorney General’s Department, June 2013, “Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender” Beary, Habib (4 September 2003).

5. “India’s eunuchs demand rights”. BBC News

6. Third sex’ finds a place on Indian passport forms, The Telegraph, March 10, 2005.


8. Hanan Chemlali, Sama Sadat, Heidi Smith, Boris Garcevic, Chiara Bosboom; “A study on the phenomenon of ladyboys in Thailand”, International Social Science Basic Studies, Semester II, Summer 2011

9. non-constitutional change of government

10. “Kathoey – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia”, last modified 21 December 2013, 20:47;

11. last accessed at 5:30 PM 18 march 2014

12. last accessed at 12:30 PM 19 march 2014

13. Roughgarden, Joan (2004). Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24073-1 Especially chapter 6,Multiple Gender Families, pp. 75–105

14. “Transgender Rates of Violence”, Accessed March 16, 2014,

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