Alex Blaze

Third gender in India

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 13, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: election campaigns, india, intersex, male, other, third gender, transgender, us, voting

I know that people often point to understandings of gender and sex that include more than two options, but have you ever seen a system of understanding sex that rejected the binary in a modern state's government? (Let me know if I'm wrong there; I just can't think of one.)

India's done just that, by allowing people to identify as male, female, or other:

Before, members of these groups -- loosely called eunuchs in Indian English -- were referred to as male or female in the voter rolls.

But now, they will have the choice to tick "O" -- for others -- when indicating their gender in voter forms, the Indian election commission said in a statement.

"Enumerators and booth-level officers (BLOs) shall be instructed to indicate the sex of eunuchs/transsexuals etc as 'O' if they so desire, while undertaking any house-to-house enumeration/verification of any application," a statement from election authorities said.

More after.

The recognition comes 15 years after the third sex was granted the right to vote -- in 1994.

In India, the Tamil Nadu government took the lead in March 2008 to officially recognise the third sex when the state civil supplies department added the option 'T" (third sex) in ration cards.[...]

Besides the electoral rolls, the option to indicate the third sex as 'O' will also be available in other documents of the commission, including IT-based formats and website, the statement said.

Now that's something that I can't imagine happening in America.

Not only would the Religious Right just not have it, I don't know if we'd want it. Are there many people who identify outside the binary in the US? While the article says that the new rules are for transsex and intersex people, most trans folk in the US (at least those who I know) identify as men or women, and I haven't heard much for a need to create a new category for intersex people.

But I wonder if it's one of those changes that has to happen before we find out how much we needed it in the first place.

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Just as there are transsexuals who identify outside the binary in the US (yes they do exist), it wouldn't surprise me if there are transsexuals who *aren't* so happy with the "third sex" designation in India. Both cultures are biased in their view of sex and gender, just in different ways, and both have room for improvement. Neither is more inclusive, just inclusive of different sets of people.

Well the story says the O classification is optional.

That might be the case legally, but culturally it's a different story.

From the phrasing in the article it sounded to me like the choice of "O" designation was left up to the enumerators, not the individuals themselves.

I would want this, and I know many of my genderqueer friends would too. It's hard enough to get my documentation to have a different identity than the one I was assigned at birth, it would be lovely if I could get it to reflect my actual identity.

How about we simply REMOVE gender markers from official IDs! Trying to define the gender of some folks is like trying to define their race: very often the matter is far from black and white.

battybattybats battybattybats | November 13, 2009 8:02 PM


I have written a fair bit including raising the issue in the Australian Human Rights Commissions Sex and Gender Diversity consultation and on my blog about what real practical use sex/gender I.D. markers have... I've only been able to find one.. that of policing gender expression to ensure that people conform to the gender expression expectations of their sex held by those who inspect the I.D.'s. Thats all.

They don't determine a person is the person they claim to be. Even if it did reliably determine that someone is say male, which it doesn't, there are an awful lot of males that male could be. So they have no security benefit whatsoever. Sex-segregation to create 'safe spaces' are also nonsense as same-sex assaults exist. But more dmaning, one does not produce one's I.D. to access most of those spaces!

There is no other real-world function of sex/gender markers on I.D.

They solely exist in real effect to police gender expression.

As such there is no harm to their abolishment and no valid reason to keep them.