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Unformatted text preview: ar gives to Brahma that which he most needs, and Brahma’s creations copulate and multiply.
Like Hinduism, many other religious traditions speak of deities and
humans who are neither men nor women, including the androgyny
of the Judeo-Christian Adam. But those are very old stories that have
passed through many hands. Much may have changed or been lost in
translation. A better way to test the foundations of the two-sex mythology would be to look at the peoples of our modern world and see if
such beliefs are universal among human societies. Do people raised
with different worldviews see the sexes differently? The answer is an
The Hijras of India
Among those who honor Shiva’s destruction of his own phallus and his
manifestation as Ardhanarishwar the intersex god are a group of Indian
Hindus called the hijras. Literally, hijra means “man-minus-man.”2
Sociologically, it means much more than that. Hijras are not men, but Alternatives 145 neither are they women, and in their own country they were not always
reviled, as some might expect. Rather, many have attained an exalted
In India, one of the greatest social events is the birth of a son. When
a daughter marries, the girl must bring with her a large dowry or the
marriage won’t happen. A string of baby girls can bring a family to
financial ruin as quickly as a robber, while a string of sons can add great
wealth. Because of that, a baby boy is considered a wonderful gift, and
at their birth, the hijras perform one of their most important functions.
The hijras sing traditional and popular songs, imitate the process and
the pains of pregnancy, and bless the parents and the baby. Then, at
a certain point in the ceremony, one of the hijras closely examines the
newborn child to confirm that it is indeed a boy. If the hijra proclaims
the child a boy, then the celebration proceeds and intensifies. But if the
hijra sees that the child is intersex, all of the hijras immediately claim
that the child is one of them and belongs to their community. And it is
likely that the hijra’s words will hold true. Many intersex Indian children do become hijras. But intersex children are not the only children
who become hijras.
Hijras are not exactly men because, for one reason or another, they
are incapable of performing the male role in sexual intercourse. And
they are not strictly homosexuals, though some do have receptive sex
with other men. But they do not, because of course they cannot, have
sex with one another.
Hijras are not exactly women, even though they do dress, wear their
hair, and act somewhat like women. But unlike most Indian women,
hijras may be aggressively sexual, dress garishly, dance in public, and
curse offensively. And many hijras never have sex with men.3
Baby girls cannot become hijras. It seems that the female sex role is
more fixed in Indian tradition than that of men. For that reason, some
Indians and especially outsiders think of hijras as defective men. But
they are much more than that. And even though all hijras will claim they
have been as they are from birth, not all were born intersex.
Hijras are not simply intersex or impotent males. They receive
their calling from a Bahuchara Mata, the Mother Goddess, who is also 146 Between XX and XY honored by transvestites. And that calling can come to physically normal boys as well as to intersex boys. If any child ignores the call, it is
said he will be impotent in his next seven lives—an ignominious fate.
Boys who receive the calling and are not intersex must undergo a
dangerous surgery before they can call themselves true hijras. Interestingly, hijras call that surgery “the operation,” in English. A special hijra
called a midwife performs the operation, which replicates many of the
events of childbirth. With two quick cuts, the midwife removes both
penis and testicles. Because the blood is part of the male principle, it
is allowed to flow freely to rid the body of as much of the male as possible. A small hole is created for the urethra, and traditional rather than
modern treatments are used to induce healing. After the surgery, others treat the new hijra much like they would treat a woman who has
recently given birth. After healing, the new hijra dons a bridal costume
and parades through the streets in a procession with other hijras. Once
a boy, now something else, the person walks into a new life, something
beyond man or woman.
Men Not-Men Among the Natives of North America
The hijra of India are not the only people who fall outside of our easy
sexual dualism. The same is true for some North American natives. The
recently arrived Europeans called these people berdache, a bastardization of an Arabic word meaning “prostitute.” These Native Americans
are not prostitutes, so the word berdache is a poor fit and in many ways
insulting. But because of language differences among native peoples
and confusion among nonnative peoples there is no other title that
people agree on.
A word that has gained some popularity is the name “two-spirit.”
But there are problems with this...
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- Spring '14