Interestingly hijras call that surgery the operation

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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 emphatic yes. 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 social status. 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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