Western Scholarship on Third Genders: What does the Gender “Trinary” Do?

Authors: Angela Lieber*, Florida State University
Topics: Gender
Keywords: gender, queer, non-binary, third gender, muxe, Oaxaca, Mexico
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Galerie 3, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


"Third-gender" identity categories describing bodies/subjectivities in both the global south and North American indigenous communities have emerged as objects of fascination and inquiry in contemporary Western scholarship (e.g., Kulick, 1998; Stephen, 2002; Williams, 1992). Additionally, narratives of non-Western persons grouped broadly into the third-gender category have been used as evidence toward destabilizing (i.e., "queering") Western fixed or essentialist understandings of gender as a man-woman binary. Going beyond its use as an object of anthropological investigation and/or to demonstrate gender diversity beyond the binary, I suggest that allocating or recognizing non-binary identities/bodies into "third gender" categories raises important questions. For example, Benedicto (2011), Weston (1995), and others have examined categories of gendered subjectivity and the slippages such categories can reveal between local embodiments/materialities and global/transnational imaginaries. As Benedicto argued, the deployment of constructions of gay identity, and by whom, can reveal and also erase other constructions and processes wrought by local/global histories, such as "colonialism, racialization, and nation formation" (qtd. in Luibhéid, 2008). Through a narrative review, I will explore the construction of Oaxacan "third-gender" categories within Western academic discourse.

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