Morgan Holmes on “Locating Third Sexes”

In the journal Transformations, Morgan Holmes writes about a third sex or gender. Morgan Holmes approaches the subject as a scholar and an intersex person; she was formerly a member of ISNA and is now an assistance professor of sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada.

The paper is recommended reading for people interested in the concept of a third sex – a concept that often encapsulates not only issues related to biological sex and gender identity, but also sexual orientation and gender roles.

…much of the existing work on cultural systems that incorporate a ‘third sex’ portray simplistic visions in which societies with more than two sex/gender categories are cast as superior to those that divide the world into just two. I argue that to understand whether a system is more or less oppressive than another we have to understand how it treats its various members, not only its ‘thirds’.

Morgan states that,

In the mid-1990’s I ‘came out’ as an intersexed activist, and—as a graduate student in studies that bridged fields of inquiry in sociology and anthropology—was intrigued by the idea that some of my colleagues in the Intersex Movement put forward: Western culture and medical practice would do well to learn from cultures that had sex categories allowing the recognition of intersex states. I went out, eagerly in pursuit of an answer to the question ‘Where can intersexed persons fit in the world?’ …

What I would eventually learn was that recognition of third sexes and third genders is not equal to valuing the presence of those who were neither male nor female, and often hinges on the explicit devaluation of women…

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