Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Androgynous Mind

© Picasso "Standing Female Nude" 1910. 
Picasso's "androgynous mind" conceiving a "female" nude made from the letters of his name

#1: The Right To Define Gender Identity

“All human beings carry within themselves an ever-unfolding idea of who they are and what they are capable of achieving. The individual's sense of self is not determined by chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Thus, the individual's identity and capabilities cannot be circumscribed by what society deems to be masculine or feminine behavior. It is fundamental that individuals have the right to define, and to redefine as their lives unfold, their own gender identities, without regard to chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Therefore, all human beings have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role.”

- The International Bill of Gender Rights, 1993. 

The International Bill of Gender Rights or IBGR, developed by transgender activists, was adopted by the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy in 1993. This bill educates, promotes and sustains fundamental human and civil rights from a gender perspective. This document is not gender exclusive. Ten sections are universal rights claimed and exercised by every human being regardless of sex or gender. The bill, much like The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is “adopted” by legislative bodies, courts of law, and the United Nations meaning these entities gave their approval and acceptance of the bill, similar to amendments and resolutions.

In mainstream Western culture, categories such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual are often considered “third genders.”  Such assumptions are gross misunderstandings of gender classifications, specifically in regards to third gender, intersex, and non-binary. Gender classification is the categorization of people that do not conform to nor identify with a hetero-normative, or two-gender framework, such as male or female. Third gender is recognized differently in various cultures.

For example, in Africa, a woman can be a “female husband” who enjoys all of the privileges of men, known as such, yet whose femaleness, while not openly acknowledged, is not forgotten. To Indigenous Mahu of Hawaii, third gender is an “in-between” state between man and woman, and hajiras, also considered third gender, are transgender individuals of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan assigned male at birth.

In America, third gender studies conclude that by the age of five, gender classification by an individual is recognizable. Due to society, parental and peer pressure, human beings growing up knowing their gender yet not falling into a socially acceptable gender role socially face difficulty. The Open Society Foundations, an organization focused on building tolerant societies committed to global struggle, published a report in 2014, License to Be Yourself.

This report documents transgender rights based laws and policies that enable trans people to change their identity on official documents. “From a rights-based perspective, third sex/gender options should be voluntary, providing trans people with a third choice about how to define their gender identity. Those identifying as a third sex/gender should have the same rights as those identifying as male or female.” (Open Society Foundations, 2017).

Instead of focusing on gender classification, individual rights and freedoms, mainstream Western culture instead created a sort of “gender dysphoria.” In 2015, LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of State that denied Navy veteran Dana Zzyym, a passport because they are, and identify as, neither male nor female. The court found no evidence that the department followed a rational decision-making process in deciding to implement its binary-only gender passport policy and ordered the U.S. Passport Agency to reconsider its decision.

This case is only one example out of many that document how misunderstood sexual gender classifications are in the United States. “Third gender” or “third sex” is when a person does not identify with the sexual genders of neither man nor woman.

Virginia Woolf in her classic 1929 book like essay, A Room of One’s Own, wrote,In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female… The androgynous mind is resonant and porous… naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.” Artists and writers clearly identified with the acceptance and discovery of “third genders” well before a “classification system” existed.

Another example of third gender and “androgynous mind” is the work of musician David Bowie in the 1970’s with his omnisexual alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.  In the truest sense, David Bowie was one of the first globally effective socially accepted “gender benders”, one who “bends” gender roles in order to eliminate rigid sexual roles, one who defies stereotypes. 

Other cultures, often Indigenous, view gender as having more than one option as a part of their social structure. Carolyn Epple, American Ethnologist, composed a dissertation on “Navajo Nádleehí”, or “Two-spirit.” Her studies speaking to Navajo that relate to being “Two-spirit” include, “First, an individual is understood in terms of her interconnections, and as both male and female . . . that no individual's definition is fixed; all vary according to the situation . . . . and while many nadleehi agree on how the definition is structured . . . they do not necessarily agree on its content.” (Epple, Coming to Terms with Navajo Nádleehí). 

Plainly stated, nadheeli refers to one individual identifying with male and female genders dependent upon their spiritual interconnectedness, that nothing is fixed  like Western socially constructed gender roles, and the content within what “nadheeli” means varies from individual to individual.

For example, when speaking to one nadheeli, the description of Two-spirit is described as an “in-between type of person, not a “drag queen” and not a woman, not wanting to be either/or. Another nadheeli describes their personal state as describing how “queen” is identified with being female and they is do not consider themselves female, they are male and attracted to men. There is an existential position present here in relation to cultural relativism, that nadheeli exists outside the constructs of time and societal norms. Cultural teachers of the Navajo describe nadheeli as meaning, “Sa'ah Naaghai Bik'eh Hozho” or natural order.

In conclusion, gender flexibility tends to be a comfortable subject matter to address in relation to aforementioned Indigenous cultures that see gender as being natural when compared to strict societal gender roles imposed and enforced on individuals in “progressive” societies. From a worldview perspective, western civilization has yet to realize that gender is specific to each individual.

The gender an individual relates to is not formed by humankind, it is not man-made, and this is what society must learn to overcome, that gender flexibility is organic and people deserve the right to be whomever they feel most comfortable being. 

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Epple, C. (1998). Coming to Terms with Navajo Nádleehí: A Critique of Berdache, "Gay," "Alternate Gender," and "Two-spirit". American Ethnologist, 25: 267–290.

Frye, Esq., Phyllis Randolph. (2001). The International Bill of Human Rights. Retrieved from:

Open Society Foundations. (2017). Retrieved from:

Woolfe, Virgina. (2015). A Room of One's Own. The University of Adelaide Library. eBook. Retrieved from:

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