Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations

Gender diversity and gender variation are very often difficult or uncomfortable topics to discuss for many people. The Introduction of Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations by Serena Nanda begins by giving clear and concise definitions of the terms used to describe gender variant people. As humans, we are frequently opposed to experience change. With this in mind, a person should be completely unbiased when learning about gender diversity. According to Serena Nanda gender diversity as well as gender variation are considered to be “the fact that cultures construct their sex and gender systems differently and are not always going to be male and female, man or woman” (Nanda 1).

In class we discussed a variety of frameworks that relate to gender variation. We came across some that were more important including anthropology, law, and medicine. How does anthropology relate? This subject is the study of other cultures and everything that makes that culture what it is. In the Introduction, we find that perceptions of gender diversity vary from culture to culture, giving different meanings to the topic.  Serena Nanda discuses that anthropology allows a person to cross boundaries of another culture, leaving the influence of their own culture (Nanda 9). We are supposed to learn what is natural or what is normal. However, is there really a natural or a normal? Society gives us examples of what they should be, however society does not accept a mixture of differences. We are introduced to terms such as sex, gender, and sexuality, requiring clear definitions to relate them to gender diversity. Sex is defined as “the biologically differentiated status of male or female”, whereas gender is “the social, cultural, and psychological aspects that create a role or identity and who a person sees his or herself as.” These terms to some are used interchangeably because of the confusion they create. Another important term is sexuality, “erotic desires, sexual practices, or sexual orientation” (Nanda 2).

Gender variation among society has varied throughout the years and across many different cultures. In most places, gender variance makes people uncomfortable,  disgusted, and apprehensive. The mere fact that gender diversity alarms people, creates a new subculture that only those of gender variations can belong to. Societal views about gender diversity come from more than the thoughts of what it actually means to be gender variant. The view of people are influenced by “age, race, religion, social class, and educational levels” as well. Gender diversity has it’s own way of explaining itself depending on the culture and the society from which it is derived.

In Gender Diversity, Chapter 2: Hijra and Sadhin Neither Man nor Woman in India, discussed gender diversity among the religious practice of Hinduism. This specific practice centers around the acceptance that there are many different sexes and genders and all possibilities are recognized. Hijras were known to be “third gender defective males”, now considered to be male born, but taking the the female role within society not being a man or woman from the possibility of being ambiguous (Nanda 29). A sadhin is the female variant term which reflects women remaining socially women but adopting the different aspects of a man’s life such as clothing and hair. A sadhin must remain a virgin and continue to be celibate for life, whereas a hijrah practices sexual behavior with men because they do not find women desirable. There are many other factors that going along with being a part of the Hindu religion that pertain to hijrahs as sadhins. They are a very interesting culture to learn about because of all the laws and policies they must obey to conform to society yet Hinduism allows for a person to merely be a person with no categorization.

The other gender diverse culture that was studied was that of Chapter 3 Men and Not-Men: Sexuality and Gender in Brazil. The gender variations are given the names of travesti, viado, and bicha.  In Brazil, gender is defined by the arrangement during sexual intercourse. Those who penetrate and those who are penetrated. For a male and female example, the male is the penetrator making himself more dominant whereas the female is being penetrated with her lack of superiority. The male who performs the penetrating on another male is considered to be more masculine and does not lose his male role within society. However, if a male is the one being penetrated, he no longer has his masculine feat. An important thing to note is that a travesti can never be a woman because they were born a man, no matter the hormones they put in their body or the clothes they wear. Brazil is in opposition to some gender variance, whereas in some areas a travesti is seen as a positive person. It depends on the location and the attitudes of the people making the judgments.

Though gender diversity and gender variance can be complex issues, I enjoy challenging myself to fully grasp their meanings and the terms that comes along with them. It is interesting to learn about gender variance across the world and how no one place will be the same as another. The Introduction and the two chapters in Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variance helped me realize that there is so much more to the subject of transgender than I even imagined. The anthropological views and examples helped distinguish the different places and the types of people who are simply trying to live their lives as ordinary people.

Serena Nanda, Gender diversity: cross-cultural variations. Berkeley: Waveland Press, 2000.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s