Gender nonconformity is not a new phenomenon or trend – in fact, gender diversity can be observed throughout history in countries around the world – from ancient Greece to India to the Americas, according to historians.
“There is no historically universal way in which societies have classified biologically different people into categories of people the way we do now,” Susan Stryker, a historian and professor, told ABC News in an interview.
In the United States, gender norms dictate that, for example, a female person automatically considers themselves a girl and will live socially as a woman, according to Stryker.
These gender norms and expectations have sparked heated debate nationwide, as lawmakers across the United States have targeted gender-nonconforming communities through bills that restrict their ability to access to gender-affirming care or to using their preferred pronouns and names in schools.
Many terms used today to describe gender diversity would have been completely foreign to people decades or centuries ago. However, Andrew Shaffer, director of development and communications for the GLBT Historical Society, says that LGBTQ the community “has always existed”.
Historians argue that being limited to two genders is not the norm in many cultures.
In some places, strict gender laws and practices imposed by colonizers and missionaries were often imposed on the places they invaded – notably in the Americas and South Asia, where more than two genders were adopted, historians have discovered.
However, discrimination against these groups still occurred in places where gender nonconformity was well known.
“Not only have we been around forever, but we’ve also been an integral part of most human societies for as long as there have been human societies,” Shaffer said.
Below are some examples of gender diversity throughout history and the world:
The Hijra people of South Asia
According to historians, non-binary populations have existed for thousands of years in South Asian Hindu society. They hold a powerful position in Hindu society as they can bless Hindu homes, marriages and births.
Hijras consist of a population of people born male who wear traditionally feminine clothing and makeup or who were born intersex, according to a report. Harvard Research Study on Demography.
They are considered a third gender, a gender distinct from women and men.
In a TEDx talkProminent hijra activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi said she was often asked when she knew she was “different” or when she “came out” as transgender.
“I said I only came out once – from my mother’s womb,” Tripathi joked.
“The problem is with the world, not with me, you know, because they wanted to box me,” she said in her 2017 speech.
The Two-Spirit Lhamana People in Indigenous Cultures
Two-spirit is an umbrella term that refers to people who possess “both female and male spirits in one body,” or a third gender in indigenous or indigenous cultures, according to Anya Montiel, a historian and art curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Science. the American Indian.
However, different indigenous cultures use other terms to refer to these identities.
Two-Spirit people are often considered “gifted” or “honored” for carrying two spirits and were often healers and visionaries in their community, according to the Indigenous Foundation.
These populations were present long before the arrival of European settlers, the Indigenous Foundation found, but their history and status were tarnished as a result of colonization and the strict gender roles imposed by the colonizers.
It also means that much of the history of Two-Spirit people has not been captured in Western depictions of Native and Indigenous cultures, Montiel told ABC News.
“When you think about the first people to document the indigenous cultures of North America, they were usually missionaries and anthropologists,” Montiel said. “So a lot of the time these people are really thinking from their own cultural perspective. Sometimes they haven’t talked about gender differences among native people, or if they have, they’ve talked about it in a derogatory manner.”
Gender Diversity in Ancient Rome
In Rome, a group of priests called the Galli worshiped the goddess Cybele and castrated themselves like Cybele’s husband Attis and dressed exclusively in women’s clothing, according to the historic preservation organization English Heritage.
The Galli overturned Roman gender norms and helped poets and theorists examine gender, according to English Heritage. However, the Galli were also subject to criticism from those who espoused typical Roman views on masculinity.
Current debate over gender and sexuality in the United States
In the United States, recently legislation has sought to restrict gender diversity in some states, with bills popping up across the country targeting transgender people, cross-dressing and cross-dressing. drag showsand more.
At least 427 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced or considered in 2023 alone, according to the ACLU.
Historians say that people of different genders have long faced discrimination and that in the United States, the mid-1900s represented a forceful push for equality by LGBTQ populations, led by transgender icons such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
However, they too were celebrated, Schaffer said.
He continued: “We have often been welcomed, we have often been important parts of communities, and not only that, we have not always fought for our rights. Sometimes they have simply been granted.”