While the recognition of genders outside of male and female has only recently become an openly discussed topic in Western societies, in Hindu society, people of non-binary gender expression have played important roles for well over 2000 years.
Hindu mythology is known for its displays of gender variance and non-heterosexual sexuality. Changes of sex, homoerotic encounters, and intersex or third gender characters are very often found in many ancient texts, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Historically, these gender fluid characters were not only highly respected, but revered. They were thought to hold special powers and abilities.
In fact, in real life, many individuals who were classified as ‘third gender’ rose to significant positions of power under both Hindu and Muslim rulers.
What is ‘third gender’?
Third gender refers to a group called the hijras, who are often born male but look and dress in traditionally feminine ways. (Some hijras are born intersex). Hijras are neither male, nor female, nor transitioning. By today’s language, nonbinary could be an appropriate descriptor. Many believed that a hijra’s blessings of a baby or wedding would bring about fertility, prosperity, and a long life.
Using ancient mythology for a modern conversation
If you’re looking introduce gender into conversations at work, home or school, why not try using some ancient Hindu stories?
Indian mythology is a wonderful way to illustrate that gender and gender fluidity has been present and accepted around the world for many thousands of years.