Third Gender Categories, Homosexuality and Transgender Identity

The capitalist mode of production requires a continually growing workforce in order to meet the production demands of a ‘constantly expanding market’. This, in turn, requires continued and widespread heterosexual reproduction in order that capitalist states continue to profit from overpopulation.

Beyond the active workforce, the capitalist mode of production also requires overpopulation in order to maintain a ‘reserve army of labour’. The reserve army of labour — a term coined by Engels and later expanded upon by Marx — refers to the capitalist interest in maintaining an unemployed population, whose purpose is twofold. Firstly, the reserve army of labour can be conscripted to meet growing production demands; and secondly, it can be used to drive down the cost of labour through competition for employment when not actively required for production. Marx explains:

Big industry constantly requires a reserve army of unemployed workers for times of overproduction. The main purpose of the bourgeois…is…to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it, i.e., when the overpopulation is the greatest. Overpopulation is therefore in the interest of the bourgeoisie.

Marx, Unpublished Manuscript, 1847

Adoption and surrogacy notwithstanding, heterosexual relationships are the only form of sexual relationship to produce viable offspring. Therefore, historically, heterosexuality has been legally enforced or otherwise socially encouraged in economies concerned with increasing production. Conversely, homosexuality has been repressed by state apparatus — through legislation, policing, prejudice and discrimination. Modern capitalism, however, has developed much more efficient means with which to manipulate the size of the workforce — predominantly migration. It could be argued that migration replacing sexual reproduction as the primary method of population control has resulted in a softening of legislative homophobia, at least in the West.

Throughout history, the ostracisation of homosexuals has been so extreme that many societies have fabricated separate social classes to ‘other’ gay men, lesbians and gender non-conforming people. Of course, acknowledging the existence of homosexuality would shatter the illusion that the heterosexual pairing family is the only possible familial structure. Similarly, acceptance of gender non-conforming individuals casts doubt on the socially constructed notion that men and women’s personality traits fall neatly into the sex stereotypes designed to ensure men and women fulfil their productive and reproductive potential (men as workers and woman as birth-givers, caregivers and domestic servants). If these ideas were allowed to flourish, society may, over time, shift away from the capitalist ideal of the codependent, monogamous, heterosexual pairing family and, thus, individuals may no longer compliantly partake in reproductive labour. Rather than risk this undesirable eventuality, various societies and states created social categories to literally (and sometimes physically) remove gay and gender non-conforming people from ‘normal’ society. Once ‘removed’ from general society and categorised as non-men and non-women, these individuals no longer post a threat to the heterosexual status quo and so their treatment has varied from society to society — sometimes reverent, sometimes discriminatory. In almost every instance of ‘third sex’ categories — which are now used as evidence of the widespread historic existence of transgenderism — these social classifications are largely a means of othering homosexuals or otherwise enforcing heterosexuality.

India (notorious for its caste system) is home to one such ‘third sex’ category — the hijra. Serena Nanda notes in The Hijras of India: Cultural and Individual Dimensions of and Institutionlized Third Gender Role that ‘hijras in contemporary India extensively engage in sexual relations with men’. Nanda clarifies that that this is not a new phenomenon, saying that ‘eunuch-transvestites in Hindu classical literature also had the reputation of engaging in homosexual activity’. Here, the link between India’s third sex category and male homosexuality is evident.

Another ‘third gender’ category which is frequently referenced in the ongoing gender identity debate is Native American ‘two spirit’ people. Needless to say, due to the many different tribes within Native American culture, this is a far more complex issue than is currently being presented. Deirdre Bell explores this issue in depth in her article Toward an End to Appropriation of Indigenous “Two Spirit” People in Trans Politics: the Relationship Between Third Gender Roles and Patriarchy. Bell says ‘It’s very strange to watch the contemporary trans movement attempt to incorporate American Indian cultural conceptions of gender-nonconformity, because it’s so clearly an attempt to shoehorn people of the past into contemporary cultural labels.’ She adds that ‘in some third gender societies, two-spirit was simply a way to handle homosexuality within the group: homosexual men were considered not fully men, a halfway gender that wasn’t quite “normal.” In others, it was a way to handle intersexed [sic] people in societies with rigid sex binaries. In still others, it was for men who specifically preferred women’s work and roles, like weaving and cooking’. She notes that, far from being a measure of progress, the prevalence of two-spirit identities actually correlated with the rigidity of gender roles within a tribe and notes that ‘more egalitarian societies with less gender socialization’ had an absence of ‘two-spirit’ people due to ‘their lack of emphasis on sex-assigned gender roles’.

Oman also recognises a third gender (known as Xanith), which refers to effeminate males who are submissive in homosexual relationships. Again, it appears that this ‘third gender’ category is synonymous with homosexuality. This demonstrates that socially conservative societies opt to ‘other’ homosexuality rather than tolerate it.

Samoan culture is often lauded as progressive for its cultural acceptance of fa’afine, the social category of effeminate males. In Global Forces and Local Life-Worlds: Social Transformations,Schuerkens says ‘fa’afine are identified at an early age by virtue of their propensity for feminine tasks [(domestic labour)]’, and so the concept is wholly dependent upon the sex stereotypes that Marxists seek to abolish. Far from progressive, Samoa still outlaws gay marriage and so if fa’afine are to marry, it must be to a woman. Culturally, fa’afine are accepted as a source of domestic labour but, importantly, are still expected to partake in heterosexual reproduction.

In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death. The Iranian government lifted religious restrictions on so-called sex reassignment surgery and encourages homosexuals to undergo ‘corrective’ transition. Many gay Iranians ‘choose’ to undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to avoid persecution or execution for homosexuality. In this way, gay men have three choices: remain in the closet indefinitely, become straight women via forced transition, or die. All of these ‘choices’ effectively remove homosexuality from Iranian society. The Iranian state’s ‘acceptance’ of transsexualism is not progressive. It is extreme homophobia, enacted through forced sex reassignment surgery.

Closer to home, Alan Turing is a notable individual example of corrective transition. Turing was a homosexual English mathematician who famously cracked the Enigma Code, allowing British intelligence to decipher German communications during WWII. When authorities were alerted to Turing’s homosexuality, he was offered the choice of two years imprisonment or two years of chemical castration through hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Knowing that his Enigma machine had the potential to end the war much earlier and save millions of lives, he opted for hormone replacement therapy and freedom to continue his work on the project. In polite British society where homosexuality was considered a perversion, corrective transition through HRT was used to maintain heterosexual social order.

In 1862 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a homosexual German thinker and writer, outlined a theory of a ‘third sex’ to categorise homosexual men as anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa — meaning ‘a female psyche confined in a male body’. Interestingly, what was once used to medicalise and ‘excuse’ homosexuality is now used as part of a celebratory gender identity narrative. In 1918, Earl Lind (also known as Ralph Werther and Jennie June) published The Autobiography of an Androgyne, a memoir about coming to identify as a ‘third sex’. The book, describes the author’s life, his sexual encounters with both men and women, and his decision to undergo castration. Both Ulrichs and Lind’s work demonstrates internalised homophobia and a strong desire to explain, excuse or apologise for their homosexuality.

One of the few third gender categories which apply to women is the burrnesha (meaning he-she) of Albania. These women take oaths of celibacy and live as men in order to gain certain rights and privileges reserved exclusively for men. For example, after the death of a head of household and in the absence of male heirs, a woman could become a burrnesha to secure her family’s property and honour. The existence of this third gender category is testament to the lack of legal and societal sex equality — women must use the burrnesha loophole and forgo sexual activity/reproduction in order to claim basic property rights. Rather than a progressive acceptance of gender nonconformity, this third gender category is demonstrative of age-old patriarchal dominance.

Readers will note that the vast majority of these third sex categories apply to effeminate or gay males but not to masculine or lesbian women. Though all homosexuality is obstructive to the population-expanding aims of capitalism, female homosexuality is more objectionable due to the higher reproductive value of female sexual organs. Whilst male testes perform the equivalent role of female ovaries (both produce and release the sex cell of their respective sex — sperm cells in males; egg cells in females), the female uterus is uniquely invaluable in its ability to gestate fertilised egg cells. For this reason, lesbianism is considered to ‘deprive’ heterosexual society of a valuable womb and so historically lesbianism has hardly been acknowledged, let alone accepted or accommodated. Whilst third gender categories have historically been created to accommodate gay men, no such categories have been created which would allow lesbians to exist outside of heterosexual society — thus forcing lesbians into unhappy heterosexual relationships to ensure that no womb is ‘wasted’.

Every variation of socially-constructed gender throughout history (including masculinity and femininity) has existed to enforce the nuclear reproductive family and to ‘other’ those who do not conform to or partake in it – particularly homosexuals. The root of all incarnations of gender is deeply misogynistic and homophobic and is intrinsically tied to sexual reproduction. Societies have consistently created separate social categories and stereotypes for men, women and homosexuals in order to maintain continued sexual reproduction which, in turn, maintains the size of the productive population.

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