LGBTQIA+ History Gender Inequality

The history of non-binary genders is longer than you know

When Joan of Arc dressed for church, they wore men’s clothing.

When they took the sacraments, they had their hair short and wore pants.

When they fought for their God, they wore armor.

Many people resistant to cultural change will blame the newness of the terms used to define it. The newness of a label is often used to allude to the idea that it is an invention – something that is not true, but rather made up. This is the criticism that many people are applying to non-binary genders.

However, something that has been around since the 15th century cannot be rejected by society’s supposed perception of its “newness.”

As people assigned female or male at birth celebrate their androgyny, the patriarchy is fighting back, declaring gender identity a new construct that is fabricated by those who strive for a difference. It’s important to acknowledge that the newness of the term “non-binary” is not an indictment on its existence, but rather a celebration of its acknowledgment. 

Many people resistant to cultural change will blame the newness of the terms used to define it.

History is no stranger to the tales of people who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) who dress in men’s clothing to adopt more powerful positions in society.

For many people, the Disney adaptation of the myth of Hua Mulan might be the first time they consider nonbinary identities. While the term “non-binary” is never used in the family-friendly flick, in the title song, “Reflection,” Mulan proclaims, “I will never pass for a perfect bride or a perfect daughter…That if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart.”

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A 20-year-old movie certainly doesn’t indicate the newness of betraying gender roles, nor does the 1700-year-old source material.

Even earlier, in 1400 B.C.E., Hatshepsut ruled as Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. Often regarded as one of the few female pharaohs to take the throne, the statues that survive her celebrate the strength of her rule.

She is depicted in a few different ways, from a woman wearing men’s clothing to a feminine face upon a man’s body. Hatshepsut defied the strict gender roles of ancient Egypt, and the statues that still stand are evidence of their defiance.

These examples are anecdotal, and often follow a common theme, of a person assigned female at birth (AFAB) defying the gender roles assigned to their sex to achieve something greater. However, even these examples hardly hold a candle to the rich history outlining people of a third gender.

History is no stranger to tales of people who are assigned female at birth dressing in men’s clothing to adopt more powerful positions in society.

This third gender, sometimes defined as neither a man nor a woman, is present in several ancient cultures, including Mesopotamia, the progenitor of written history.

During that time, people of the third gender, or Hijra, were in service to the gods they celebrated. In various cultures throughout history, from Hijra priests to eunuchs and virgins in the temple of Artemis, holiness has transcended gender.

It’s easy for detractors to rebut this by pretending that nothing of the sort took place in our current understanding of Western society. The notion of a third gender or “Mahu” is part of Polynesian culture. It can mean a gender between male and female, or gender fluid. In Hawaii and Tahiti, the Mahu people were highly respected in the indigenous culture as keepers of oral traditions and historical knowledge.

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Mahu people exist not only in the past but are an important part of queer culture in Hawaii today. 

The Navajo are a Native American people of the Southwestern United States. The Navajo people have a gender category called Nadleeh, which can refer to transgender people who have transitioned in one direction along the gender binary (having been assigned male at birth, and now identifying as female, or assigned female at birth and now identifying as male), gender-fluid people, and, of course, those whose gender presentation falls “outside” of the gender identity norms imposed by society at a large. The Nadleehi have a spiritual function and are inherently respected as tribal members within the Navajo culture. 

This stark difference in acceptance and perception was noted by Anglo-Saxon American anthropologists as early as the 1920s. In fact, Author William Willard Hill was surprised that Navajo society considered a transgender person “very fortunate,” unlike his understanding of Western culture, for which gender fluidity caused anxiety in mainstream society.

Gender has been used as an oppressive instrument for centuries.

It’s been used to highlight the difference between people, rather than highlight the inherent strength in us all. Strength of character is not something that is defined by maleness or femaleness. Strength is an attribute of the human condition to thrive when tested and fight for what we believe in.

The history of defying gender roles is as ancient as humanity itself.

That human condition is what drives people to discover what gender means to them. They are able to transcend the baggage of strict gender roles to achieve greatness.

The history of defying gender roles is as ancient as humanity itself, which leads one to question why people are so threatened by the nonbinary identification overall.

Why is it that the rich history of gender fluidity needs to be constantly torn down by censors and patriarchs of today’s “binary” culture, and rejected because of its newly-found public acceptance?

Perhaps, Joan of Arc and Hatshepsut knew something that everyone else did not.

Perhaps it’s important for us all to remember the wisdom they passed on through their life stories:

That to transcend gender is to harness the power of the gods themselves.


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LGBTQIA+ Gender Inequality

Queer people are to thank for the Met Gala’s incredible fashion

This year’s Met Gala took a huge turn from 2018’s Catholic theme. In fact, it took a dive into the fashion of a community that the church has historically marginalized – that of drag queens.

Yes, ladies and gentlethem, camp is in fact queer culture. Lena Waithe’s embroidered suit said it all, “Black drag queens invented camp.”

While Lady Gaga took the opportunity to unravel a fashion performance and Harry Styles showed off his nipples, Lena Waithe used her outfit to make an acute sociopolitical statement.

Queer people, and especially queer people of color are at the heart of many cultural trends. And yet, the media tends to forget this when celebrities pick up on queer fashion: it’s cultural appropriation at its finest.

This is especially ironic given that drag and camp began as a form of resistance.

A group of black drag queens, trans women and queer folk in the early 90s posing dramatically
[Image Description: A group of black drag queens, trans women and queer folk in the early 90s posing dramatically.] Via Paris is Burning
The iconic queer film, Paris is Burning, documents drag queen culture as a safe haven for LGBTQ youth during the late 20th century. Many gay and genderqueer people who would otherwise be homeless relied on drag ball culture and competitions for income and housing.

Just one decade before Paris is Burning is set, New York police heavily enforced anti-crossdressing laws. These laws were actively used to persecute the LGBTQ community, as wearing more than three pieces of the opposite gender’s clothing could lead to arrest.

It took revolutionary and often violent acts, such as the Stonewall Riots of 1969, to get to the point where drag queens weren’t criminalized for simply putting on a dress.

Fast forward to 2019, and one of the most lauded fashion events in the western hemisphere proposes camp as a theme. The subtitle of this year’s gala, “Notes on Fashion”, is an allusion to a Susan Sontag essay, “Notes on Camp”, originally titled “Notes on Homosexuality.”

Queerness and camp cannot be untied.

In queer spaces, camp has historically been used to denounce gender roles by taking gender stereotypes and exaggerating them. As Judith Butler would say, gender is a performance.

Camp takes this performance and holds it up to a light. It’s loud and humorous and fun, but it also forces us to ask real questions. Do glitter and lipstick make a woman? Do suits and ties make a man? Why can Harry Styles show his nipples when women still struggle to breastfeed in public?

Camp is a sociopolitical tool, one that is undeniably rooted in queer history. As we applaud celebrities for genderbending, we need to remember that some people don’t have that privilege.

Don’t get me wrong, we are blessed to live in a time where gendered fashion is contested in the mainstream. I’ll always be here for women wearing suits and men wearing gowns, and genderqueer folks (or anyone, really) wearing whatever the hell they want.

But we have to take care to always center queer people, their history and their sacrifices. After all, fashion is political.