and Third-sex Socialisation
from the French
by Curtis Hinkle
Founder of the Organisation Internationale des Intersexué-e-s
The Binary Myth
In the West, the social organisation of sex is characterised by the
existence of two socially accepted sexes, which are felt to be mandated
by the establishment of an essentialist view of sex as a biological
phenomenon, and further requiring that the biological sex be equivalent
to an individual’s identity and his/her social role within the
This binary construct is a composite and overlapping of both gender
(one’s personal and social identity) and sex. This particular
system is the result of historical, socio-cultural and political intervention,
not a natural occurring phenomenon.
The gender identity (boy or girl) which is assigned to us at birth and
officially registered as part of our genealogical history subordinates
our gender identity by making our bio-sociological sex as primary for
our official identity (which assumes that male – man – masculine
are all equivalent and isomorphic and the same for female – woman
This entrenched system is not based on biology but on the transmission
of identity. As a result, a simple event which gives official status
to the individual as a person becomes more important and subordinates
all other concerns.
Gender (masculinity/femininity) is based on subordinating one’s
internal sense of self to the norms and regulations of a society which
is a binary, with an arbitrary boundary drawn between two socially accepted
sexes and equating one’s sense of self with the norms and regulations.
This naturalistic fiction which supposes gender to coincide with sex
has been heatedly contested, but we never seem to escape the narrow
confines of essentialism, which itself is a direct result of the binary
model put in place and perpetuated by heterosexual, masculinist, patriarchal
systems. Then comes the female gender, and on this basis, the West has
created transsexualism as a means of transition in order to preserve
the binary construct which is contested from all sides. Psychiatrists
will become the authorities that we call upon to regulate this situation,
considered as new and specific to the West.
This binary construct is intricately linked with an almost religious
belief that one's identity is biological based and progresses in a linear
manner upon and after birth. The transmission of gender identity at
birth (it's a boy, it's a girl) is erased within this naturalistic system.
The political, binary construct, far from being a creative construct
turns out to be a myth in which one's official status tends to homogenise
all the component parts within human society within one complete construct
which is indivisible, linear and causal. Men and women as social categories
are the result of this overwhelming historical social construct which
has never ceased changing throughout the centuries.
This construct is also reinforced by the political ideology inherent
in heteronormativity (the assumption that heterosexuality is natural)
which pervades all levels of social organisation and notably its institutions.
Above all, the family and heterosexual marriage. Heterosexuality within
this new fictionalised concept is accorded official status as the norm
and becomes the institution which defines so-called traditional society.
The implementation of "family" as part of the construct has
undergone important changes, such as "enlarged family" and
"nuclear family" and today many different reconfigurations
of the family are recognised, single-parent, three adults or more, family
with adopted children, etc.
Within these changes, there is however some evidence that the inequality
and asymmetry of the socially accepted sexes (man and woman) have deviated
from their former position with the modern emergence of homosexuality
and to a much lesser degree, bisexuality.
Rules and exceptions
The fundamental organising principle which determines the rules within
such a socio-biological binary construct totally marginalises the intersexed
and trans-identified people (transgender, transsexual and cross-dressers…).
By omitting them, the system maintains an ideological, political and
cultural homogeneity that would be impossible otherwise.
Requiring surgery and hormone treatments for intersex children and the
denial of the same for transsexed adults are a result of this exclusionary
and totalitarian binary construct.
There are only two sexes and nothing else, states P. Mercader, a psychologist.
There is no third sex, adds S. Agacinscki.
The universalism characteristic within French culture will maintain
the belief that the Western binary construct is a universal fact based
on natural law, pretending that such a male-female construct exists
everywhere in the world.
Emerging socio-political conditions
Intersex and transsexualism have the potential of opening up society
to a third sex. They are "something other" which, after being
forced into categories against their will, discriminated against and
denied official existence, have finally begun to emerge from this political
denial which gives the state ownership of their bodies by placing them
in abstract, all encompassing social categories, (a belief in naturalism,
nation, State, a natural system of "normalcy"...). Their protests
intersect and coincide with those from feminists within a broader socio-cultural
and political context.
Society and Third-sex Socialisation
I consider those who are intersexed and transsexed as separate identities.
However, it does appear that the majority of those who are intersexed
do feel part of the binary heteronormative sex/gender construct.
This has social and political consequences for trans activism because
there are not just two social sexes, but at least three.
With the advent of a social and political group which views identity
from this perspective, there are two important facts which must be taken
into consideration. Feminist criticism of the sex/gender construct and
the deconstruction of this system and the discovery of third sex socialisation
in other societies throughout the world and throughout history. A critical
examination of the erasure of intersex and transsex identities in the
West has not yet been undertaken.
In Native American civilisations, this third gender/sex category has
always existed. This model is also found elsewhere, especially in Indonesia
with the Kathoeys.
call these societies third-sex societies.
This third social sex (or social gender) is not a tertiary derivative
of two pre-existing, fundamental binary social genders (man and woman)
which simply make place for a third (for sake of tolerance). The peaceful
co-existence of these three social genders takes into account the importance
of traditions and transference of equality (based on parity) among the
three social genders. There are women, men and men-women. A model to
which one must add woman-man, which could theoretically constitute a
fourth social sex.
I call this social organisation third-sex socialisation.
In such a social system, third sex socialisation is part of the natural
fabric and forms the very basis of a rational acceptance of trans and
intersex identities which is transmitted from generation to generation,
both by kinship and social norms.
Transformation and emergence of trans identities in Western
Therefore, transsexualism is not an invention of modern medicine, nor
is it an pathology, illness or gender disorder. Nevertheless, in the
West, the emergence of trans identities as autonomous only appeared
sporadically in the Nineties. Previously, transsexualism was defined
by the subject being required to undergo a complete journey from one
social sex to the other. S/he went from one social sex to the other
within the binary construct. The subjects were required to reconfigure
their past to the gender they preferred by erasing it, which is not
an easy undertaking, in fact it is often extremely difficult and can
involve serious conflicts, even complete alienation from family and
friends and one's work environment.
Queer criticism, which originated in the US, tend to deconstruct the
naturalistic, essentialist binary model and to propose a constructionist
The existence of the transsexed and intersexed remained very problematic
however within the binary construct, especially in France. A documentary,
Transsexual Menace, by Rosa Von Prunheim which will become a critical
moment in bringing awareness to this issue.
The polarisation within the trans community and the emergence of queer
and homosexual transgenders will be required before any reassessment
and reformulation of the issue could be possible. Not only in terms
of sexual orientation but more importantly in terms of social inclusion
of all trans-identities with respect for their preference for different
re-combinations of sex and gender, including a-gender, non-gender, asexual
and asexuality. Along side a homosocial model, a third-sex model begins
to emerge and produces (or even counter-produces) a distinct social
category, with formal intervention and new standards for identification,
especially within the trans-identified community. Judith Butler's work,
Gender Trouble, laid the foundations for a more incisive criticism but
remained confined to activists and intellectuals. Each group remained
isolated within its own internal transformations and subjected to the
dominant binary system which retained an absolutist control and major,
if not unique, intervention. On the other hand, a close reading of the
works of pseudo-experts who were neither responsible nor competent,
changed course by creating groups and associations with links among
themselves. This socio-political emergence is a slow process. There
is momentum created by the formation of very small groups, working groups,
and associations which form networks via the Internet for sharing and
publishing ideas, information and more importantly. political and theoretical
texts. This has a direct consequence on the conditions and norms of
socialisation. The binary construct based on heterosexual/gendered models
came increasingly under attack and no longer appeared to be an easily
accepted global social model. We are integrated into it but are not
assimilated. Societies based on consumerism, supporting only basic needs
of existence, are disconnected with the more political aspects of society
and international scholarship, which deal with the more advanced needs
expressed in ideas and one's actual presence in society. The "scientific"
underpinnings of universalism were deconstructed by its reference and
elaboration of an ideological binary construct.
A new foundational system appeared in the Nineties. At this point, transpersons
had an intergenerational kinship with described by Pat Califia as "trans
ancestors". They consisted solely of transsexed individuals who
had been carefully limited to a certain time period and located only
in the West. In so doing, not only was the link between transsexaulism
and western pathological medical protocols maintained but more importantly,
the binary sexual construct as the fundamental and explanatory principle
of the whole phenomenon. As a result, there is an heated debate within
the transsexed community against the pathological psychiatric model
but not against the binarity implicit in such a model. However, the
very binary construct of transsexualism is fundamental basis of the
pathological psychiatric model, which in fact gives it the authority
for its very existence as such. Transsexualism is independent of all
these models because it is both a way of crossing social gender roles
and of deconstructing the politico-sexual binary model, whether it be
hetero- or homonormative.
The inclusion and visibility of a global culture necessitates the inclusion
of third-sex identities in non-western societies.
The binary social construct of sex and gender is no longer the only
model and is now considered to be a socio-political construct. From
this point on, it is seen to be nothing more than a system which has
been imposed and kept in place by intervention from socio-political
authorities within the particular Western societies in question and
is subjected to more and more incisive criticism as a result of its
excesses and internal tyranny and its denial and erasure of external
alternatives. In due course, heterosexuals started contesting the linkage
between gender (clothing for example) and sex/gender categories (man
Male and female begin to be viewed as two different social genders or
identities and not as facts of nature (natural occurring phenomena)
and/or historical, immutable characteristics.
The historical domination by males shifts to a political emphasis on
equality between the social sexes and then to an equality of gender,
sometimes within a transgender context: sex and gender not being concordant,
as opposed to cis-gender.
The transgender model in not linked to sexual orientation nor to a third-sex
socialisation. It has become a socio-political arrangement which takes
into consideration the individual's needs for growth and development,
which obviously, is not without its own problems. Resistance is very
bitter and risks marginalising individuals within discriminatory sexual
The Genesis of a more open society
As a result of these changes, critiques and transformations of the constructs
and models, many important factors emerge.
With regards to the formation of a new form or seduction linked to the
third-sex model: transsex is no longer a reintegrating and reunifying
trajectory which recomposes and reproduces the naturalistic binary construct
(male and female identities) but is potentially a separate identity
altogether which can be a constituent part of a new social order based
on transformation and equilibrium within our individual lives.
The formation of couples outside the binary social construct of sex/gender
constitutes the next phase. Transsexed men and women were assumed to
be heterosexual and to seek a partner within the confines of the heterosexual/gender
binary construct. Henceforth, couples are formed which are characterised
by their own important constituent elements, straying far from the binary
construct of sexual orientation defined by exclusive homosexuality and
There are couples consisting of, for example: a transsexed woman and
a "masculine" man born male, and intersexed person and a transsexed
person, an MtF and a lesbian (butch, feminine, drag-king...), an FtM
and a "feminine" woman born female, two transsexed individuals
(of the same or opposing genders)...
There are other queer identities and categories which appear in the
wake. An FtU and an FtO: Female to Unknown or Other in an attempt to
totally deconstruct the circular, exclusive and all encompassing binary
The emotional and psychological reconfiguration involves a re-examination
of the past, of the conditions of the transition process and of what
it consists of which necessitates an extremism of a life or death situation.
The individual disengagement from the entrenched construct is then paralleled
by the historical disengagement and the historical erasure of third-sex
socialisation throughout the world. Political autonomy along with a
rejection of erasure and assimilation and of the lies of the past which
opens up a space in which one can re-examine different forms of destructive
censorship and self-censorship.
Among other consequences, this results in a re-examination of what one
has actually lived and experienced by comparing the preferred gender
outcome with the gender assigned for rearing by the legal/medical authorities.
And thus, a re-examination and openness to new and different emotional
and psychological constructs of identity and other reconfigurations.
I refer to this double configuration of gender as intergender; not a
new way of adding male and female (binaries) but a way of totally joining
the two genders and establishing at third separate gender entirely.
By extension, a woman, a man, intersex, intergendered transsex. I categorise
effeminate or hypermasculine genders or constructs, whether their performance
be deliberate or not, as one, exclusive and superimposed gender: by
extension, an effeminate woman and an effeminate man, a hypermasculine
man or woman, an effeminate transsexed person, an effeminate intersexed
Rejecting sex categories on official documents is part of the larger
political battle which goes far beyond identity issues, which implies
a political critique of the very organisation of modern society, most
notably in its relationship of unilateral domination vis-à-vis
the rest of the world and most importantly our common environment.
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