Digital Transgender Archive
Primary author: Noor Mehta
Contributors: Rhiannon Callahan, Rachel Greenberg, Kaitlin Kerr, Miranda Melson, K.J. Rawson, Cailin Roles, Eamon Schlotterback, and Cecilia Wolfe
The following list of global terms offers an introductory overview of gender-nonconforming practices in a wide range of geographic and cultural contexts. All terms are presented in the following format, as information is available:
Term (Language)––Country/Additional Country (when applicable)
An important disclaimer to note is that these terms are complex and culturally dependent and most entries do not fully capture the nuances of particular gender practices. Many terms listed have ambiguous or multiple definitions, intersect with other terms, and can depend on a variety of factors such as personal interpretation, cultural background, and location. Some terms are tied to specific regions or cultures, but they may extend across national borders and may not be limited to the countries listed. A single term may also exist in multiple dialects and languages, or may bear different meanings within a single language.
The list below is intended to aid the reader in understanding potentially unfamiliar terms as well as to articulate their meaning with respect to their cultures of origins. Because of all of the complexities that exist in researching these terms, we recommend that this list be used as a point of departure for additional research. All of the sources used in compiling this list are cited on the bottom of this page and further reading in and beyond these sources is highly encouraged. This page is a work in progress, containing potentially offensive, incomplete, or incorrect representations of the practices and identities described. We welcome feedback and suggestions!
“Though the term transgender is often used as a broad and universalizing identity category, the term’s Western origin and logic prevent it from accurately representing the gender diversity that exists around the world” (Dutta and Roy 334). Thus, to address and prevent problematic deployments of transgender, Aniruddha Dutta and Raina Roy suggest that “rather than use transgender as an umbrella term encompassing all possible gender variant identities, it is perhaps better deployed as an analytic rubric for variant and liminal gendered positions” (334). In this spirit, the DTA employs the term transgender as an “analytic rubric,” rather than an identity label, to aggregate related materials while simultaneously recognizing that the term is often imprecise with respect to time, place, and specific identities. Yet, our collections still favor Western perspectives due to our position as researchers in the United States.
The impacts of colonialism on conceptions of sex, gender, and sexuality in the 21st century United States are incalculable. Virtually all archives and historical projects participate in colonial knowledge practices insofar as they determine which knowledges are valuable, which are to be preserved, and which are to be lost. By attempting to account for non-Western cultural beliefs about gender, we unfortunately continue reinforcing and extending Western gender norms because they serve as the basis for this research. It is our hope that this gesture of inclusion of non-Western gender practices and identities disrupts colonial archival logics, including ours, and support possibilities for understanding these gender practices on their own terms.
When conducting this type of transnational research, it is especially important to acknowledge the impact of colonialism on the physical borders of nations. In many instances, these borders are constructed arbitrarily—they are often not indicative of the peoples and cultures who reside within them. Because of this, the following terms have been organized based on region rather than country. The regions are also chosen in a way that aims to resist Western-centrism; for example, the section on North America focuses on Indigenous peoples. It is also important to highlight the discrepancies of available information for certain regions, such as the abundance of information related to South and Southeast Asia as opposed to little to no information for other regions, including Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and South America. These gaps reveal much larger issues regarding a lack of access to postcolonial research in non-Western parts of the world.
Again, we welcome your feedback and suggestions!
Ashtime is a term used in Maale culture that describes an individual who is assigned male at birth who presents more traditionally feminine, performs more traditionally feminine tasks in society, cares for their own houses, and may have had sexual relations with men (Rossier and Corker).
“The term mashoga (plural; shoga is singular) is a culturally recognized, yet socially ‘stigmatized identity for male-assigned individuals who are reputed to be passive homosexuals, who wear women's clothing or select articles of women's clothing at particular social and ritual events” (Goltz et al).
Central America and South America
In pre-colonial Andean culture, the Incas worshiped the chuqui chinchay, a dual-gendered god. Third-gender ritual attendants or shamans performed sacred rituals to honor this god. The quariwarmi shamans wore androgynous clothing as “a visible sign of a third space that negotiated between the masculine and the feminine, the present and the past, the living and the dead” (Cottet and Picq).
Tida Wena (Warao)—Venezuela
A two-spirit identity among the Warao people, an indigenous Venezuelan culture. Translated to “twisted women,” the term describes individuals who are neither men nor women. They are thought to possess two spirits and often assume the role of shaman (Dickey and Puckett).
“Travestis, a term that has survived into contemporary times and is used in Latin America to describe those who cross genders, cross-sex and cross-dress, came from one of these suppressed identities. The very concept of travesti (literally, ‘cross-dressing’) was born out of the colonisers’ fixation with gender binaries including the imperative to dress according to one’s place within a rigid gender dichotomy, in which there were two clearly defined sexes and two genders premised on these sexes” (Campuzano).
The term x-jenda gained popularity in Japan in the 1990’s referring to individuals who feel they do not fit within the categories of man or woman. It includes individuals assigned intersex, female, or male, and is often abbreviated using FTX, MTX, or XTX to describe individuals’ transitions. Some definitions equate the term to genderqueer or beyond the binary identities (Ryan).
Balkan sworn virgins are individuals who take a vow of chastity and live as men in patriarchal northern Albanian society, Kosovo, and Montenegro. They were most prominent during the 15th to 20th centuries, and currently it is believed that there are less than 50 left (Luboteni).
Femminielli or femmenielli are a population of people who embody a traditional third gender role in Neapolitan culture. While historically the term did not carry much stigma, in some instances today it can be used in a derogatory way to refer to homosexual men (Rees).
Indigenous Peoples of North America
Alyha/Hwame (Mohave)––United States
The Mohave people of the southwestern United States have two non-cis genders, alyha and hwame. Alyha are male-assigned people who dress and behave like women. Hwame are female-assigned people who dress and behave like men (Nanda).
Among the Zapotec in Teotitlán del Valle there is a third gender category called biza’ah which is similar to the Oaxacan muxe, yet less common and distinct to the area. The Biza’ah are male-assigned persons known for their unique manners of speech, movement, and work. The Biza’ah sometimes engage in the stereotypically feminine activities of their community such as the making of ceremonial candles (Stephen).
Lhamana (Zuni)—United States
Lhamana, in traditional Zuni culture, are male-assigned people who take on the social and ceremonial roles usually performed by women in their culture, at least some of the time. They wear a mixture of women's and men's clothing and much of their work is in the areas usually occupied by Zuni women (Joseph).
Māhū (Hawaiian)—United States
Māhū in Native Hawaiian cultures are third gender people with traditional spiritual and social roles within the culture. Historically māhū were assigned male at birth, but in modern usage māhū can refer to a variety of genders and sexual orientations (Kleiber). Connected to māhū in Tahitian culture.
The term muxe originates from an archaic spelling of mujer, which is Spanish for “woman” and is particular to Zapotec male-assigned people (Chisholm).
Nadleeh (Navajo)—United States
Nadleeh are highly respected spiritual beings, said to be able to embody both masculine and feminine spirits. This term is comparable to two-spirit, however, not synonymous as two-spirit cannot be used as a monolith (Keovorabouth).
Ninauposkitzipxpe (Blackfoot)—United States and Canada
A gender identity in the North Peigan tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy where female-assigned individuals are considered “manly hearted” due to their possession of bold and aggressive masculine characteristics (Ryan).
Winkte (Lakota)—United States
“The definition of winkte is a male-assigned person who is non-masculine and does not fulfill the standard male role, sometimes referred to in anthropological and historical documents as two-spirit. They are better described as androgynous than effeminate and holds a social position that is clearly defined and recognized” (LeDuigou).
The Middle East
Mukhannathun (Arabic)—Saudi Arabia
This term describes an identifiable group of male-assigned individuals who adopted various aspects of feminine behavior and dress such as the henna in early Arabian society, especially Medina. It is theorized from multiple early Arabic texts that the Mukhannathūn had access to women’s quarters and would sometimes act as a matchmaker in their communities. Some historical accounts suggest that the mukhannathun were often professional musicians who donned women’s fashions and were revered for their wit, charm, and talent (Sarcheshmehpour, Abdullah, and Alkali).
“The Arabic word xanith carries the sense of effeminate, impotent, soft. Xanith (sometimes also transcribed from the Arabic as khanith or khaneeth) is the name for effeminate men who act the passive part in homosexual relationships in the northeastern coastal region of Oman. They are socially classified with women with respect to the strict rules of segregation and speak of themselves as ‘women.’ Many are sex workers. The character of xanith is most clearly shown in counterpoint to male and female roles” (Wikan).
Fa'afafine (Samoan)—Samoan Islands/New Zealand
Fa’afafine are people who identify themselves as having a third gender or non-binary role in Samoa, American Samoa, and the Samoan diaspora. A recognized gender identity/gender role in traditional Samoan society, and an integral part of Samoan culture, Fa’afafine are assigned male at birth, and explicitly embody both masculine and feminine gender traits in a way unique to Polynesia (Thompson).
A Fakaleitī is a Tongan individual assigned male at birth who has a feminine gender expression (Besnier).
In Tahiti, māhū are considered a third or “liminal” gender, assigned male but recognized by peers as distinct, often from early in their lives. Their gender identity has been accepted on the island since time immemorial, and māhū traditionally play key social and spiritual roles, as guardians of cultural rituals and dances, or providers of care for children and elders (Zanghellini). Connected to māhū in Hawaiian culture.
Whakawahine (Māori)—New Zealand
Māori individuals who are assigned male at birth, but take on a more traditionally feminine role within society (Hamley et al).
In Aboriginal culture in Australia, “sistergirl” refers to a male-assigned individual who presents more traditionally feminine. “Brotherboy” refers to a female-assigned individual who presents more traditionally masculine. However, the Aboriginal people have stated that these terms are not synonymous with “transgender” as they do not completely align with Eurocentric gender roles (Kerry).
A subset of the hijra tradition are the Aravanis, who are assigned male but adopt female gender roles early in development. They take their name from the mythical deity Aravan (Mahalingam).
A lesser known term in standard Bengali used self-descriptively by some feminine male-assigned persons. (Dutta).
In the Indian subcontinent, Hijra are eunuchs, intersex people, or transgender people. Hijras are officially recognized as a third gender in the Indian subcontinent, being considered neither completely male nor female (Hinchy).
“Often (somewhat misleadingly) called eunuchs in English, they may be born intersex or apparently male, dress in feminine clothes and generally see themselves as neither men nor women” (Rada).
Khawaja Sira (Hindustani)—India/Pakistan
A term with multiple explanations, khawaja sira may describe eunuchs in Southeast Asia, and may also refer to third gender or hijra individuals. It appears to most commonly refer to feminine-identified male-assigned people. Sometimes the Punjabi term “Khusra” is also used (Nisar).
“[O]ne of several South Asian terms for feminine male-assigned persons who may or not present or identify as (trans) women; while Kothi do not form separate clans like Hijras.” Kodi Kothis are individuals who present androgynously or slightly more masculine through their clothing. Bhelki, Bheli, and Bhorokti Kothis refer to individuals who wear more feminine attire (Dutta and Roy).
A third gender in Nepal, they are usually assigned male at birth and present femininely (Thapa).
Synonymous with Hijra— officially recognized as a third gender, being considered neither completely male nor female (Chakrapani et al).
A term often mistakenly conflated with the term transsexual, and used to describe an individual who desires to present differently than the gender they were assigned at birth. This term can refer to male-assigned individuals who present more traditionally feminine, female-assigned individuals who present masculine, or any individual who presents androgynously (Dutta and Roy).
Male-assigned individuals in Myanmar who adopt feminine gender roles and expression (Coleman, Colgan, and Gooren).
Bakla (Tagalog)—The Philippines
Bakla refers to a person who was assigned male at birth and has adopted a feminine gender expression. They are often considered a third gender (Tan).
In contrast to the gender binary, Bugis society recognizes five genders: Makkunrai, Oroané, Bissu, Calabai, and Calalai. Oroané are comparable to cisgender men, Makkunrai to cisgender women, Calalai to transgender men, and Calabai to transgender women, while Bissu are androgynous or intersex and revered shamans or community priests (Triadnyani).
Kathoey is not a well-defined, homogeneous category of gender or sexual identity. As a rule, today it denotes male-assigned people with feminine characteristics or female gender identity who desire masculine men. The degree of feminine appearance or self-identification as a woman ranges from the (sometimes only temporary) showing of feminine behavior, clothing or attributes to complete identification as a woman or as a woman of the second kind (Käng).
Mak Nyah (Malaysian)—Malaysia
A term used to describe transgender women in Malaysia. The term derives from mak (mother) and was coined around 1987 by male-to-female transgender women in an effort to differentiate themselves from gay men, crossdressers, drag queens, and other sexual minorities. This relatively new identity label also attempts to reclaim trans identity in a positive way in a society that often deploys the derogatory names bapok, darai, pondan, and bantut (‘men who are effeminate’) against Mak Nyah (Slamah).
Waria is a term used in Indonesia for individuals who were assigned male at birth, but present femininely (Murtagh).
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Campuzano, Giuseppe. “Reclaiming Travesti Histories.” IDS Bulletin, vol. 37, no. 5, 2006, pp. 34–39. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1759-5436.2006.tb00299.x.
Chakrapani, Venkatesan, et al. “Affirming and Negotiating Gender in Family and Social Spaces: Stigma, Mental Health and Resilience among Transmasculine People in India.” Culture, Health & Sexuality, 13 Apr. 2021, pp. 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2021.1901991. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.
Chisholm, Jennifer. “Muxe, Two-Spirits, and the Myth of Indigenous Transgender Acceptance.” International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, 10 Aug. 2018, pp. 21–35. https://doi.org/10.5204/ijcis.v11i1.558/.
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Cornwall, Andrea, et al. Sexuality Matters. Institute of Developmental Studies, 2006.
Cottet, Caroline, and Manuela Lavinas Picq. Sexuality and Translation in World Politics. E-International Relations, 2019.
Dickey, Lore M, and Jae A. Puckett. Affirmative Counseling for Transgender and Gender Diverse Clients. Hogrefe, 2022.
Dutta, Aniruddha. “Legible Identities and Legitimate Citizens.” International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 15, no. 4, Dec. 2013, pp. 494–514. https://doi.org/10.1080/14616742.2013.818279. Accessed 10 July 2020.
Dutta, Aniruddha, and Raina Roy. “Decolonizing Transgender in India: Some Reflections.” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 3, 2014, pp. 320–337. https://doi.org/10.1215/23289252-2685615.
Goltz, Dustin Bradley, et al. “Discursive Negotiations of Kenyan LGBTI Identities: Cautions in Cultural Humility.” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, vol. 9, no. 2, 7 Mar. 2016, pp. 104–121. https://doi.org/10.1080/17513057.2016.1154182. Accessed 28 Oct. 2021.
Hamley, Logan, et al. “‘You’re the One That Was on Uncle’s Wall!’: Identity, Whanaungatanga and Connection for Takatāpui (LGBTQ+ Māori).” Genealogy, vol. 5, no. 2, 1 June 2021, p. 54. https://www.mdpi.com/2313-5778/5/2/54#cite,10.3390/genealogy5020054. Accessed 7 Aug. 2021.
Hinchy, Jessica. Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonia India: The Hijra, C.1850-1900. S.L., Cambridge University Press, 2020.
Hossain, Adnan. “The Paradox of Recognition: Hijra, Third Gender and Sexual Rights in Bangladesh.” Culture, Health & Sexuality, vol. 19, no. 12, 12 May 2017, pp. 1418–1431. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2017.1317831.
Joseph, Brian. Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country. University Of Nebraska Press, 2006.
Käng, Dredge Byung’chu. “Kathoey ‘in Trend’: Emergent Genderscapes, National Anxieties and the Re-Signification of Male-Bodied Effeminacy in Thailand.” Asian Studies Review, vol. 36, no. 4, Dec. 2012, pp. 475–494. https://doi.org/10.1080/10357823.2012.741043.
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Kerry, Stephen Craig. “Sistergirls/Brotherboys: The Status of Indigenous Transgender Australians.” International Journal of Transgenderism, vol. 15, no. 3–4, pp. 173–186. https://doi.org/10.1080/15532739.2014.995262.
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Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 2014.
Nisar, Muhammad Azfar. “(Un)Becoming a Man: Legal Consciousness of the Third Gender Category in Pakistan.” Gender & Society, vol. 32, no. 1, 2017, pp. 59–81. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0891243217740097.
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Rossier, Clémentine, and Jamaica Corker. “Contemporary Use of Traditional Contraception in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Population and Development Review, vol. 43, 2017, pp. 192–215. https://doi.org/10.1111%2Fpadr.12008.
Ryan, J. Michael. Trans Lives in a Globalizing World: Rights, Identities, and Politics. Routledge, 2020.
Sarcheshmehpour, Zahra, Abdullah, Raihanah, and Muhammad Bashir Alkali. “Gender Change of Transsexuals in Shariah: An Analysis.” Journal of Shariah Law Research, vol. 3, no. 1, 1 Jan. 2018, pp. 139–156. http://doi.org/10.22452/JSLR.vol3no1.7. Accessed 1 Dec. 2020.
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Zanghellini, Aleardo. “Queer Kinship Practices in Non-Western Contexts: French Polynesia’s Gender-Variant Parents and the Law of La République.” Journal of Law and Society, vol. 37, no. 4, 2010, pp. 651–677. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6478.2010.00525.x. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.