History of nonbinary gender

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This article on the history of nonbinary gender should focus on events directly or indirectly concerning people with nonbinary gender identities. It should not be about LGBT history in general. However, this history will likely need to give dates for a few events about things other than nonbinary gender, such as major events that made more visibility of transgender people in general, gender variant people from early history who may or may not have been what we think of as nonbinary, and laws that concern intersex people that can also have an effect on the legal rights of nonbinary people.

Content warnings: This history may need to talk about some troubling events that could have been traumatic for some readers. Some historical quotes use language that is now seen as offensive.

Tips[edit | edit source]

Here are some tips for writing respectfully about historical gender variant people whose actual preferred names, pronouns, and gender identities might not be known.

  • Dead names. It is disrespectful to call a transgender person by their former name ("dead name") rather than the name that they chose for themself. Some consider their dead name a secret that shouldn't be put in public at all. For living transgender people in particular, this history should show only their chosen names, not their dead names. In this history, some deceased historical transgender persons may have their birth names shown in addition to their chosen names, in cases where it is not known which name they preferred, or where it is otherwise impossible to find information about that person, if one wants to research their history. This should be written in the form of "Chosen Name (née Birth Name)." If history isn't sure which name that person earnestly preferred, write it in the form of "Name, or Other Name."
  • Pronouns. It is disrespectful to call a person by pronouns other than those that they ask for. Some historical persons whose preferred pronouns aren't known should be called here by no pronouns. If this isn't possible, they pronouns.
  • Words for a person's gender, assigned and otherwise. It is disrespectful to label a person's gender otherwise than they ask for. In the case of some historical people, history has recorded how they lived, and what gender they were assigned at birth, but not how they preferred to label their gender identity. For example, it's not known whether certain historical people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) lived as men because they identified as men (were transgender men), or because it was the only way to have a career in that time and place (and were gender non-conforming cisgender women). This should be mentioned in the more respectful form of, for example, "assigned male at birth (AMAB), lived as a woman," rather than "really a man, passed as a woman." For another example, writing "a military doctor discovered Smith was AFAB" is more respectful than saying "a military doctor discovered Smith was really a woman." For people who lived before the word "transgender" was created, it may be more suitable to call them "gender variant" rather than "transgender."

Wanted events in this time-line[edit | edit source]

Please help fill out this time-line if you can add information of these kinds:

  • Events in the movement for keeping the genders of babies undisclosed.
  • Events concerning nonbinary celebrities, and historical persons who clearly stated they were neither female nor male, or both, or androgynes, etc.
  • Skim nonbinary blogs looking for past and current historical events.
  • Events that show that transgender and especially nonbinary gender identities existed long before the twentieth century.
  • Changes in the use of gendered versus gender-neutral language.


Antiquity[edit | edit source]

  • In Mesopotamian mythology, among the earliest written records of humanity, there are references to types of people who are neither male nor female. Sumerian and Akkadian tablets from the 2nd millennium BCE and 1700 BCE describe how the gods created these people, their roles in society, and words for different kinds of them. These included eunuchs, women who couldn't or weren't allowed to have children, men who live as women, intersex people, gay people, and others.[1][2][3]
  • In ancient Egypt (Middle Kingdom, 2000-1800 BCE), there were said to be three genders of humans: men, sekhet (sht), and women, in that order. Sekhet is usually translated as "eunuch," but that's probably an oversimplification of what this gender category means. It may also mean cisgender gay men, in the sense of not having children, and not necessarily someone who was castrated.[4][5][6]
  • Many cultures and ethnic groups have concepts of traditional gender-variant roles, with a history of them going back to antiquity. For example, Hijra and Two-Spirit. These gender identities and roles are often analogous to nonbinary identity, as they don't fit into the Western idea of the gender binary roles.

Eighteenth century[edit | edit source]

  • "Singular they" had already been the standard gender-neutral pronoun in English for hundreds of years. However, in 1745, prescriptive grammarians began to say that it was no longer acceptable. Their reasoning was that neutral pronouns don't exist in Latin, which was thought to be a better language, so English shouldn't use them, either. They instead began to recommend using "he" as a gender-neutral pronoun.[7] This started the dispute over the problem of acceptable gender-neutral pronouns in English, which has carried on for centuries now.
  • Jens Andersson was a nonbinary person in Norway, who married a woman in 1781. It was soon discovered that Andersson had a female body, and the marriage was annulled, while Andersson was accused of sodomy. In the trial, Andersson was asked: "Are you a man or a woman?" It was recorded that the answer was that "he thinks he may be both".[1]

Nineteenth century[edit | edit source]

  • The earliest known transsexual genital conversion surgery was performed in 1882 on a trans man named Herman Karl.[8] However, "earliest transsexual genital conversion surgery" depends on one's definition. Eunuchs have been around for all of human history, and while many eunuchs consider themselves cisgender men, many others consider themselves another gender that isn't female or male. Some sources credit the first trans male genital conversion surgery as, instead, the one performed on a trans man named Michael Dillon in the 1930s, perhaps depending on how one defines that surgery.
  • Clinical beliefs around the time of the 1890s "conflat[ed] sex, sexual orientation, and gender expression," thinking of (to use modern words for them) gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender non-conforming people as all having some kind of intersex condition. Such people were said to have "sexual inversion," and were called "inverts."[9]
  • "In 1895, a group of self-described 'androgynes' in New York organized a 'little club called the Cercle Hermaphroditos, based on their self-perceived need 'to unite for defense against the world's bitter persecution.'" This group included people who, in today's words, may have called themselves cross-dressers and transgender people.[10]

Twentieth century[edit | edit source]

In 1933, Nazis in Berlin burned works by leftists and other authors considered "un-German", including thousands of books looted from the library of Hirschfeld's Institute of Sex Research.
  • During the 1910s, German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld created the word "transvestite," which at the time meant many more kinds of transgender and even transsexual people. Hirschfeld opened the first clinic to regularly serve them.[11] Hirschfeld's Institute of Sex Research had a library of literature about LGBT people, collected from all over Europe, that couldn't be found anywhere else. This started to bring about a revolution in how society understood and accepted LGBT people, and allowing children to be gender nonconforming. Then, in 1933, the Nazis destroyed it all. This set back LGBT rights for another 40 or so years. The progress wasn't matched again until at least 1990.
  • In autobiographical writings from 1918 and 1922, Jennie June (née Earl Lind) described herself as a "fairie" and "androgyne."[12][13]

1950s[edit | edit source]

  • Although Christine Jorgensen was not one of the first trans women to get surgery, she became the center of a "media frenzy" in 1952.[14] This was how many people first heard of transsexuality and the possibility of transition.
  • During the 1950s, doctors made it common practice to try to surgically and socially erase all trace of the existence of intersex conditions, without the consent or knowledge of the intersex people in question. This practice was tied with many of the cisgender male sexologist John Money's claims about gender, which were influential to feminism, but have since been drawn into question.[15]

1970s[edit | edit source]

  • The earliest known recorded mention of the gender-neutral title Mx was in a magazine article in 1977,[16][17] and anecdotes say it was in use as far back as 1965.[18][19]
  • During the 1970s and 1980s, feminists Casey Miller and Kate Swift were significant influences on encouraging people to take up gender inclusive language, as an alternative to sexist language that excludes or dehumanizes women. Some of their books on this are Words and Women (1976) and The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing (1980). They also said to use gender neutral pronouns.[20]
  • 1975: Creation of gender-neutral pronouns ey.[21]
  • In 1979, cisgender woman Janice Raymond wrote the book Transsexual Empire, which told cisgender women to fear trans women. As a result, many feminist and women-only spaces became hostile to trans women. This dividing issue made it difficult for feminism to develop an understanding of transgender issues in general. In response, transgender studies began with an essay by trans woman Sandy Stone in 1987.[22]

1980s[edit | edit source]

  • In the 1980s, the handbook of psychiatry, the DSM-III, included "Gender Identity Disorder" to diagnose people as transsexual.[23] It frames being trans as a strictly pathological mental condition. Getting this diagnosis becomes a necessary step for many trans people to transition. Psychologists during this time believed that a legitimately trans person needed to conform very closely to the gender binary, and even needed to be heterosexual. The psychologists focused on trans women, and isolated them from one another, so they had little community. Meanwhile, trans men got less help from that system, and so they largely left it and formed their own communities.[24]
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, Michael Spivak used a set of gender-neutral "E, Emself" pronouns in his math books. These pronouns soon became known as "spivak pronouns" when they were built into a place where people talked together on the Internet.[25]

1990s[edit | edit source]

  • In 1990, the Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference chooses Two-Spirit as a better English umbrella term for some gender identities unique to Native American cultures.[26]
  • The movement for intersex visibility and rights began in 1993.[27]
  • In 1995, a transsexual man named Carl Buijs creates the word "cisgender," meaning a non-transgender person.[28]
  • In 1995, a neutrois person named H. A. Burnham creates the word "neutrois," a name for a nonbinary gender identity.[29]
  • In 1995, the earliest known use of the word genderqueer.
  • In the late 1990s, people in Japan who identified as neither male nor female began calling themselves X-gender.

Twenty-first century[edit | edit source]

A Pakistani hijra at a protest between two hijra groups from Islamabad and Rawalpindi. 2008.
Asia's first gender queer pride parade in Madurai, 2012.
Two-spirited pride marchers at San Francisco Pride 2014.

2000s[edit | edit source]

  • In 2003, Australia began to let people mark their gender as "X" on their birth certificates and passports.[30]

2010s[edit | edit source]

  • In 2013, a newer version of the handbook of psychiatry, the DSM-5, replaces the "gender identity disorder" diagnosis with "gender dysphoria," to lessen the pathologization of transgender people.[31]
  • In 2014, the social networking site Facebook began to let users to choose from 50 gender options. Meanwhile, the transgender community on the social networking site Tumblr created hundreds of nounself pronouns.
  • In 2015, Dictionary.com put in the nonbinary gender words agender, bigender, and genderfluid.[32] Meanwhile, the Oxford English Dictionary announced that it might add the title Mx.[33][34]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Murray, Stephen O., and Roscoe, Will (1997). Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature. New York: New York University Press.
  2. Nissinen, Martti (1998). Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, Translated by Kirsi Stjedna. Fortress Press (November 1998) p. 30. ISBN|0-8006-2985-X
    See also: Maul, S. M. (1992). Kurgarrû und assinnu und ihr Stand in der babylonischen Gesellschaft. Pp. 159–71 in Aussenseiter und Randgruppen. Konstanze Althistorische Vorträge und Forschungern 32. Edited by V. Haas. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag.
  3. Leick, Gwendolyn (1994). Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature. Routledge. New York.
  4. Sethe, Kurt, (1926), Die Aechtung feindlicher Fürsten, Völker und Dinge auf altägyptischen Tongefäßscherben des mittleren Reiches, in: Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, 1926, p. 61.
  5. The Third Gender in Ancient Egypt, Faris Malik. (web site)
  6. http://www.gendertree.com/Egyptian%20third%20gender.htm
  7. Maria Bustillos, "Our desperate, 250-year-long search for a gender-neutral pronoun." January 6, 2011. http://www.theawl.com/2011/01/our-desperate-250-year-long-search-for-a-gender-neutral-pronoun
  8. James Sears, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Issues in Education. p. 109. Google Books link
  9. "What's the history behind the intersex rights movement?" Intersex Society of North America. http://www.isna.org/faq/history
  10. Susan Stryker, "Why the T in LGBT is here to stay." Salon. October 11, 2007. http://www.salon.com/2007/10/11/transgender_2/
  11. Trans Health editors, “Timeline of gender identity research.” 2002-04-23. http://www.trans-health.com/2002/timeline-of-gender-identity-research
  12. "History of transgenderism in the United States." Wikipedia. Retrieved November 29, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_transgenderism_in_the_United_States
  13. "Earl Lind." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Lind
  14. Trans Health editors, “Timeline of gender identity research.” 2002-04-23. http://www.trans-health.com/2002/timeline-of-gender-identity-research
  15. "What's the history behind the intersex rights movement?" Intersex Society of North America. http://www.isna.org/faq/history
  16. Practical Androgyny (PractiAndrogyny). May 4, 2015. https://twitter.com/PractiAndrogyny/status/595329679789260801
  17. The Single Parent, vol 20. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=IgwdAQAAMAAJ&dq=editions%3ALCCNsc83001271&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=Mx
  18. Cassian Lotte Lodge (cassolotl). "Mx has been around since the 1960s." November 26, 2014. Blog post. http://cassolotl.tumblr.com/post/103645470405
  19. octopus8. November 18, 2014. Comment on news article. http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2014/nov/17/rbs-bank-that-likes-to-say-mx#comment-43834815
  20. Elizabeth Isele, "Casey Miller and Kate Swift: Women who dared to disturb the lexicon." http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/old-WILLA/fall94/h2-isele.html
  21. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:List_of_protologisms_by_topic/third_person_singular_gender_neutral_pronouns#cite_note-1
  22. "History of transgenderism in the United States." Wikipedia. Retrieved November 29, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_transgenderism_in_the_United_States
  23. Trans Health editors, “Timeline of gender identity research.” 2002-04-23. http://www.trans-health.com/2002/timeline-of-gender-identity-research
  24. fakecisgirl, "The Misery Pimps: The People Who Impede Trans Liberation." October 7, 2013. Fake Cis Girl (personal blog). https://fakecisgirl.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/the-misery-pimps-the-people-who-impede-trans-liberation/
  25. "Gender-neutral pronoun FAQ." https://web.archive.org/web/20120229202924/http://aetherlumina.com/gnp/listing.html
  26. "Two-Spirit." Wikipedia. Retrieved November 29, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-Spirit
  27. "What's the history behind the intersex rights movement?" Intersex Society of North America. http://www.isna.org/faq/history
  28. Julia Serano, "Whipping Girl FAQ on cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege." 2009-05-14. http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2011/08/whipping-girl-faq-on-cissexual.html
  29. Axey, Qwill, Rave, and Luscious Daniel, eds. “FAQ.” Neutrois Outpost. Last updated 2000-11-23. Retrieved 2001-03-07. http://web.archive.org/web/20010307115554/http://www.neutrois.com/faq.htm
  30. "Genderqueer - Australia." Wikipedia. Retrieved November 29, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genderqueer#Australia
  31. "History of transgenderism in the United States." Wikipedia. Retrieved November 29, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_transgenderism_in_the_United_States
  32. "New words added to Dictionary.com." May 6, 2015. Dictionary.com. http://blog.dictionary.com/2015-new-words/
  33. Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, "Gender neutral honorific Mx 'to be included' in the Oxford English Dictionary alongside Mr, Ms and Mrs and Miss." May 3, 2015. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/gender-neutral-honorific-mx-to-be-included-in-the-oxford-english-dictionary-alongside-mr-ms-and-mrs-and-miss-10222287.html
  34. Mary Papenfuss, "Oxford Dictionary may include gender-neutral honorific 'Mx'." May 5, 2015. International Business Times. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/oxford-dictionary-may-include-gender-neutral-honorific-mx-1499626

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