re: 3rd gender
Ok, I'll give an opinion, but it's just that; one person's view of the gender binary. Your milage my vary, see dealer for details, void where prohibited by law.
Most folks in a lot of countries believe in a fairly strict gender binary, boys and girls, men and women. If someone alters their gender presentation, folks tend to be more comfortable if they just move right from the pink box to the blue box or vice versa without mucking around too much in the middle.
This is not true across all cultures, however. For instance, on the North American continent most indigenous native tribes had (or in some cases still have) a "Two Spirit"
tradition. These dual natured people would be trained to do both men's and women's chores, dressed in the gender opposite of their birth, and could marry. Two spirits were considered special because they were able to understand both genders, and often had prominent positions within the tribe.
In India, there is a group known as Hijra
, which is also a 3rd gender although they have a very weird social status. I don't know if it still exists, but in Oman there was also a variation of 3rd gender people called Xanith
. And as has been pointed out, the ladyboys of Thailand are considered more third gender than female. There are actually a fair number of cultures that do accept more than two genders.
When transsexualism was first introduced by the medical community in the US, it was strictly in the context of people who needed to live in the gender opposite of their birth. In fact, if you wanted to transition, you had to prove to your therapist that you were going to fit nicely and neatly into the new pink or blue box. If you were at all gender variant or not heterosexual, often you could be denied hormones or surgery on that basis.
So in order to please their shrinks, transwomen would make sure that they held their pinky the right way, only go out in dresses or skirts, and talk about how they dreamed of finding the right man and maybe getting a job as a nurse or a schoolteacher. And from a practical standpoint, discrimination against transgender people was fairly pervasive, so "passing" was very important if they wanted any kind of day job, so appearing and acting stereotypically female was fairly standard.
Which, of course led to transwomen being hated by feminists and downright vilified by books like the Transexual Empire. But that's a story for another time.
The main point is that the gender binary was historically very much enforced on the transgender population. It's only in the last couple of decades that has changed, where folks can feel much more free to express feelings of not being a man and not really being a woman either.
Writers like Kate Bornstein started to deconstruct the gender binary in our culture; examine if it really works for everyone (or anyone!), tweak it, and play with it. Suppose someone just doesn't fit in the two boxes, or likes to be gender queer, or to switch back and forth at will? I happen to like Kate's writing; I don't think that I've ever been the same since I read Gender Outlaw back around the turn of the century.
There are a lot of folks now who just don't want to conform to some societal "norm" of what they are supposed to be like, and don't like the labels. I saw a bunch of that when I was in grad school during my own transition; a lot of questioning about what it means to be a man, a woman, a lesbian, bisexual, genderqueer, or something else entirely.
On the other hand, there are still very traditional transgender women who want to be stealth, fit in, maybe not even acknowledge that were ever different than any other female. They have a very strong feminine identity and might feel upset being identified as anything other than a woman.
My view is that we shouldn't let our own biases be the guide to how we identify someone; that all people have a right to self-identify as they please. If someone wants to be a form of third gender, that's their choice, and it's equally valid with identifying as a plain vanilla man or woman. Same with transgender/transexual people who only want to identify with their new gender, it's really up to them how they want to be known.
Interestingly enough, even though I'm a big fan of folks who are androgynous, genderqueer, and so forth, and would love to be some kind of outrageous Ziggy Stardust character, what really works for me is pretty much "girl next door." I guess that's just who I really am inside.
my thoughts, anyway.