In the earliest ages, these people were quite often thought to possess the wisdom that traditionally-gendered people did not, and were venerated for this. As civilisations transformed from matrilineal and communal societies into male-driven patriarchal societies, people set out to crush the transgender community because they were threatened by a persistent belief that those who blurred gender lines possessed some greater insight, points out Tapati, in the regular column. A Different Truths exclusive.
Across the globe, in various countries, transgenders have been understood and treated quite differently at various periods of time. In the earliest ages, these people were quite often thought to possess the wisdom that traditionally-gendered people did not, and were venerated for this. As civilisations transformed from matrilineal and communal societies into male-driven patriarchal societies, people set out to crush this community because they were threatened by a persistent belief that those who blurred gender lines possessed some greater insight.
In Europe, cross-gender priestesses served in temples of Artemis, Hecate, and Diana. Early traditions thrived longest in Greece, and the tales speak of cross-dressing by Achilles, Heracles, Athena, and Dionysus, as well as literal and metaphorical gender changes. The blind prophet Tiresias is often mentioned as a figure who had lived many years of his life in each different gender and was said to have possessed acute wisdom for it. The tale of a character, Caeneus was viewed as a “scorner and rival of the gods” and was driven into the earth by the Centaurs, is an example of Greek mythology of earlier trans-oriented legends. Cupid was a dual god of love, originally portrayed as intersex.
The Roman historian Plutarch depicts “The Great Mother” as an Intersex deity from whom the two sexes had not yet split. Trans-gendered depictions of The Great Mother and Her priestesses are seen in ancient artifacts back to the earliest civilisations in Mesopotamia, Assyria, Babylonia, and Akkad.
In 1995, archaeologist Timothy Taylor discovered evidence of transgenders in the Iron Age graves found in southern Russia.
In the Middle East, cross-gender priestesses were known to have served deities like Astarte, Dea Syria, and Ashtoreth/Ishtar. Muslim tradition differentiated between transsexuals who live as prostitutes or criminals and those in whom femininity was innate and who lived blamelessly.
In Africa, intersexed deities and spiritual beliefs in gender transformation are recorded among tribes like Akan, Bobo, Lamba, Vili-Kongo, and Zulu and many other tribes. Some of this tradition survives in West Africa, as well as Brazilian and Haitian ceremonies that derive from West African religions. In Abomey, the tribals still maintain trans-traditions, in an area renowned for Amazon-like warrior women.
In seventh Century BC, King Ashurbanipal of Assyria spent a great deal of time in women’s’ clothing, something that was later used to justify overthrowing him. In Egypt, 1503 BC, Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut ascended to the throne, the second Egyptian queen to rule. Possibly learning from the disfavour shown to her predecessor, she donned male clothing and a false beard signifying kingship and reigned until 1482 B.C. She had one daughter, Neferure, who she groomed as successor with male clothing, false beard and all.
Many early Indonesian societies had transgender figures in religious functions, including the basaja, from the island of Sulawesi (The Celebes). In ancient China, the Shihniang wore mixed-gender ceremonial clothing. In Okinawa, some shamans underwent a process of “becoming female.” In Korea, the mudang was a shaman or sorceress who was quite often a transgender.
Fanchuan was a name given to stage cross-dressing, such as male-to-female performances in Beijing opera, and female-to-male acting in Taiwanese Opera. Chui Chin, a cross-dressing Chinese revolutionary, and feminist were beheaded in 1907 for organising an uprising against the Manchu dynasty.
The Amazons, a group of warriors often in conflict with Greeks and later mythologised, seem to have been thought of as trans, and Pliny the Younger referred to them as the Androgynae “who combine the two sexes”. They carried double-edged axes which may have been symbols of intersexuality, as were those carried by the South American tribe that inspired the naming of the Amazon River.
In the Klementi tribe of Albania, if a virgin swore before twelve witnesses that she would not marry, she was then recognized as male, carried weapons, and herded flocks.
In North America, as late as 1930 (with the Klamath in the Pacific Northwest), Two-Spirit Natives are noted among tribal communities. Two-Spirit actually covers the full range of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, as well as intersex and other gender-variant people. It was often thought that Two-Spirits had two spirits inhabiting the same body and that Two-Spirit people deserved a special kind of reverence.
In South America, MTF priestesses have been found among tribals in southern Chile and Argentina and Mapuche. Some females in the Tupinamba tribe lived as men, hunted and went to war. In 1576, explorer Pedro de Magalhaes recorded this, and recalling the Greek legend of the Amazons, named the Amazon River for these Tupinamba. For the Yoruba (Brazil), the deity Shango is represented as all sexes.
Thus, the transgender people are found to be a part of human society since historical times all over the world. Rules and laws varied in different lands; they continue to be a part and parcel of modern society as well but with a stronger voice of confidence and higher freedom to fight social discrimination. Mohini and Chitrangada and Brihannala exist in different names all over the world. They exist. It is the world around them who seem to be confused how to address their issues; it’s easier to look down upon those who go off beat. With this social framework, it is a true moment of happiness to look forward when Section 377 is repealed giving much respite to these special people in India, a bold step towards their freedom from taboos.
Photos from the Internet
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Tapati Sinha is educated from schooling to Post-Graduation from Visva-Bharati University with a Doctoral degree from Nagpur University in A.I.H.C.A. She loves Indian literature, Indian and world history and continues her personal research. She picks her subjects from various spheres including historical data, daily experiences of life and varied work places. Tapati is passionate to pursue her writings, novel, poetry, short stories on multifarious topics, past and present under the pen name Anjali.