Transformations

The Chuckchee represent an instance in which some sort of gender transformation is said to occur. Generally, we can think in terms of three axes of post-childhood gender transformation. One is of a temporary sort: a person takes on different gender characteristics for a short period of time, and then returns to the initial gender stance. The most common example of this phenomenon is the practice referred to by the term couvade. Most commonly found among peoples in the Amazon basin (Gregor, 1985), the couvade is also found in Melanesia (Blackwood, 1935; Meigs, 1976). In general, during some portion, or all, of his spouse's pregnancy and childbirth, a man takes on some aspects of the woman's behavioral complex. This may range from observing the same food regulations to taking to his bed and experiencing the pains of childbirth, or observing restrictions on sexual activity. Sometimes, the couvade lasts until the child is weaned.

This particular institution has been thoroughly researched, and a variety of psychogenic or sociogenic hypotheses have been tested (Munroe, Munroe, & Whiting, 1981, pp. 611-632). Those hypotheses revolving around cultural establishment of a secure masculine identity have been most convincingly supported. The interesting aspect of that explanation here is that in societies practicing couvade, secure masculine identity is anchored by a temporary gender transformation.

Not quite as common, but hardly rare, are various forms of gender transgression. Murray (2000), Bullough (1976), and many other writers have noted that rituals of license, such as carnival or Mardi Gras, or rituals of rebellion (cf. Gluckman, 1956) often provide room for transgressing sexual and gender norms. Murray is one of several writers who see this as an acceptance of homosexuality but, as Gluckman points out, it can be just the opposite, in that the rituals permit, for a brief time, that which is generally forbidden. Regardless, a person engaging in a ritual of this sort does seem to temporarily change gender. The same can be said of female impersonators, whether in Shakespeare's plays, the film Victor Victoria, or a contemporary stage act.

A second form of gender transformation is relatively rare. In the course of an ordinary life cycle a person moves from one gender status to another. Among the Gabra in Kenya and Ethiopia, men, as they age, pass through a period in which they are said to be women (Wood, 1996, 1999). In a slightly different vein, Turnbull (1986) argues that the Mbuti in the Ituri Rainforest region of the Democratic Republic of Congo are genderless until they marry; that is, they pass through childhood without a distinct gender identity and are transformed only later.

The third form of gender transformation is a more or less permanent second transformation. Wikan (1977, 1982) indicates that those whom she calls xanith sometimes choose to become xanith and then later choose to stop being xanith. A similar phenomenon has also been reported for people in the Society Islands (Elliston, 1999). This third form is the abstract category, containing examples from every continent, of people fitting particular gender statuses unknown in the gender constructions of Western cultures. This is also the category containing instances such as shamans among the Chuckchee, who may undergo a transformation from male to female or female to male (Bogoras, 1909), as well as those being referred to when people talk of a "third gender."

In the world at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, globalization, and its concomitant spread of Western European and North American economic, political, and cultural hegemony, has led, in some areas, to adoption of new sex-gender-sexuality paradigms. Donham (1998), in his discussion of African male sexuality in the Republic of South Africa, notes the prevalence of cross-dressing and cross-role-taking behavior among those who define themselves as gay. He also notes the general perception that gay men were not seen as either women or men, but as occupying a position in between—a "third sex."

Donham is describing aspects of South African sex-gender-sexuality systems in the early 1990s. He notes that at that time "gay" was not the commonly used term. Rather, the commonly used term was stabane, literally hermaphrodite, reflecting ambiguity about the sex or gender of the person being referred to. Also important here is Donham's note that stabane only referred to the "effeminate" partner in a male same-sex relationship. The implication is that two stabane did not have relations with each other. Although Donham is silent on the point, at the most this points to stabane as truly occupying a third category, and at the least it points to a very different cultural construction of homosexuality.

Prior to 1994, much of township sexuality in South Africa was conditioned by the strictures imposed by apartheid. We tend to think of that system as being largely a "simple" matter of racial segregation, but it was more. It focused on population control and the provision of cheap industrial labor, particularly in extractive industries. The male labor force was then housed in single-sex hostels. Although stabane may have been the appropriate term, and it may have had both connotations and denotations very different from Western concepts of sexuality, the distortions produced by apartheid obscured these differences, reducing them to little more than a variant of female impersonation and a specifically subordinate sexual role. However, Donham's analysis adds one other complication of theoretical significance. Although many people in the township, especially strangers, took gay people to be some sort of biologically mixed third sex, the people themselves did not seem to do so.

This phenomenon brings up the importance of the distinction between the cultural insider's view (emic) and the external observer's view (etic). Donham's analysis presents two emic constructions of the same sociocultu-ral facts. In one, there is a sex-gender category beyond what we usually think of as the ordinary two, and in the other there is not.

The collapse of apartheid has led (or will lead) to changes in the cultural constructions of a local sex-gender-sexuality system, especially to the extent that the system of single-sex hostels disappears. Although he provides some caveats, Donham tends to see the process as a variety of "modernization" matching the "modernization"

of the sociocultural system that was apartheid. Given the artificial constraints created by apartheid, there is some justification in this approach. However, considering a bipolar homosexual-heterosexual paradigm as more modern than other paradigms tends to obscure the range of human variation. It also tends to gloss over the two discrepant views of sex-sexuality variations he describes. In a more "modern" context, similar discrepancies are reported by Kulick (1998) among travestis in Brazil.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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