Third gender by Maz Michael

I am writing this after just reading that Nepal has joined a handful of other countries (Australia and New Zealand) in offering, on their passports, a third category of gender, i.e. not male or female but ‘other’. The notion that gender can be experienced beyond binary restrictions is not new; it is fairly well documented that other countries/cultures have recognised gender as beyond an either/or experience, the Native American idea of the third gender is but one example. There is a growing understanding within psychology and psychotherapy that gender is by some people experienced as a process rather than as fixed identity. The problem is that ‘genderqueer’, ‘gender fluid’ ‘trans*’ or ‘non-binary’ identified people are largely invisible, or pathologised, within mainstream society for the very reason that mainstream society is structured in gender binary terms and so has no reference for a more complex gender definition. Indeed, a common misunderstanding is that trans* only refers to a male bodied born person seeking to transition to female or a female bodied born person seeking to transition to male. In reality someone who is trans*identified may not be interested in moving from ‘one gender to another’ and may situate themselves outside of this model completely. There is much work to be done in making people more aware of the complexities of gender experience so that this can filter down into legislation. A recent article (Fernandez, Leacock & Hilton) indicated that as many as 65% of non-binary identified people are not protected under the Equality Act 2010 because they do not fit the government definition of transgender and because they are not seeking gender reassignment surgery. I work with many clients from the LGBT*QI population where gender identity is frequently part of the client’s narrative (historically, queer people frequently transgress gender norms whether they are trans* identified or not). I work from the premise that a client’s gender experience is internally defined and that non binary gender identity is as valid as a binary one. I feel that my core training in Person Centre/Existential therapy, with its prizing of individual experience and its non-interpretive stance, is a particularly useful one when working with people whose gender experience falls outside of the mainstream.

Maz Michael

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