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Third gender is a concept in which individuals are categorized, either by themselves or by society, as neither a man or woman. It is also a social category present in societies that recognize three or more genders. The term third is usually understood to mean "other", though some anthropologists and sociologists have described fourth and fifth genders.
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The state of personally identifying as, or being identified by society as, a man, a woman, or other is usually also defined by the individual's gender identity and gender role in the particular culture in which they live.
Most cultures use a gender binary, having two genders (boys/men and girls/women). In cultures with a third or fourth gender, these genders may represent very different things. To Native Hawaiians and Tahitians, Māhū is an intermediate state between man and woman known as "gender liminality". Some traditional Diné Native Americans of the Southwestern United States, acknowledge a spectrum of four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, and masculine man. The term "third gender" has also been used to describe the hijras of South Asia who have gained legal identity, fa'afafine of Polynesia, and Balkan sworn virgins. A culture recognizing a third gender does not in itself mean that they were valued by that culture, and often is the result of explicit devaluation of women in that culture.
While found in a number of non-Western cultures, concepts of "third", "fourth", and "fifth" gender roles are still somewhat new to mainstream Western culture and conceptual thought. The concept is most likely to be embraced in the modern LGBT or queer subcultures. While mainstream Western scholars—notably anthropologists who have tried to write about the South Asian hijras or the Native American "gender variant" and two-spirit people—have often sought to understand the term "third gender" solely in the language of the modern LGBT community, other scholars—especially Indigenous scholars—stress that mainstream scholars' lack of cultural understanding and context has led to widespread misrepresentation of the people these scholars place in the third gender category, as well as misrepresentations of the cultures in question, including whether or not this concept actually applies to these cultures at all.
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