Modern cultures no longer accommodate any notion of a third-gender category or nonreproductive class. Nevertheless, various conditions of male and female impotence as well as natural variations in sex, sexual orientation and gender identity have all been recognized and well studied within the bounds of contemporary science. Despite the gap in time, culture and terminology, the types listed below correspond well to their Vedic counterparts. The only types of impotence not recognized by modern science are those caused by curses or divine beings (the supernatural types).
Variations in sex and gender are not only anatomical. In fact, a majority of cases are neurological in origin and affect people who are otherwise normal in terms of their male or female anatomy. Since hormones can drastically alter a person’s physical sex in the womb there is no reason to doubt they can also alter one’s neurological sex and brain wiring. Thus, homosexual attraction and transgender identity are not simply matters of psychological preference. A left-handed person does not simply “prefer” using his left hand over his right; rather, the brain has been neurologically wired that way since birth. Similarly, modern scientific studies suggest that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are likely predetermined during early fetal development.
Bisexuality (1 in 5 persons): Significant bisexuality occurs in about fifteen to twenty percent of the population and is the most common type of gender variation—nearly one out of every five adults experience some degree of bisexual attraction. A bisexual person responds to the sex signaling of both genders and is consequently attracted to men and women alike, whether simultaneously or at different times in life. Bisexuality is likely caused when the area of the fetal brain governing sexual orientation is both masculinized and feminized. It is also somewhat more common in women. Bisexuals who marry the opposite sex and bear children comprise the majority and typically identify as heterosexual, whereas those primarily attracted to the same sex and identifying as homosexual are less common.
Homosexuality (1 in 20 persons): Homosexuality occurs in about four to five percent of the population (nearly one out of every twenty adults) and is self-evident at puberty. A complete homosexual responds only to the sex signaling of his or her same anatomical sex throughout life. Homosexual orientation is likely caused when the area of the fetal brain governing sexual orientation is feminized in boys or masculinized in girls. It is somewhat more common in men and approximately three-quarters of homosexuals also exhibit some degree of transgender behavior. Thus there are two basic types of homosexual men and women—those that are more masculine and those that are more feminine. Homosexuals can and sometimes do have children although it is typically against their nature. It should also be noted that of all third-gender types, homosexuals and transgenders stand out in terms of how they socialize together and form distinct subcultures within society. None of the other types do this to such an extent.
Transgender Identity (1 in 3,000 persons): Transgender identity occurs in approximately one out of every three thousand persons and can usually be recognized during early childhood. A complete transgender identifies only as the opposite sex and typically lives and dresses accordingly. Many undergo hormone treatments and transsexual operations. Transgender identity is likely caused when the area of the fetal brain governing gender identity is feminized in boys or masculinized in girls. It is somewhat more common in anatomical males and approximately three-quarters of transgenders also have homosexual orientation. People with transgender identity can and sometimes do have children, but only by means of their birth anatomy. All transsexuals are sterile due to the sex-change operations they have undergone.
Sexual impotence due to psychological factors has been well studied in recent years and is usually treatable. It accounts for approximately ten to twenty percent of all male impotence cases (the remaining eighty percent are physical or medical) and is addressed with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Some of the more common psychological types—found in both men and women—are caused by stress, self or interpersonal anxieties, shyness, inexperience, feelings of inadequacy, depression, drug abuse, social alienation, fears caused by trauma, guilt associated with religious orthodoxy or parental expectations, uncertainty about one’s sexual orientation, unusual fetishes and so on. Psychological conditions can and often do overlap with pre-existing physical or neurological ones.
Physical types of impotence and infertility involve men or women whose sex organs are damaged, diseased, dysfunctional or anatomically defective in some way. Although many types are curable, others are not and approximately seven percent of all married couples are never able to have children. The most common physical types are caused by reproductive disorders, organ diseases, spinal injuries, blood vessel problems, afflictions of the nervous system, tumors, surgical complications, sexually transmitted diseases and so on. They are treated in terms of the specific disorder. Congenital or inborn types typically have intersex causes and are not always apparent at birth. In fact, many are not identified until puberty or after taking fertility tests as adults.
Minor Sex Anomalies (1 in 500 persons): Approximately one in every five hundred persons is born with sex anatomy that varies from the standard male or female type. This includes conditions such as undescended testicles (one or both), minor cases of Hypospadias (misplaced pee-hole), Chordee (curvature of the penis) and Phimosis (constricted foreskin) in boys, and slightly enlarged clitorises and mild cases of Late-Onset Adrenal Hyperplasia (LAH) in girls. Roughly one in a thousand persons undergo minor surgery or medical treatment to normalize their genital appearance or functioning but otherwise go on to live ordinary lives. Many but not all of these minor anomalies have intersex causes.
Hypospadias (1 in 600 persons): Hypospadias is one of the most common types of genital anomalies in males. The pee-hole is located not at the tip of the penis but on the top or anywhere along the underside of the shaft, down to the very bottom. In more pronounced but rare conditions the hole forms a large opening extending halfway down the penis. Hypospadias occurs in approximately one out of every three hundred men but is extremely rare in women, where it occurs in only about one in 500,000. The exact cause in most cases is unclear but likely involves genetic, hormonal or even environmental factors.
Chromosomal Variations (1 in 1,000 persons): Many intersex conditions involve chromosomal variations. Klinefelter Syndrome is the most common and occurs in approximately one out of every one thousand men. Men with Klinefelter are sterile due to an extra X chromosome (XXY) in their body’s cells. Their genitals are generally smaller and the ejaculate contains no sperm. Some men experience breast development. Another chromosomal variation, known as Turner Syndrome, occurs in approximately one out of every one thousand women. Females with Turner are smaller in size and sterile due to a missing X chromosome (XO). Other variations include XYY Syndrome in boys, XXX Syndrome in girls and various mosaic chromosomal patterns that occur when a person has one type of chromosomes in some cells and a different type in others. These rare variations all produce different kinds of intersex effects.
Vaginal Agenesis or Mullerian Syndrome (1 in 6,000 persons): In this condition, the female organs do not finish their development in the womb for reasons yet unknown but which likely involve hormonal irregularities. The woman’s uterus and vagina are absent, misshapen or small but her ovaries and fallopian tubes are normal and there is hormone production, breast development and so on. The woman has no menstruation and cannot bear children; however, her eggs are viable and can often be fertilized in vitro and carried to term by another.
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS; 1 in 20,000 persons): AIS is typically an inherited genetic condition. The XY male embryo is unable to respond to his own androgen hormones and thus develops along the female path. Complete AIS infants appear externally as girls but have undescended testes and underdeveloped female organs inside. They do not menstruate and are infertile. Partial AIS cases also occur involving various mixed intersex conditions but these are more rare, occurring in approximately one out of every 130,000 persons.
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH; 1 in 36,000 persons): CAH is a genetic variation that causes XX female fetuses to manufacture androgen-related hormones and develop along the male path. XY male fetuses can also have CAH but it does not noticeably affect their development. Girls with classical CAH are masculinized to various degrees and may have larger than average clitorises or even partially developed penises and scrotums, extra body hair, deep voices, prominent muscles and so on. They often identify as male and desire women for partners. A similar yet milder condition known as Late-Onset Adrenal Hyperplasia (LAH) affects approximately one out of every one hundred girls after birth (usually around puberty and to various degrees) and is characterized by severe acne, facial hair, balding, menstrual disturbances and infertility.
Chronic Intersex Conditions (1 in 36,600 persons): There are various chronic intersex conditions that are rare, idiopathic and result in absent or severely-deformed sex organs. These include unusual cases of partial AIS or CAH, Aphallia (no penis), Clitoromegaly (severely enlarged clitoris), serious cases of Hypospadias, Micropenis (extremely small penis) and so on. Most if not all of these conditions are caused by hormonal irregularities in the womb.
Ovotestis (1 in 83,000 persons): People born with this intersex condition, formerly known as “true hermaphroditism,” have gonads (sex glands) with both ovarian and testicular tissue. This may be present in one or both of the gonads and the person may appear mostly normal or mixed in terms of gender and genital development. Little is known about this rare form of intersex.
Gonadal Dysgenesis (1 in 150,000 persons): In this condition, the gonads (as testes in males or ovaries in females) are completely undeveloped and dysfunctional, appearing as “streaks” in the abdominal cavity. In XY males, Gonadal Dysgenesis is known as Swyer Syndrome. All children born with this condition, whether XX or XY, appear as females and are sterile; they do not produce their own sex hormones or enter puberty. Gonadal Dysgenesis can be partially corrected with hormone treatment but not in terms of bestowing fertility.
5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency (5-ARD; variable): This genetic female-to-male intersex condition, formerly known as “pseudo-hermaphroditism,” is relatively common in certain isolated island and jungle regions of the world. Infants born with this syndrome appear female at birth but mature into males at puberty, sometimes only partially. Cultures familiar with this condition generally recognize it immediately upon birth.
Environmental and Pharmaceutical Causes (variable): Certain environmental and pharmaceutical causes of intersex conditions have been observed and studied, particularly in regard to environmental estrogens and exogenous androgens such as progestin. In these cases, fetal development is sufficiently altered so that XY infants appear female and XX infants appear male, to various degrees.
Modern Causes of Gender
According to modern science, the father’s chromosomes randomly determine the gender or sex of any offspring. At the time of conception, twenty-three chromosomes from the father’s sperm combine with twenty-three chromosomes from the mother’s ovum to produce a zygote or fertilized egg cell, which thus has forty-six chromosomes. Two of these forty-six chromosomes, one inherited from the father and one from the mother, are known to determine sex. One X chromosome is always inherited from the mother (XX female) but the father (XY male) may give either an X or a Y. If the father gives an X chromosome the child will be female and if he gives a Y chromosome, male.
This is the general dimorphic pattern for determining gender but modern science also recognizes variations from the standard male and female types. Such variations involve differences in the embryo’s sex chromosomes, gonads or hormones and most are either proven or suspected to be genetic in origin. Differentiation of the sex chromosomes involves the conditions mentioned above (under “Chromosomal Variations”) and differentiation of the sex gonads concerns testis or ovaries that are completely undeveloped (Gonadal Dysgenesis), partially developed or possessing both male and female tissue (Ovotestis). In regard to the male and female sex hormones, variations in these are especially complex and can substantially alter or even completely reverse an embryo’s development in terms of sex anatomy and neurology. Differentiation of the embryonic sex hormones and how they are processed in utero involves numerous intersex conditions such as AIS, CAH, etc. and, most likely, the neurological variations found in people with transgender identity, homosexual orientation and bisexuality.
Modern Testing For Impotence
Modern tests for impotence or infertility in both men and women are not generally administered prior to marriage but only when a specific problem arises. In such cases, specialized physicians examine both the man and the woman and a cause is ascertained through various means of medical testing. Fertility treatment, surgery and/or drugs are then applied. Instances of male or female impotence due to psychological factors are examined and treated by professional psychiatrists.
Bisexuality and homosexuality are no longer misunderstood as psychological afflictions or considered types of impotence per se. Problems related to these—usually caused by social prejudice, parental expectations or religious orthodoxy—are treated through psychotherapy and counseling. Transgender identity and chronic intersex conditions are similarly treated through professional counseling, accompanied by hormone therapy and surgery when required.
Sex and Gender Diversity in the Animal Kingdom
Just as there are many incredible displays of sex and gender variety among human beings and the Hindu deities, so also nature displays an amazing array of sex and gender diversity within the animal kingdom. The simplistic notion of a Noah’s Ark, with one male and one female specimen sustaining all species, is a far cry from scientific reality. In truth, biological sustenance and reproduction are dependent upon an incredibly complex web of co-dependent factors, including a third sex. Not only is nature more complex than we imagine, it is more complex than we can imagine!
Microbes and simple life forms are, of course, either asexual or hermaphrodite, meaning they reproduce without separate dimorphic divisions of male and female. Many plants can reproduce themselves simply by the severance of a root, twig, or other appendage, and nearly all flowering plants are hermaphrodite with sexual organs (flowers) that have both male and female parts. Worms, slugs and many aquatic species are also hermaphrodite—they possess both eggs and sperm that are mutually exchanged. In the insect world, reproduction occurs mainly through dimorphic male and female methods, yet many of the more developed social species such as bees, ants and termites sustain their colonies through large numbers of asexual or sterile workers. In such insect colonies, the asexual workers and reproductive queens and drones are all co-dependent upon one another for survival.
Scientific studies of homosexual behavior among fruit flies are quite well known; scientists have observed this behavior in nature and can also induce it in individuals through the manipulation of their genes. Homosexual behavior has similarly been observed in insects such as moths, butterflies and beetles, and intersexed examples of butterflies and spiders have been found that are sexually divided in half, with one side male and one side female (gynandromorphism). Among the millions of Monarch Butterflies found mating in central Mexico, 10 percent of the mating pairs are same-sex male couples—with an even higher ratio of 50 percent by the end of the season!
Creatures such as sow bugs, shrimp and oysters completely reverse their sex at some stage in their lives and such transsexuality is a routine occurrence for many species. Tropical coral fish, for instance, are especially well known for their ability to change sex—more than 50 species of parrotfish, groupers, angelfish and others are all transsexual. Their reproductive organs can undergo a complete reversal, enabling females with fully functioning ovaries to become males with fully functioning testes and vice versa. In some families of fish, transsexuality is so common that it’s actually more unusual to find species that do not change sex!
Among amphibians and reptiles, certain species are known to reproduce both sexually and asexually. Female geckos, salamanders and Whiptail Lizards, for example, are parthenogenetic (able to clone themselves) and can reproduce without help from males. Biologists have identified over a thousand of such parthenogenetic species worldwide. Among snakes, both homosexual and bisexual behavior has been observed and studied. Most animals attract and find partners primarily through pheromone or scent signals and when snakes or other animals are homosexually attracted they are simply following these natural signals. In some species such as Garter Snakes, certain males will produce the female pheromone, thus adding to the complexity!
In birds and mammals, methods of reproduction are consistently dimorphic but social interaction and behaviors such as courting, mating and nesting become increasingly diverse. It is among these species, therefore, that the greatest amount of homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior is found. Homosexuality among avian species is quite common and has been observed in nearly all bird families including waterfowl, sea birds, penguins, parrots, songbirds, finches, swallows, sparrows, crows, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, game birds, birds of prey, flightless birds and so on. Birds are similar to humans in the sense that they typically mate and nest in pairs. Thus, homosexual birds also court each other, pair off, mate and build nests together. Quite a few also become involved in raising chicks—penguins, swans, flamingos, parrots, songbirds, gulls and others have all been observed taking eggs or finding hatchlings to rear as their own. Some birds also engage in same-sex group behavior. In Mallard Ducks, for instance, where homosexuality and bisexuality are quite common, “gay” drakes socialize primarily among themselves and form what biologists refer to as “clubs.” Other birds are transgender—certain female Hooded Warblers can be found bearing the markings and singing voices of males while in other species, such as Ochre-bellied Flycatchers, certain males will mimic the courting behavior of female birds to attract other males. Such types of transgender birds (with mixed gender markings and behavior) are commonly observed by ornithologists and referred to as “marginal” males or females. Intersex conditions are also found among avian species and over forty cases of gynandromorphism, wherein birds have split male and female plumage, have been reported in species such as pheasants, falcons, and finch. In some types of birds, significant portions of the population never mate or reproduce; for instance, twenty-five percent of Long-tailed Hermit Hummingbirds remain single and nonreproductive throughout their lives, and as much as one third of Common Murres (a seabird) and Kestrels (a type of falcon) do the same.
Among mammal species, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior is even more common and has been documented among small rodents and insectivores (mice, rats, bats, squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, hedgehogs, etc.); marsupials (wallabies, kangaroo, koalas, dunnarts, etc.); carnivores (lions, cheetahs, wolves, foxes, bears, hyenas, mongooses, martens, raccoons, etc.); hoofed mammals (deer, elk, caribou, moose, giraffes, antelopes, gazelles, pronghorns, wild sheep, goats, buffalo, bison, musk-oxen, zebra, horses, pigs, llamas, elephants, rhinoceros, etc.), marine mammals (river and salt-water dolphins, porpoises, Orcas, whales, seals, sea lions, walruses, manatees, dugongs, etc.) and primates (Bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, Orangutans, gibbons, langurs, Proboscis Monkeys, macaques, baboons, Squirrel Monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, langurs, bushbabies, etc.).
Homosexuality in mammals is quite complex and has been well studied both in captivity and in the wild. Bonobos (Pygmy Chimpanzees), for example, have been found to exhibit a wide variety of different homosexual behaviors and emotions, and in small mammals such as mice and rats, scientists can induce homosexual behavior through the manipulation of their hormones during gestation. Bisexuality is very common among mammals and has been observed in many species outside of their normal breeding season such as Walruses, Bottlenose Dolphins, Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Giraffes, etc. Transgender behavior can also be observed among mammals—in Bighorn Sheep, some rams identify as female and herd themselves with the ewes. While Bighorn rams typically engage in homosexual behavior all year long, the transgender rams will only allow themselves to be mounted during the mating season when the “other” ewes are in estrus!
Many varieties of intersex conditions are found in mammals such as primates, bears, whales, dolphins, marsupials, rodents, insectivores and others, and quite a few mammal species have large numbers of individuals that are nonreproductive and never breed. For instance, more than fifty percent of American Bison and Right Whales, 75 percent of Blackbucks and Giraffes, and 80-95 percent of New Zealand Sea Lions and Northern Elephant Seals never mate or reproduce with the opposite sex throughout their entire lives.
Ratios of heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual animals vary from species to species and in many cases the homosexual populations of animals exceed those found in humans. Human populations are roughly estimated to be 80 percent heterosexual, 15 percent bisexual and 5 percent homosexual (80-15-5), but among animals these ratios can differ considerably. Female Silver Gulls, for example, have been found to have a ratio of 79-11-10, respectively, while male Black-headed Gulls have a ratio of 63-15-22 and Galahs (a type of cockatoo), 44-11-44.
There are so many examples of gender-variant creatures in the animal kingdom that it is impossible to do them justice here. Why such creatures exist or what purpose they serve may be debatable or even beyond our understanding, but clearly the natural world, when put under the microscope, is amazingly diverse. Biological life is so exuberant it seems to diversify at every possible opportunity and in every conceivable way, thus reflecting the very nature of Godhead itself.
Those who attempt to limit nature, limit God. In scientific journals from the nineteenth century, early zoologists typically imposed their own homophobia on the animal kingdom. While praising the mating of heterosexual creatures as “beautiful representations of God’s glory,” they simultaneously condemned the homosexual behavior they witnessed among animals as “unnatural” and “so monstrous as to be unworthy of record.” Initially, many zoologists tried to explain away homosexuality in the animal kingdom, hypothesizing that the creatures were simply deprived of opposite sex partners, mimicking heterosexual behavior, reacting to artificial environments, defective in some way, confused, or so on. All such rationalizations, however, have since been disproved and unbiased research into the animal kingdom has disclosed to modern biologists what indigenous cultures of the world have known all along—that nature is awe-inspiring and inconceivably variegated in terms of sex and gender.
By Amara Das Wilhelm. Copyright GALVA-108.
Image: A gynandromorphic Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.