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A Different Look at Gender and Sex

In reading and thinking about the Naz Foundation decision, I came across this enlightening piece. After describing several stories from Indian lore involving gender transgression of one sort or another, Devdutt Pattanaik writes:

“How does one interpret these stories? Are they gay stories? They certainly shatter the conventional confines of gender and sexuality. Ancient Indian authors and poets without doubt imagined a state where the lines separating masculinity and femininity often blurred and even collapsed. Though awkward, these were not stray references. Such tales were consistent and recurring, narrated matter-of-factly, without guilt or shame. Such outpouring has its roots in Indian metaphysics.

“As the wheel of rebirth turns, Indians have always believed, the soul keeps casting off old flesh and wrapping itself anew. Depending on one’s karma, one can be reborn as a tree, as a rock, as a bird, a beast, a man, a woman, a man with a woman’s heart, a woman with a man’s heart, even as a god or demon…endless possibilities exist in the infinite cosmos. The wise see masculinity and femininity as ephemeral robes that wrap the sexless genderless soul. The point is not to get attached to the flesh, but to celebrate its capabilities, discover its limitations, and finally transcend it.

“The question before us is: does the human mind have the empathy to include gender and sexual ambiguity in civil human society? It does. In every Yuga [roughly: era or epoch JC] new rules come into being that redefine world order. Mahabharata mentions a Yuga when there was no marriage — women were free to go with any man they chose. This changed when Shvetaketu instituted the marriage laws. We have lived through a Yuga where we left unchallenged laws of old imperial masters that dehumanised and invalidated sexual minorities. This has to change —hopefully now.”

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