Gender Identity – Alliances for Solidarity

Thursday May 17th is IDAHO day, an International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities in order to draw to the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by people who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms.

Today’s Story from the Museum Floor by Deborah from the Visitor Team takes a closer look at how gender identity and gender roles vary between individuals and cultures and should not be assumed.

For more about our Living CulturesArchaeology and Numismatics collections, have a look at the Curators’ blogs, Mancultural and Ancient Worlds.


IDAHO day was created in 2004 and May 17th  was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Adding to the current mainstream social and cultural movement considering identity and gender fluidity, ‘Alliances for Solidarity has been chosen as the global theme for 2018.


Gender Identity – Alliances for Solidarity

Gender identity and gender roles vary between individuals and cultures and should not be assumed. Ideas of what it means to be a man or woman vary, and alongside this the awareness of a third or non-binary gender and gender fluidity is beginning to be recognised.

Gender Diversity through Time and Cultures

Here are just a few examples from The Proud Trust of diverse gender identities from different cultures all over the world:



“Translating as ‘manly-hearted women’, the Ninauposkitzipxpe were recognised as a third gender in the North Peigan tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Southern Alberta, Canada. This was a person that had been assigned female at birth, and although may not have dressed in ‘male’ clothes, was otherwise unrestricted by social restraints placed on women in this society.”



Upon birth, children are assigned a sex based on observation of their external genitalia. Some female assigned people, at puberty, grow a penis and testicles descend from inside their bodies. This is unusually common for people from Salinas village in the Dominican Republic, who may then choose to live their lives as a “man”, “woman” or as this third gender “guevedoche”.



“For hundreds of years, Hijras have been a part of South Asian cultures. They are people who were assigned as males at birth, but who identify, and live their lives as women. During colonisation, when the British came to power in India, they passed a law in 1897, which made ‘cross-dressing’ a crime, this resulted in many Hijras becoming ostracised from society. Many years and much lobbying later, India now has laws that recognise the Hijra as a ‘third gender’, and challenges discrimination against them.”



“Sometimes called the Dahomey Amazons, this was an all-female military regiment in the present-day Republic of Benin (Africa), which lasted until the end of the 19th century. These soldiers were rigorously trained, given uniforms, and equipped with guns. By the mid-19th century, they numbered between 1,000 and 6,000 people, about a third of the entire army. Reports noted variously that all soldiers suffered several defeats, but that the female soldiers were consistently judged to be superior to the male soldiers in effectiveness and bravery.”

Sistergirls and Brotherboys


“Unique to indigenous culture in Australia, brotherboys and sistergirls are trans people who are Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders, and have a strong sense of their cultural identity. Within the sistergirl and brotherboy communities, a sistergirl is an individual assigned male at birth who has a female spirit and a brotherboy is an individual assigned female at birth who has a male spirit.”



“The third gender of ‘fa’afafine’ has always existed within Samoan society, and when translated literally means ‘in the manner of’ (fa’a) ‘woman’ (fafine). People that were assigned male at birth, but who have a strong feminine gender orientation are fa’afafine. Recognised early in childhood, Samoan parents then raise such children as girls, or third gender children. These children are fully accepted by their families and by society.”



“In pre-colonial Andean culture in Peru, the Incas worshipped the Chuqui Chinchay, a dual-gendered god. The quariwarmi were third-gender ritual attendants that performed sacred rituals to honour this god. The quariwarmi shamans wore androgynous clothing as ‘a visible sign of a third space that negotiated between the masculine and the feminine, the present and the past, the living and the dead’.”

A Social Construct

As we approach IDAHO Day, it is perhaps timely to think about gender identity as a social construct, and how it is being re-defined with more fluid descriptions. Gender identity influences behaviour and decision making in every context of social life.

In Western society, gender defines us from the moment we are born; we are identified as one gender or another by our dress, ornamentation, name, and the behaviours in which we are expected to engage. Gender identification and gender ideology shape us as social beings and influence our perception and behaviour in ways we don’t yet completely understand.

People who identify as non-binary, transgender, or gender-fluid must cultivate a third, positive identity, and often must defend that identity to a world that prefers to categorise into binary form.

Society has based its attitudes to gender on a heteronormative patriarchy and therefore any alternative interpretation may be seen as ‘other’, separate and not considered.

Challenging Discrimination

Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia takes many forms, ranging from physical acts of hate, violence and verbal assault, blatant discrimination, to more subtle discrimination and exclusions. There are variable levels of homophobic attitude that are based on a heterosexist norm. The Alliances for Solidarity campaign to address global attitudes of policy and decision makers also extends to public, social and cultural institutions. These can serve to legitimate social identities and ideologies through which we perceive and interpret the world, with the subtle dominance of the social ideology of gender underpinning their connection to the cultural world, unobserved by the heteronormativity majority.

In focusing on Alliances for Solidarity there is a call to recognise the discrimination that takes place to those who do not conform to the norm of society. By looking at representation in all its forms, moving towards inclusion rather than just highlighting the differences and reinforcing stereotypes, there can be a move away from an assumed position of expectant familiarity to the recognition of the existence of alternative but equal observations.

Representations throughout history give a version of the past that is a snapshot of that society, culture and time. The idea of gender identity, unless implicit, is not questioned and assumed to be heteronormative unless specifically exploring the idea of gender or sexuality. In acknowledging the existence of a more equal representation, it can help to readdress the balance.

At Manchester Museum, as with other museums, galleries and cultural institutions, we are very well-placed to use examples of cultural and gender diversity from our own collection to challenge discrimination, as we strive towards a more tolerant, inclusive and caring society.

Emperor Hadrian

For almost 21 years Hadrian ruled over an empire containing 40 modern countries spread across three continents. He left the empire transformed and the legacy of his rule is still apparent, including the construction of some of the most famous buildings of the ancient world, including Hadrian’s Wall and the Pantheon in Rome. This transformation, including public buildings and religious monuments helped to spread prosperity and create a common identity throughout the empire. [Curator Bryan Sitch notes that although Hadrian might have been admirable in many ways to us, we should not overlook appalling actions such as the Placing of a Roman Temple on the site of a Jewish Holy Temple in Judea, which provoked the Bar Kokhba revolt.]

Denarius and Dupondius of Hadrian (AD 117-138), from the numismatics collection at Manchester Museum.

Hadrian and Antinous

Although married to Vibia Sabina, ancient sources also describe his relationship with a young Greek male called Antinous. As a Roman man, he was free to choose partners of either gender, what we may recognise today as bisexual, and such relationships were not unusual. Romans believed that men should always be dominant, both socially and sexually – although for a man not to be the dominant partner was seen as shameful. Interestingly, there is no word for homosexuality in Latin. Hadrian was profoundly affected by Antinous’ death and mourned him with unusual intensity. He founded a new city on the banks of the Nile, and named it Antinopolis, and built a large temple and set up a festival in Antinous’ memory.

Coin depicting Antinous, close companion of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. On the reverse Antinous is shown on horseback. From the numismatics collection at Manchester Museum. 

Further information on these coins can be found in the Ancient Worlds blog by Curator Bryan Sitch.

Celebrating Diversity in Manchester

The University of Manchester and the City of Manchester are committed to creating an environment where diversity is celebrated and everyone is treated fairly, regardless of gender, disability, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marital status, age, or nationality. As we walk around the campus and the city we are following in the footsteps of Alan Turing whose statue in Sackville gardens describes that, alongside his mathematical genius, he was a victim of prejudice.

Alan Mathison Turing 1912-1954

Turing was a war hero, code breaker, founder of modern computing and artificial intelligence, whose affair with a man was considered a crime. The site of the former Regal Cinema, now The Dancehouse, on Oxford Road was where Alan Turing had his fateful encounter with Arnold Murray. It was the reporting of a burglary at his house that brought attention to his relationship with another man, which then led to his prosecution for gross indecency. Given the choice between prison and receiving artificial hormones treatment he chose the latter. Turing’s reaction to subsequent surveillance was one of defiance and bravado, avoiding British law by visiting Norway and Greece where homosexuality was no longer illegal.

On 10 September 2009, following an internet campaign, the then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated.” The Queen granted Turing a posthumous pardon on 24 December 2013.

Further information can be found in A Cruel Law by Maxine from the Visitor Team.

“Plenty that needs to be done”

From prominent figures of the classical world like the Roman emperor Hadrian and mathematical genius Alan Turing to the gender fluidity of contemporary times, the idea that gender is fixed, stable and biologically determined are being challenged.

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” – Alan Mathison Turing (1912-54)

Deborah Ward

With many thanks to Curators Bryan Sitch and Stephen Welsh for their advice and support with this post.

Further Reading
University of Manchester
Manchester City Council
Manchester Museum Ancient Worlds Blog
Stories from the Museum Floor – A cruel Law
British Museum -Hadrian
Alan Turing
Heritage of Manchester LGBT+ Communities
LGBT Foundation
The Proud Trust


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