chapter
India
Pages 5

Since the Vedic period (c. 1200-600 B.C.E.), which began with the migration of Sanskrit-speaking Aryans to India, phenomena that might today be categorized as homosexuality have been inextricably linked in Indian thought to a third sex/gender defined in terms of culturally nonnormative behavioral, biological, and gender-role traits. Masculinity was to a large extent equated with sexual potency, which engendered powerful anxieties about impotence and the concomitant creation of rituals for the restoration or maintenance of potency. In these rituals we see the first appearance of the term napumsaka, literally “not-a-male.” A napumsaka was probably an animal with hermaphroditic or androgynous traits, sacrificed in potency rituals; the term was later applied to humans. The late Vedic period also saw the development of a three-gender grammatical system: female, male, and napumsaka, the latter defined as “neither feminine nor masculine,” a rubric still applied to third-sex persons in India. Other terms originally referring to impotent men came to be associated with equivocal sexuality: the kliba, for example, was a dancer described as impotent and longhaired-two characteristics associated with women. By not fulfilling the expected male role of procreator and for taking on feminine qualities, such persons were held in contempt in the highly patriarchal Vedic world. Later grammarians (c.300 B.C.E.) discussed the third grammatical gender (napumsaka) in terms of impotent men (sanda) and pandakas (longhaired dancing transvestites like the klibas), in contemporary Buddhist literature, pandakas are portrayed as homosexuals. Still later, in medical texts of the first through fourth centuries C.E., third-sex persons were viewed as males with congenital sexual abnormalities or dysfunctions, which included receptive homosexual behavior and effeminacy.