Sarah Emma Edmonds bible seller who served Union Army in drag

A Non-Binary History

If there’s one thing we love here, it’s history - not just the history of things, but the history of the people who created environments in which many of the things we love, evolved. When dealing with the history of human existence, we’re going to dive back farther than we ever have on this blog… to over 6,000 years ago.

Part 1 - An offensively abridged history of non-binary existence

Ancient Sumerian and Akkadian texts document priests known as Gala (Sumerian) and Kalû (Akkadian) who were transgender, serving the duel-faceted goddess of both Love and War, Inana (Sumerian) / Ištar (Akkadian). Later, the Greeks and Romans would have Galli priests who were described as either transgender in physicality, or at the least presented with ambiguous gender performance. Arabic and Islamic history had Mukhannathun to describe persons who were gender variant, pre-dating the Prophet Muhammed.

Seal of Inanna, Queen of Heaven, and her transgender priests

South Asia has Hijra, (aravaniaruvani, and jogappa), known as Kinnar in India, Khawaja sira in Pakistan. These were intersex, non-binary, or transgender persons, varying from region to region.  Spiritually speaking, it was someone who had access to both genders in some way. Hijras predate the Kama Sutra. In the 1800s, the British eradicated as many Hijras as they could find and and labeled them a “criminal tribe” in 1871.

South Asia's Hijra, aravani, aruvani, jogappa, and India's Kinnar and Pakistan's Khawaja sira

The ancient Navajo mythology, there's Nádleehi, a gender-fluid person pre-dating the term “two-spirit.” Nádleehi were identified as children by the elders, and watched over to see how they would develop. Because such beings are accessing the entire gender spectrum, their development was kept protected so that they can mature in the most natural, and genuine path for themselves. Nearby, the Zuni had Lhamana, (generally) a biological male who worked and lived as a women, but like all things, they're a non-binary spectrum. That included jobs they could physically do like hunting wild game, chopping wood, hauling materials, etc. We’wha (1849-1896), a Lhamana born into the Zuni tribe in what we identify today as New Mexico. They had a six-month journey to Washington D.C. where everyone just assumed they were a cisgender woman

Navajo's Nádleehi and Zuni's Lhamana representative We’wha

The Jewish Talmud identifies 8 different gender identities:

Zachar, a heteronormative male;
Nekevah, a heteronormative female;
Androgynos, having both male and female characteristics;
Tumtum, lacking sexual characteristics;
Aylonit hamah, identified female at birth but later naturally developing male characteristics;
Saris hamah, identified male at birth but later naturally developing female characteristics;
Aylonit adam, identified female at birth but later developing male characteristics through human intervention;
Saris adam, identified male at birth and later developing female characteristics through human intervention.
This non-binary, non-heteronormative understanding made its way into the New Testament with Jesus of Nazareth, who studied and practiced the Law.  In Matthew 19:12 Jesus states, “For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some, because they were born that way; others, because men made them that way; and others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let him who can accept this teaching do so.”
And it continues with the first century apostles, in Acts 8:26-40 with the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch, a man who was not going to marry.*

Several hundred years later, the Christian Church couldn’t run from non-binary existence from all the lands they were invading, but they also couldn’t accept them as it threaten the "God-ordained" colonialism power structure. Trans men were sent off to be monks in the remotest part of the world, labeled as “eunuchs,” and given menial jobs while taking vows of silence. Trans women were sent off to convents, covered with as many layers of fabric as possible, and given subservient jobs that required as little talking as possible. Gay men were shipped off to the priesthood, and lesbians were burned at the stake as “witches.” We don’t hear a lot about intersex persons because they most likely were murdered at birth, a tradition the British adopted with enthusiasm.

“Population control,” you know.

By the time we make it to the Industrial Revolution, we know there’s never been a time in human history where non-binary, transgender, intersex persons haven’t been present, although there’s been considerable blood shed to hide that fact. Gender identity is the very core of who we are as humans, being honest and authentic to ourselves. That’s different than sexual orientation, our attraction to others, how others cause our pheromones and hormones to react. Besides specific instances like the Sacred Band of Thebes, human understanding of same-gender attraction is a recent development, about 100 years old or so. Before then, it existed, but no one really analyzed it.  Why is that and what caused those changes?

Part 2 - Our precious bodily fluids


Dr Strangelove and our precious bodily fluids

From the ancient Greeks up until the mid 1800s, a large portion of Europeans believed in Humorism Theory - a person’s mood and health are determined by the balance of body fluids. Balancing one’s fluids (for health reasons) meant almost anyone on the sexual orientation spectrum could go through life with a measure of biochemical emotional stability while still having the “proper” outward Christian presentation  of getting married, having children, and still maintain their male-bonding experiences with hunting, sports, clubs, lodges, and the like. In perspective, it resulted in 3 very distinct types of husbands - one who worked by his wife’s side and doted on her, helped her with the children, and in constant attention to his family as a partner in a marriage --VS -- a classic caricature of the “absent husband” who’d literally spend every hour of the day anywhere else on the planet, but at home with his wife and kids -- VS -- the abusive gruff man who hated every minute of his life, and acted out to everyone who'd allow it. 

Humorism gave those on the sexual orientation spectrum to have the best of both worlds - a chance to be personally content with who they were as a person (for health reasons), while also maintaining a church-approved heteronormative presentation to the outside world. And to some extent, non-binary and transgender persons could weave themselves through "proper society" relatively well, provided they didn't lead armies against the English in "improper attire."

There's a thread of truth to Humorism, as human emotions are tied to our biochemistry. William Shakespeare used Humorism in his writing when it came to his characters, human interactions, and in puns. Humorism is where we get leaches and bloodletting, and essential part of Medieval medicine. It’s also where we get parts of the developed world where a man having extramarital affairs is completely acceptable. The historical foundation of Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations is getting things "out" before 40 days of Lent. Humorism did have its limits, as noted by every possible way for King Louis XIV tried to heal his rectum (besides washing it), that eventually lead to what we might interpret as gender-affirming surgery. 

Germ Theory Ruins Everything

With the rising popularity of germ theory in the early-to-mid 1800s and developments of scientists like Louis Pasteur, Humorism started to fall out of favor. By the late 1800s, the availability for men to exchange fluids (for heath reasons) were limited to sports where sweat, and sometimes bleed as entertainment. As a whole, “bachelors for life” were left without very many options, and lead to more depression en masse. Dr. Hirschfeld basically re-introduced the pre-colonialism global norm of non-binary gender identity and non-heteronormative sexual orientation into his modern world - these weren’t deviancies, mutations, and they certainly weren’t demons. LGBTQIA+ persons were suffering a mass trauma from the expectations of heteronormative society - expectations heteronormative society didn't always live up to themselves. 

Magnus Hirschfeld and World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR)

Magnus Hirschfeld

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) worked as a doctor in Germany. His life was changed when he was met with a younger soldier, distraught because he was an Urning - a homosexual. Dr. Hirschfeld was gay and Jewish, but could not persuade the soldier from something that was already decided. The soldier committed suicide before his wedding. This is one of several instances that Dr. Hirschfeld experienced as a doctor during the 1880s. Each gay or transgender suicide pained him to the point where he resolved to stop this unnecessary mass pain.

Hull House post card from Chicago, Illinois

He made it to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 and spent several months in the city, absorbing Chicago’s gay subculture. Like many homosexuals at the time, Hirschfeld had no interest in lesbians. Maybe it was Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr's Hull House, its education, and art programs that helped Hirschfeld evolve to accept that lesbians are people too. By the time he made it back to Berlin, he was set to create the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (or WhK, Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) in 1897, dedicated to studying same-gender attraction (including lesbians), gender fluidity, and transgender identities and sexualities. Everyone can recognize that this is possibly the first (what we now refer to as) 'LGBTQIA+' support organization providing a safe environment for non-binary, non-heteronormative persons to get medical care and psychological support.

In 1919, he opened up the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research, Institute of Sexology), a medical clinic and research library caring for LGBTQIA+ patients, offering counseling, hormone therapy, treated addictions, and provided education to other health professionals caring for their own LGBTQIA patients. Even though gender-affirming surgeries have been a practice for heteronormative reasons since the 1600s (which may or may not include King Louis XIV), it was 1930 when Dr. Hirschfeld started performing the first gender-affirming operation on a transgender woman.

 In 1928, Dr. Hirschfeld brought together a group of professionals from around the world to create the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR) - an organization with 10 principles hinging on the first item - “economic, political, and sexual equality of men and women.” The WLSR’s inaugural congress in Copenhagen, Denmark was attended by several hundred people from over 25 countries including Japan, Liberia, Egypt, and Malaysia. The British section had over 150 members. Following congresses were in London in 1929, Vienna in 1930, Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1932. Havelock Ellis from England and Auguste Forel from Switzerland served as presidents of the WLSR after Hirschfeld.

World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR) in Vienna, Austria

It’s strange (or maybe typical), that Hirschfeld’s main opposition was Adolf Brand (1874–1945), an unapologetic gay anarchist, poet, photographer, writer, director (choreographer?) who started the first gay publication Der Eigene (The Self-Owner, The Own) and founder of Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (Community of Free Spirits or Community of the Autonomous). Brand’s punk rock-style hyper-masculinity and aggressive homosexuality did not believe in gender spectrums nor did he believe in tranquil living, outing high profile politicians in his magazine. He was jailed several times for his unapologetic existence. He did concede that it was better to work together than work against, and eventually joined the WhK, who had reached over 500 members and branches in approximately 25 cities in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

Part 3 - Stupid Nazi Colonialism

The 1929 Stock Market crash and resulting Great Depression hit the world hard, and many Germans lost their jobs. In that collapse, the Nazis found their way into power. Like the colonizers before, intersex and transgender people were considered a threat, but the Nazi view of homosexuality was a bit unique. They didn’t think homosexuality was a natural occurring event, nor did they think gays were genetically inferior - they believed homosexuality was similar to an infectious disease that could develop under the ‘right’ seductive circumstances, but could also be “cured” under a different set of ‘right’ circumstances.

Gay Cabaret Eldorado in Berlin 1920s

Adolf Hitler was named chancellor on January 30, 1933.  A few months later in May, Dr. Hirschfeld’s clinic was raided, his library taken out to the street, and burned in the first large book-burning of the new regime. Hirschfeld was working in Paris at the time, viewing the burning of his own clinic on the news reel at the cinema.  He remained in Paris, exiled, and everyone who worked at the clinic fled, was imprisoned, or killed. All for the sheer offense of humanizing marginalized people, and giving them healthcare.

Collage of book burnings in Germany starting in 1933

Adolf Brand was also treated quite harshly, his place being raided, his publications were burned, his printing equipment destroyed. But he was able to stay in Germany by having a marriage of convenience to a woman, even though he still maintained homosexual relationships. The Nazis found Brand’s followers different from Hirschfeld’s - they had mentally made that switch to “us vs them” acceptance of radical measures, which is an important distinction that we see even today:  What radical loud faithful followers are willing to do, is way more important to what they believed. Once a person accepts radicalization, all that’s needed is to point them in the white direction… and that direction can be changed with the right force.  Hirschfeld’s “let’s all live in harmony” humanitarianism could not be pushed to radicalization, and therefore it wasn’t as easy to manipulate.

Book Burning in Germany, 1933

That exposes a major self-inflicted flaw set in the very beginnings of Nazi history.  Nazis weren't capable of being better at life than those whose existence expanded past the boundaries of the rigid cookie-cutter. Nazis didn't know how to work with the extensive spectrum of our humanity, so their only option for hoarding power and wealth was overt violence, continuous raids, and mass genocide. It's a house built with bricks of hypocrisy, and results in inconsistent resolutions over time. One example was Hitler's iron-clad homophobia that trickles down to it's own organically occurring spectrum where some gays were jailed, others were not, some were allowed to stay in Germany with a pretense, others were exiled, some quietly rose in the ranks of the Third Reich, others were burdened with unmitigated bigotry and marched off to death camps. 

After the 1933 raid of his clinic and public book-burning, Dr. Hirschfeld remained in France.  The World League of Sexual Reform had two more congresses planned - one in Moscow, Russia with Alexandra Kollontai as a member, and another in Chicago with Dr. Harry Benjamin which could've salvaged much of was lost when Henry Gerber's Society for Human Rights house that was raided. Hitler began running a rather extensive propaganda campaign for politicians via George Viereck in the U.S., and Joseph Stalin gaining power in Russia in 1928 put an end to both those plans... and the future of WLSR.

Magnus Hirschfeld died of a heart attack in 1935 while exiled in France. What work he had salvaged was passed down to his partners to continue, everything he amassed in life was lost to the Holocaust. When Hitler invaded Austria a few years later, the work of doctors like Josef Karl Friedjung, Ludwig Jekels, Wilhelm Reich also came to an end, as did their libraries. And so the case of France in when Hitler invaded in 1940.

Hirschfeld hadn't yet evolved past rudimentary hypothesis of microbes, and as so often the case with new human studies, eugenic hypothesis still needed time to weed itself out. None of that evolution had a chance to happen.  It's unknown if the Nazis stole any of that work, as both were used in Hitler's own experiments just a few years later. 

Adolf Brand and his wife were able to stay in Berlin, and were killed by an Allied bomb in 1945.

The Merry Month of June

June is PRIDE month, and for an in-depth history of the American events leading up to the Stonewall Riots, check out our past blog post HERE. All of us as humans are currently living in what will eventually be known as “ancient history.” Knowing where we are in that stream helps craft our personal character, and it's instrumental for how that character interacts with others.  As a general rule, humans should't change opinions about their neighbors just because of current political temperature - it's cruel, a waste of energy, and it goes against the nature of human existence on the planet. Our company's views of our LGBTQIA+ family, friends, neighbors, workers, and clients hasn't changed in several thousand years, and we're not going to be changing them now. 

Industrial Artifacts leaves the latest fads in fragile furniture to Amazon and Wayfair.

Apotheosis of Lincoln


Sources and Further Reading




* Clarification on the word “Eunuch”

With the Vatican's breadth of colonialism, we enter a murky area with the word “eunuch.” Depending on when colonialism reached a particular area, depends on how the word was used. From Samaria to Egypt, castration was reserved for slaves and capital punishment and rarely overlapped with one’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Generally for everyone before Christian colonialism, “eunuch” is just interpreted as someone who will not have children, and it wasn't a bad thing, as it meant that person could help out the community more than one with children.  Similarly, the Greeks and Romans had eunuchs that were either physically castrated or simply lived a life of social castration - but the spectrum covering both is quite broad. For the Christian colonizers, gender fluidity and sexual orientation were threats to colonialism structure, and the idea ‘one wouldn’t have children because of sexual orientation’ was replaced with ‘one who can’t have children because they physically lack the equipment.’ Not only did it not fit reality, but it changed what was being colonized. Ancient Israelites might've referred to 6 of the 8 genders as “eunuch” while Christian colonialism would only identify aylonit hamah and saris adam as “eunuch.”  Or not. 

The word was helpful for the perpetuation of regulating gender norms. Saint Azades the Eunuch, a wealthy man who served in the household of King Shapur II of Persia, was martyred for being Christian. Most likely he was was just gay. Saint Djan Darada is a fabricated character meant to redefine the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts chapter 8, moving him away from the traditional Middle East/African interpretation of someone who was saris hamah, and move him toward the Church’s view of physical castration. The British used the term quite often to refer anyone outside their realm of comprehension, like with Hijra in India

Sarah Emma Edmonds bible seller who served Union Army in drag

The cover image is of Sarah Emma Edmonds, a Canadian-born woman and bible salesperson who served with the Union Army during the American Civil War as a nurse and spy... while dressed as a man.

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