“Dismissing transgender identities is racist because some indigenous cultures have third-gender roles.”
It’s undeniable that various indigenous cultures have developed gendered social roles extending beyond a binary division of “man” and “woman.” However, transgender activists often interpret these indigenous social practices through a Eurocentric lens in a dishonest attempt to draw misleading parallels with modern transgender theory. For example, it’s common to hear about the central role the winkte played in traditional Lakota culture. But winkte is itself a contraction of the old Lakota word winyanktehca, which means “[He] wants to be a woman” – a way of understanding gender identity that would be extremely problematic to most modern transgender activists! In reality, the majority of these social roles don’t cleanly map onto any conception of gender found in the West today, and transgender activists should stop misrepresenting them to naturalize their fundamentally Eurocentric theory.
It’s also worth pointing out that indigenous cultures disagree with each other about how exactly gender works; the Zapotec traditionally recognized three genders, the Chukchi people traditionally recognized seven, the Bugis people traditionally recognized five, and so on. Is it racist if we don’t affirm all these contradictory frameworks at once? Of course not! As transgender activists recognize, gender is a social construct, and that means its structure will necessarily vary across time and place. It’s entirely possible to affirm the validity of these cultural practices inside their own particular context while also having a distinct analysis of gender as it functions in our society today – and presumably, the majority of those who criticize transgender ideology believe that our gender is, in fact, a binary one.