Sex Roles

, Volume 49, Issue 9–10, pp 489–496 | Cite as

Essentialism, Culture, and Beliefs About Gender Among the Aravanis of Tamil Nadu, India

  • Ramaswami Mahalingam


The purpose of this study was to investigate the gender beliefs of the Aravanis, a transgender community in Tamil Nadu. Gender transgression and gender transformation (attempts to change gender) tasks were used to examine the essentialist notions of the Aravanis' beliefs about gender. A total of 100 Aravanis participated in the study. In the gender transgression task the Aravanis endorsed both male and female gender transgressions. In the gender transformation task the Aravanis believed in the male to female transformation but not in the female to male transformation. I argue that the asymmetry in the Aravanis' responses suggests that their beliefs about gender are consistent with Hindu patriarchal beliefs that feminine gender is essential and primordial, whereas masculine gender transformations are viewed as part of the male prerogative. The marginalized gender experience of the Aravanis influenced their judgments about gender transgressions but not their beliefs about gender transformations. I also discuss the implications of a cultural psychology of gender.

Hijras gender culture transgender 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ramaswami Mahalingam
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor

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