When photographer Jill Peters first traveled to India in 2007, she was intrigued by what she at first believed to be male cross-dressers making their way through the marketplace.
She would come to realize that these individuals are hijras, a form of third gender present within Indian culture. According to Peters, hijras identify as neither male nor female, and the term envelops a wide spectrum of gender expression. The individuals featured in this photo series titled "Third Gender" fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and are eunuchs. In fact, India recently provided legal recognition for a third gender category outside of the male/female binary, according to The Guardian.
"Dating back as far as the Kama Sutra by some estimations, hijras were both revered and feared as powerful entities who lived between the sexes," Peters notes. "They were believed to bestow good fortune and fertility by dancing at weddings and the births of children. Over the course of history their status and usefulness in society survived centuries of historical evolution. Within the last 150 years, as western prejudices have encroached upon Indian codes of sexual morality, the hijras have fallen precipitously from grace."
"My intention was simply to portray them as the subjects of beauty and grace they so desperately strive to be, as if their path to nirvana had not been impeded by a century and a half of prejudice and intolerance," Peters continued. "I am pleased to congratulate the third gender community on their recent victory of ofﬁcal recognition by the government of India. They have a long way to go before they achieve equality in the eyes of the culture, but this is an epic step in the right direction."
Check out a slideshow of other images from "Third Gender" below or head here to see more of Peters' work.