Mexico’s Zapotec People Have Long Rebuked Western Norms by Recognizing a Third Gender

Mexico’s Zapotec People Have Long Rebuked Western Norms by Recognizing a Third Gender

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It is easy to perceive our Western gender binary system as the prevalent view around the world, but the culture and history of many indigenous communities refute this way of thinking. Indigenous peoples often do not make the mistake of strictly conflating gender with sex, recognizing more than two genders within their societies.

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The Zapotec are an indigenous people of Mexico, located primarily (but not exclusively) in the southern state of Oaxaca, and are known for their beautifully colored art and textiles around the world. They are also known for recognizing a third gender.

The cover of Vogue Mexico, December 2019, featuring a muxe model

Muxes (pronounced mu-shay) are often described as “a community of gay men who date heterosexual men while dressing as women, sometimes assuming traditional female roles within the family and society.” The muxe population in Oaxaca has been celebrated since pre-colonization times.

Even now, despite existing in an area that is predominantly Catholic, the muxe is welcomed in Zapotec society and appreciated for their contributions to the community. However, there are some parts of Mexico where they face discrimination.

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Of course, notions of gender, gender fluidity and acceptance are multifaceted and nuanced; and this is true of muxes as well. Some argue that to be a muxe, you must have been born in a Zapotec area — otherwise you’re just gay. Some muxes have a fluid gender identity, while others choose to live fully as women.

From Vogue Mexico

These contradictions only show us how difficult it is to strictly define what the boundaries for a given gender are.

One muxe-gendered person had this to say: “I consider myself gay and muxe. I’m gay the moment I’m behaving as a boy, and I’m a muxe the moment I’m behaving as a girl. It’s a duality I have inside me. It’s two in one and that’s the only way I don’t lose my essence.”

What are your thoughts on the muxe?

Featured image courtesy Mario Patinho

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