The Muxes of Mexico Are a ‘Third Gender’ Who Straddle the Line Between Respected and Reviled

The Muxes of Mexico Are a ‘Third Gender’ Who Straddle the Line Between Respected and Reviled

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In the far southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, within the Istmo de Tehuantepec region, is the district of Juchitán, the residents of which proudly retain its ancient pre-colonial Zapotec culture. It’s a culture that acknowledges the existence of muxes (pronounced moo-shehs), a third-gender that is neither entirely male nor female.

Though sometimes they identify as gay men who dress as women, muxes are fluid beings who aren’t neatly gay nor transgender. Like India’s hijras, their cultural existence straddles the line between a revered blessing and a reviled minority.

Many people believe children are born as muxes — creative, fearless individuals endowed with male strength and female sensitivity, skilled in creativity and hospitality — while others believe some mothers in Juchitán’s ostensibly matriarchal society encourage their sons to be muxes, hopeful they’ll never marry and will instead stick around to financially and physically care for them in old age.

Here is an excellent 10-minute documentary about muxes:

The word muxe is thought to derive from the Spanish word for woman, mujer, and muxes may be vestidas (in female clothes) or pintadas (in male clothes and makeup). While they often adhere to traditional clothing predominantly associated with either men or women, they are neither — and, thus, aren’t expected to “pass” as a woman or man but to embody the strength and beauty associated with their kind.

The muxes have their roots in Pre-Colombian Mexico — that is, in the 4,000 year period before European colonizers arrived. Back then, indigenous Mexico had cross-dressing Aztec priests and Mayan gods who were simultaneously male and female.

While many parts of modern-day Mexico embrace a mestizo identity of Spaniard-American Indian bearing (along with some of the machismo, femicide and homophobia that Catholic colonizers brought with them), Juchitán prefers its indigenous roots. The place is often described as “matriarchal” since women rule the public marketplace, selling the produce and seafood of the male fishermen and farmworkers who toil during the day.

Local estimates say anywhere between 6–10% of Juchitán’s population might be muxes. Some say each family has one or two born into it, and Marluu Ferretti, a muxe, admits, “They say God gave St. Ferrer a bag of muxes to spread across Mexico and the entire continent. But upon arriving in Juchitán, the bag broke and he spilled them all.”

Juchitán even has a three-day festival in November called Vela de las Intrepidas (Vigil of the Intrepids) that celebrates muxes with a parade of floats, street dancing and a catwalk coronation in which local muxes show off gowns they’ve spent months working on.

Muxes are commonly employed as seamstresses, cooks, event planners, florists and caregivers. Some even serve as sex workers. And though not all muxes take hormones or have body augmentation surgery, some do.

Nevertheless, it’s a mistake to think of their lives as charmed or to imagine Juchitán as a queer paradise.

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Mirada muxe'. #muxe #muxes #juchitan

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For one, it’s expected that muxes will never leave their families because they’ll never find love or marry. Sure, they may choose a male lover (known as mayates), but, according to a 23-year-old muxe named Naomy, “It’s very hard for muxes. Often men just want you for sex, and if you are in a relationship they want to keep it secret. It’s not accepted everywhere.”

Muxes also face discrimination. Many never get a college education and drop out of school around age 14 or 15 because of bullying from classmates. They also face sexually transmitted infections, workplace discrimination, domestic violence from disapproving parents and lovers and, sometimes, even murder. Occasionally they’re forbidden from entering other town events or public bathrooms by a populace unnerved by their gender fluidity.

Here is a video of muxe performance artist Lukas Avendaño:

Muxe ally Edder Chicuellar says the muxes have yet to emerge as a cohesive political community, thanks to jealousy and infighting over one another’s youth, bodies or male lovers.

Nevertheless, muxes are emerging as a visible symbol for those of more liberal “first world” societies (like Mexico) that still oppose those living authentically outside traditional gender constraints.

Performance artist Lukas Avendaño has emerged as a unique muxe voice in Mexico’s art scene with performances that explore the loneliness and pride of muxe identity. The muxe identity has even made its way into Los Angeles as a term for Latinx people whose gender identity falls somewhere outside of the male-female binary.

Here are more pictures of muxes:

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Photo by @christian_foto + @everydaylatinamerica "In the Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca, Muxe is an assigned male at birth, who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with the female gender. They are considered the third gender. It is believed that the term Muxe comes from the Spanish word "Mujer", a phonetic derivation that the Zapotecs began to use in the sixteenth century. From pre-Columbian times, the Zapotecs considered the Muxes as a third gender, no better or worse than men and women, simply different. Some Muxes form monogamous couples with men and get married, others live in groups, and others marry women and had children." #muxes #oaxaca #mexico​ #everydayeverywhere Photo selected by guest curator @saharaborja

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Niektórzy nazywają to matriarchatem, trochę niesłusznie, ale coś z tym z pewnością jest. Kobiety z Juchitanu przez lata były odpowiedzialne za politykę miasteczka, jego stosunki z ościennymi miastami, a także za handel.  O mężczyznach mówi się tu, że „połowa ma penisy słodkie, a połowa słone”, co ma oznaczać, że wedle tradycji mają trudnić się rolnictwem albo rybołówstwem. Kto zatem miał zająć się dziećmi i domem? Tutaj pojawia się trzecia płeć, czyli "muxes" – która tradycyjnie była bardziej płcią społeczną niż seksualną. Na zdjęciu kobiety z Juchitanu podczas dorocznej veli trzeciej płci, 2014 rok. Więcej o muxes i Juchitanie na blogu, link w bio. #muxes #muxe #juchitan #vela #blogtrotters #blogtroterzy #blogpodrozniczy #polishtravelblogs #natgeopl #blogipodroznicze #podroze #podróże #podróż #viajemostodospormexico #mexico #meksyk #discoveringmexico #mexicodesconocido #mexicotour #instamexico #natgeomx #mextagram #mexicolors #mexiko #mexique #mexicomagico #mexicomagicoblog

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Did you know about the Muxe identity?

This article was originally published on April 11, 2018