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