In a small town in rural, indigenous Mexico, there exists a third gender known as muxe (sometimes spelled muxhe) among the Zapotec peoples. Considered neither male nor female, rather somewhere in-between like the hijras of India, muxes are (broadly speaking) biologically male but dress and act in ways typically associated with females. Here’s a brief history of Mexico’s third gender.
Believed to have originated from the Spanish term for ‘woman’ (mujer), muxes are predominantly found in communities around the Isthmus of Oaxaca, where tolerance towards people identifying with this third gender is generally higher than in many other parts of Mexico. Sadly, however, contrary to popular belief, discrimination is still alive and kicking. In other regions, muxes are sometimes known by other names, like biza’ah.
Like Indian hijras, muxe is thought to be an ancient concept, although many of the current features associated with being muxe only date back some 60 years. One of these concerns how to present as muxe – either by wearing female clothes (vestidas), or wearing male clothes but with makeup (pintadas). Nowadays, most muxes choose to be vestidas. Some muxes also have families, and while many choose male partners, others choose female ones. When a muxe has a male partner, it’s not taken as a given that that man is himself homosexual. Instead, they are known as mayates, although many consider mayates to be men who simply exercise their repressed homosexual desires in a more socially acceptable way. Even so, leaving home is not always common for muxes, as they tend to become the primary caregivers for their elderly parents.
Although most muxe remain in rural, principally indigenous communities where they are more likely to be revered than reviled, there are muxe people living in select communities in the US. Abroad, away from their cultural context, they are often lumped into Western conceptualisations of gender spectrums and sexual preferences, rather than being recognised for the totally distinct group they actually are. Furthermore, many muxes present or challenge what is considered their traditional role. For example, at times some consider themselves gay, while others have fluid ideas of sexuality and others consider themselves women. In short, like anything in life, the concept of muxe is not entirely black and white.
Prominent muxes include Amaranta Gomez Regalado, who became the México Posible party candidate in 2003, calling for relatively progressive acts such as decriminalisation of abortion and marijuana. However, in the present day, performance artist Lukas Avendaño is undoubtedly the most well-known muxe. He’s known for presenting nationalistic Mexican figures through a queer filter and somewhat challenges the idea that indigenous culture is entirely gay-friendly.
However, one key festivity during which muxe culture is celebrated is in late November, when the town of Juchitán plays host to its annual three-day long Vela de las Intrépidas party. Nowadays, some 5000 people attend!
Originally published at theculturetrip.com.