In Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca (southern Mexico), a muxe (also spelled muxhe) is an assigned male at birth individual who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with the female gender; they may be seen as a third gender. Some marry women and have children while others choose men as sexual or romantic partners. According to anthropologist Lynn Stephen, muxe "may do certain kinds of women’s work such as embroidery or decorating home altars, but others do the male work of making jewelry."
The word muxe is thought to derive from the 16th-century Spanish word for "woman", mujer. At the time, the letter x had a sound similar to "sh".
Muxe and gender in Zapotec culture
In contrast to Mexico's majority mestizo culture, the isthmus of Oaxaca has a predominantly Zapotec population, and it is widely reported that there is less hostility toward muxe in the region than homosexual, effeminate males and trans women face in other regions of the country. One study estimates that 6 percent of males in an Isthmus Zapotec community in the early 1970s were muxe. Other Zapotec communities have similar "third gender" roles, such as the biza’ah of Teotitlán del Valle.
Muxe may be vestidas (wearing female clothes) or pintadas (wearing male clothes and make-up). It has been suggested that while the three gender system predates Spanish colonization, the phenomenon of muxe dressing as women is fairly recent, beginning in the 1950s and gaining popularity until nearly all of the younger generation of muxe today are vestidas.
Within contemporary Zapotec culture, reports vary as to their social status. Muxe in village communities may not be disparaged and highly respected, while in larger, more Westernised towns they may face some discrimination, especially from men due to homophobic attitudes introduced by Catholicism. Muxe generally belong to the poorer classes of society. Gender variance and same-sex desire in wealthier communities of the region are more likely to follow a more western taxonomy of gay, bisexual and transgender. Such individuals are also more likely to remain in "the closet". Despite this, Muxe have traditionally been considered good luck, worth more than cisgender women and many now have white-collar jobs or are involved in politics.
In an article published in 1995, anthropologist Beverly Chiñas explains that in the Zapotec culture, "the idea of choosing gender or of sexual orientation is as ludicrous as suggesting that one can choose one's skin color." Most people traditionally view their gender as something God has given them (whether man, woman, or muxe), and few muxe desire genital surgery. They generally do not suffer from gender dysphoria because transphobia is a rare attitude in their culture, people are generally accepting of them and they usually have their gender recognised through their clothing, there is not as much pressure to "pass" as in Western societies.
Lynn Stephen writes: "Muxe men are not referred to as “homosexuals” but constitute a separate category based on gender attributes. People perceive them as having the physical bodies of men but different aesthetic, work, and social skills from most men. They may have some attributes of women or combine those of men and women." If they do choose men as sexual partners, neither are those men (known as mayate) necessarily considered homosexual.
Prominent muxe individuals
In 2003, 25-year-old muxe Amaranta Gómez Regalado from Juchitán de Zaragoza gained international prominence as a congressional candidate for the México Posible party in the Oaxaca state elections. Her broad platform included calls for the decriminalization of marijuana and abortion.
Lukas Avendaño is an emerging Mexican performance artist whose recent work constitutes a queer performatic intervention of Mexican nationalistic representations, particularly that of Zapotec Tehuana women. Avendaño embodies the complex identity of muxes, or male homosexuals from the Tehuantepec Isthmus where he was born. His cross-dressing performance interweaves ritual dances with autobiographical passages and actions that involve audience members, in order to challenge the widely held view of a gay-friendly indigenous culture and point towards the existence of lives that negotiate pain and loneliness with self-affirming pride.
- Chiñas, Beverly (1995). Isthmus Zapotec attitudes toward sex and gender anomalies, pp. 293-302 in Stephen O. Murray (ed.), "Latin American Male Homosexualities" Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Chiñas (p. 294) defines muxe as “persons who appear to be predominantly male but display certain female characteristics” and fill a “third gender role between men and women, taking some of the characteristics of each.”
- Stephen, Lynn (2002). "Latin American Perspectives," Issue 123, Vol.29 No.2, March 2002, pp. 41-59. Sexualities and Genders in Zapotec Oaxaca..
- MIANO, M. (2002). Hombre, mujer y muxe’ en el Istmo de Tehuantepec. México: Plaza y Valdés. CONACULTA-INAH.
- Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika. "Muxe: el tercer sexo". (in Spanish)
- Rymph, David (1974). Cross-sex behavior in an Isthmus Zapotec village. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Mexico City.
- Gómez Regalado, Amaranta (2005) Transcending..
- Stephen, Lynn, op cit.
- Chiñas, Beverly (1995). Isthmus Zapotec attitudes toward sex and gender anomalies, pp. 293-302 in Stephen O. Murray (ed.), "Latin American Male Homosexualities" Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press
- Medina, Antonio. "La nueva visibilidad lésbico-gay", LETRA S, June 5, 2003.
- Archived profile from Amaranta Gómez Regalado for the WorldOut Games in Copenhagen 2009. Wayback Machine Internet Archive (January 11, 2016). Archived from the original on July 21, 2009.
- Stambaugh, Antonio Prieto (2014-01-01). ["RepresentaXión" de un muxe: la identidad performática de Lukas Avendaño"]. Latin American Theatre Review 48 (1): 31–53. . . https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/latin_american_theatre_review/v048/48.1.stambaugh.html.
- ExandasDocs. "Muxes of Juchitán". Time 9:47. YouTube.com, Sept. 4, 2007.
- CNN.com. "The Muxes of Mexico - Part 1". Time 8:38. May 11, 2010.
- CNN.com. "The Muxes of Mexico - Part 2". Time 8:13. May 11, 2010.
- CNN.com. "The Muxes of Mexico - Part 3". Time 6:31. May 11, 2010.
- vice.com. "OAXACA'S THIRD GENDER". Time 22:21. July 09, 2013.
- Roscoe, Will (1998). Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Lacey, Marc "A Lifestyle Distinct: The Muxe of Mexico" The New York Times, December 7, 2008
- "Meet the Muxes. How a remote town in southern Mexico reinvented sex & gender", Fusion, May 31, 2015, http://interactive.fusion.net/meet-the-muxes/ (includes videos).