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Friday, February 25, 2011

Where Men Are Men, and Men are Women



Thalia, named "Princess" the night before, waits for a parade to start.

The United States is known as the "Land of the Free", but many who live here would debate that.  In many states gays and lesbians are not allowed to marry or share the privileges of straight people.  Transvestites are often objects of ridicule or humor.  So much for freedom of expression.

Carmelo, 13, in his first appearance as a girl at an annual muxe celebration.  

Yet Mexico, which brings immediate thoughts of machismo, has a very enlightened region that not only allows freedom of expression, but respects and values it.  In Juchitán, Oaxaca, gays and transvestites live with complete tolerance.  
Alejandro, 16, is one of six children but the only muxe.
This attitude owes its legacy to the Zapotecs, who have inhabited this area for centuries and resisted domination by first the Aztecs, and then the Spanish.  In fact, anthropologists have traced the acceptance of mixed genders to pre-Columbian times and cross-dressing Aztec priests and hermaphroditic Mayan gods.  Spanish colonization and Catholicism forced changed views, but in the area around Juchitán there was a resistance to adopting these new attitudes, and mixed-gender identities and holding women in esteem endured.  In fact, many people still speak Zapotec instead of Spanish



Beth-Sua gets ready to attend a transvestite beauty pageant.
A "muxe" (pronounced "moo-shay") is a Zapotecan word for woman, derived from the Spanish "mujer".  For many families it is a blessing and considered good luck to have a gay son.  Women in general are held in such high regard that if you weren't born one the next best thing is to become one.  When a male baby is born mothers soothe one another with thoughts that perhaps he'll be gay.  Some people believe muxes have special mental and artistic gifts.

Beth-Sua enjoys a smoke at the pageant.  She represents her city's muxes,
and is a local organizer and HIV-AIDS activist.  She also embroiders huilpiles.

At least one third of all males in Juchitán are gay.  Unlike the rest of Mexico, where putos ("faggots") are targets for ridicule and abuse, in Juchitán gender is simply a matter of natural impulse.  Muxes express their identities in different ways.  Some dress as women; some take hormones and/or surgically alter their bodies; some favor traditional male demeanor.  Many just take pride in their difference preferring to be neither male or female, but just themselves.


Ninel, 23, with her parents, is one of the few muxes who has had surgical
augmentation.  She is supported by her boyfriend, who lives with her
family.  She used to work, but now stays home and tends to her
younger siblings and does the cooking.
Ninel with her boyfriend, Sebastian, 18.  They first met in Mexico City and
then moved in with Ninel's parents in Juchitán.  Sebastian did not know that
Ninel was transgender at first, but doesn't care and sees no problem with it.
Muxes are active and successful business people.  The area is famous for huipiles, hand-embroidered blouses, which many muxes are involved in making.  They own hair salons and specialize in dressing women.  Festivals and parties provide business opportunities as well.  Some muxes have quinceañeras, the traditional Latin American coming-of-age celebrations of a young woman's 15th birthday (another Aztec tradition).  The muxes have their own celebration called "The Party of the Authentic Intrepid Ones Who Search for Danger",  "The Intrepid Ones" being what gays in Juchitán call themselves.  Every November there is a festival that attracts people from all over the world.

Mistica, 30 is popular and well-known.  She is considered an astute
businesswoman who has a cosmetics business.
This region is a haven for those who relish blurring gender roles, and where the tradition of doing so goes back in time.  Here you are free to be male, female, or the best of both worlds.



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Photos courtesy of Katie Orlinsky for the NY Times
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1 comment:

  1. How wonderful. If only the whole world was so accepting.

    ReplyDelete

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