The Muxes of Mexico A third gender of the Zapotec people of mexico

Muxe - (MOO shay) a person whose birth sex is male but who identifies as either female or neither male nor female.

"Muxe" is a Zapotec term believed to be derived from the spanish word for woman, "mujer." This third gender is apart of the culture of the Zapotec people who live in the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Oaxaca, southern state of Mexico
The Zapotec people are an indigenous people of Mexico who are still in touch with many of their traditions, including preserving the multiple Zapotec languages, and recognizing and accepting muxe as a third gender. It is believed that the origin of a third gender in Zapotec culture dates back to pre-Columbian Mexico. In Mayan culture they worshipped gods who were both male and female at the same time, and in Aztec culture there existed cross-dressing priests. There are around 450,000 people who speak Zapotec languages, and it is estimated that around 6% of males in Oaxaca are Muxe.
In and around the town of Juchitan, people who identify as Muxe are widely accepted and even celebrated. It is important to note that there is variation in how Muxe express their gender. As soon as a male indicates that they identify as a third gender, some begin to dress as women while others remain in "male" attire and simply apply make up. They begin to take on "female" roles and tasks including serving as a caretaker, learning embroidery, or decorating the home's altar.
Ninel Castillejo Garcia, a muxe from Mexico city, with her parents.

Many families celebrate having a child who identify as Muxe. Muxe have a certain flexibility when it comes to social roles and occupations, as they can work in jobs that cisgender women aren't aloud to and supply income for the family. They can also serve as a caretaker for younger siblings and aging parents.

Sexuality and Gender Expression
Muxes choose to express their gender in a variety of ways

It is believed that the vestida style of dressing (wearing female clothes) have become more popular in recent history, whereas only a few muxes choose to dress in the the pintada style (wearing male clothes). Muxes can act effeminately, choose to wear dresses and makeup, just makeup, etc. Only a few choose to surgically augment their physical features. Just as Muxes have unique ways in expressing their gender, they are not expected to identify with one specific sexuality.

"The idea of choosing gender or sexual orientation is as ludicrous as suggesting that one can choose one's skin color." - Anthropologist Beverly Chinas

In terms of attraction to romantic and sexual partners, muxes do not identify with the typical western identities of "gay," "straight," or "bisexual." Some have male partners, others marry women, and some date other muxes.

Male partners of muxes, known as mayate, are not considered homosexual either.
Vela de Las Intrepidas (Vigil of the Intrepids)

Every November in Juchitan, Oaxaca, there is held a four day celebration of muxes and their friends and family called Vela de Las Intrepidas, or "Vigil of the Intrepids."

Around 5,000 men, women, and muxes gather to celebrate each year, and at the end of the four day celebration a muxe is crowned "queen." The tradition began 40 years ago as a reunion between the older generation of muxes who wanted to celebrate their lives together.

Interviews of Muxes attending the Velas De Las Intrepidas

Muxe Identity, Transgender Identity, and the Infamous Bathroom Dispute

Though muxes and transgender people are two different communities that originate from separate cultures, they both face similar challenges. In the United States there are still ongoing debates about whether people who identify as transgender should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, and in some states including North Carolina there are already existing restrictions in place.

Juchitan is a relatively accepting town, however people who identify as muxe face discrimination in other more westernized cities and towns. For example, the Technological Institute of the Isthmus recently enacted a policy that denied muse students access to women's restrooms.

Transgender VS Muxe

This brings up the question of whether or not someone can identify as both muxe and transgender. Muxes of younger generations are more likely to agree that someone can identify as both, whereas older muxes are more likely disagree. For the older generations of muxes, being muxe is an essential part of their culture and closely tied to their religion and ancient traditions, whereas the identity of transgender is considered a western import and a passing fad.


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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

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