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Muxes: Mexico’s Third Gender

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This month, for the first time, an indigenous Muxe will appear on the cover of the Mexican and British editions of Vogue magazine.

“I think it’s a huge step,” Estrella Vazquez, an indigenous Zapotec Muxe who will grace the cover, said in an interview with Reuters. “There’s still discrimination, but it’s not as much now and you don’t see it like you once did.”

The Muxes, a term derived from the ancient Zapotec dialect meaning “woman”, describes a man who “lives and knows himself as a woman,” according to Mas De MX. Muxes are not quite seen as being a tranvestite, transgender or transexual, they are more widley associated with an “hermaphroditen deity of an Aztec priest that symbolizes good luck”. Muxes have their biggest community in the city of Juchitan in southern Oaxaca state, where, last month, they celebrated the annual festival honoring Muxes in the community. 

Celebrated for more than 44 years, the festival was notable two years ago when a powerful earthquake hit Juchitan and prompted its residents to come together to alleviate the disaster. Muxes played a leading role in the aftermath, as many worked to dig trapped family and friends from the rubble, often using their bare hands. 

Two years later, the residents were determined to make up for lost time with a thrilling city-wide competition in which over 50 Muxes tried to outperform each other with their fabulous costumes.

“I am a capable person, one that has always worked and that has always brought something to the table,” Mystic, a member of the Muxe community in Juchitan, told Reuters while getting ready to participate in the festivities.

Muxes are widely accepted in the area despite a rooted Catholic heritage that defines many Latinx cultures. Mostly seen as the third gender in Mexico, Muxes are known for their dedication to the family, especially for caring for parents as other brothers move to begin their own families.

Anthropologists have found evidence of mixed gender identities in all of Mesoamerica, from Mayan gods of the corn and moon, to Aztec priests and men and women who used to cross-dress. However, the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century and the Catholic church eliminated a great part of that tolerance, which has revived in the last decades thanks to the gay pride movement.

Biniza Carrillo, a Muxe and activist in the Juchitan community, told Reuters that although homophbic crimes still exist in their community as they do everywhere else in the world, in Juchitan the residents love and respect the sexual and gender identity of Muxes. 

“We have earned a place in society,” Carrillo said. “We are in politics, commerce, culture and art, and we will continue to be—that is the great tradition.”

Alexandra Tirado Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist covering politics, immigration, entertainment and social justice. She moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue a Writing degree at The University of Tampa, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles where she works in broadcast and as a freelance writer. She’s passionate about equality, freedom of speech, art and dogs.