Juchitán is a colonial town that predates the Spanish conquest. Home to the indigenous culture of the Zapotec, a third gender known as muxe (MOO-shey) – said to derive from “mujer,” the word for “woman” in Spanish – has long flourished here. The muxe gender encompasses a range of identities that are between the male-female binary. While a muxe would have different labels to choose from in the U.S. – “trans woman,” “gay man,” “genderqueer” – “muxe” spans all identities between male and female here. The term is unique to the Zapotec.
Stemming from pre-Columbian societies that had “mixed-genders” outside of male and female, the muxes are analogous to other “two-spirit” identities in indigenous populations of North America. Muxes traditionally have the freedom to dress in women’s clothing, wear cosmetics and grow their hair long. They can be seen wearing the traditional Tehuana costume of the region, a two-part gown made up of a huipil – a shirt with colorful embroidery – and a long skirt that usually matches the top. Called muxes vestidas – “dressed muxes” – they participate in more traditional female gender roles, such as working as seamstresses, than do muxes pintadas – “painted muxes” – who dress in men’s clothes, but still pluck their eyebrows and wear cosmetics.
When asked why a third gender is accepted in Juchitán, the townspeople invariably point to “the matriarchy” of Oaxacan households – women handle the finances of the family, since they’re the ones who work as vendors in the marketplace, giving them more of an equal standing with men than elsewhere in the countryside. Many mothers would sooner force an unaccepting husband to leave the house than kick out a muxe child.
Location: Juchitán, Oaxaca, Mexico
Photographer: Shaul Schwarz