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Muxes: "”Thanks to God, we have one of them in every family"
September 16, 2010 7:04 PM   Subscribe

We are princesses in a land of machos. "They drink beer, they are part of local governement and they are symbol of good luck for their family: they are Muxes, homosexuals of the “pueblo oaxacaqueno de Juchitan”, more than 3000 homosexuals who enjoy respect and admiration in all the country... they walk proudly in the streets, dressed as women with huipiles and enaguas, typical dress of the Tehuantepec Isthmus." Photo essay by Nicola Okin Frioli. More at Flickr.

CNN three-part video documentary
Part 1: Mexico's third gender
Part II, Evolution of Mexico’s Third Gender
Part III, Muxe Today in Mexico

Muxes of Juchitan - about 10 minutes of a 72 minute documentary (this is the only clip I could find)

Fiesta de los Muxes - Juchitan - Flickr gallery

A Lifestyle Distinct: The Muxe Of Mexico - NYT, 2008
posted by madamjujujive (28 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great timing for a post, in light of the bicentennial of Mexico's independence.
posted by chicofly at 7:11 PM on September 16, 2010


I read the first line, but saw nachos instead of machos. I clicked immediately because nachos are relevant to my interests and princesses of nacho land sounded awesome. I was confused and disappointed for a moment, but this is better than pictures of nachos.

Thanks!
posted by milarepa at 7:13 PM on September 16, 2010 [16 favorites]


See also the native American two spirit people, sometimes called berdache.

And I do not want to derail, but some of that photographer's other photo essays are so worth viewing ... I particularly liked The last Sardinian shepherds - awesome.

milarepa, I too would love princesses of nachos, ha.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:20 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is downright heartwarming. Loved those pictures in the NYT slideshow of the muxes with their families and boyfriends, and look forward to watching the video.

It makes one wonder how much more common open transgenderism would be if it hadn't been beaten out of societies by various religious groups. Where else does this type of openness and acceptance currently exist?
posted by padraigin at 7:24 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, madamjujujive. This is not only an extremely interesting topic but a very well-done post as well.

I feel like the explication of non-binary gender milieux would have a salutary effect on the emotional distress many young people experience when they're trying to figure out how to perform their adult gender.
posted by clockzero at 7:26 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Flipping through the photo essay, this reminds me of Kathoey culture in Thailand, and the way the way it seems to be covered in the mainstream Western press (e.g., here: "In the indigenous muxe culture of Mexico's Oaxaca state, alternative notions of sexuality are not only accepted, they're celebrated") is similar to the way Kathoeys are typically addressed.

Now, these are certainly interesting developments, and by all means superior to repression and violence that gays face the world over. But I recall talking to a friend of a friend who was a gay Thai man living in Thailand, who is actually rather turned off by Kathoey culture. His point was, "so I'm a guy, and I'm gay. Why should I dress up like a woman and sing show tunes to tourists? Can't I just be a gay guy?" Which is apparently a much less accepted option there; my understanding is that the same is true in Mexico (perhaps even moreso).

So, I'm not sure I really get the warm fuzzies from this. It's still a very strong gender stereotype that is pressed onto gay men. The fact that they don't get beaten if they hew to these roles is... better than nothing, but not necessarily too reassuring. I mean, it's problematic that macho cultures force women to keep up their femininity and take submissive roles, right? At the very least the gay men here are being subjected to that cultural pressure, and it seems just as objectionable.

Reading a bit further in that Travel + Leisure article: "D'Onofri explained that in a culture where female virginity is prized, muxes also serve as a sexual outlet for men before marriage, often dating men who go on to marry women." And, there it is - you're not gay if you're the guy on top. It seems a pretty substantial component of the muxes tradition is servicing, and thus maintaining, the macho culture around it.

Not trying to bag on the photoessay (or this post), of course. It's definitely fascinating.
posted by rkent at 7:49 PM on September 16, 2010 [23 favorites]


Seems like societies have an easier time accepting same-sex behavior if they can slot it into the known dichotomy, i.e. 'oh, you like men? Then you are a woman. So just put on a dress.' Seems to take a lot more progressiveness to come accept 'oh, you like men AND you're a man.' So maybe that's where sexism and homophobia connect.
posted by kevinsp8 at 8:09 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems like societies have an easier time accepting same-sex behavior if they can slot it into the known dichotomy, i.e. 'oh, you like men? Then you are a woman. So just put on a dress.'

The NYT link mentions that some muxes choose to wear men's clothing. I wonder how it actually plays out. I also wonder how it would play out without the influence from Catholic culture, whether that had any influence on how muxes today live their day to day life.
posted by padraigin at 8:16 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


rkent: "So, I'm not sure I really get the warm fuzzies from this. It's still a very strong gender stereotype that is pressed onto gay men."

If they're forcing gay men to live as women, yes, it's bad. But talking about "gay" or "homosexual" with reference to a lot of these folks -- muxes, kathoey, etc. -- is often a misnomer. If we must use English labels, "transgender" would probably be far more accurate.

Also, by continuing the "trans women are just reinforcing gender stereotypes" argument, you're following in the footsteps of great transphobes like Germaine Greer and Janice Raymond. Please don't.
posted by jiawen at 8:52 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually, as I understand it, gay people in general in Oaxaca (and especially in Tehuantepec) are quite accepted, crossdressing/transsexual or not. As I've had it explained, one reason is a family that has a gay son has someone to stay behind with the parents as the other children get married and move out, and will take care of the parents as they get old. This is apparently seen as a great honor and boon to the community.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:09 PM on September 16, 2010


I just fucking love homosexuals.
posted by hermitosis at 9:12 PM on September 16, 2010


I just fucking love homosexuals.

That's not the word order I was expecting.
posted by Forktine at 9:30 PM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I consider every permutation of those words to be basically true.
posted by hermitosis at 9:41 PM on September 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


wouldnt want to BLORT out when i clicked on HOME ...well , glad ms. clav is sleeping.

i captured the 'Payasos 1-13' from the clown gallery.

as always
the madame provides.
posted by clavdivs at 10:13 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great pictures. That photographer, Nikola Okin Frioli, rocks! Love his Gay Pride in Mexico City pics too. wow.

Some sort of extra intensity to his pics. A stark dimension.

Now I really, really want some Oaxacan embroidery. So beautiful! Got to go to Oaxaca.

Wonderful post, as ever.
posted by nickyskye at 10:26 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every time something like this comes up, I think through all of the same sort of stuff that rkent wrote out. Still, I think this picture is gorgeous.
posted by kavasa at 10:39 PM on September 16, 2010


Great post!

It brings to mind this post, about women in Albania who take on male identities and roles. And I always wonder: I am aware of societies/cultures where (transgender and/or gay) men are recognized, may be celebrated, etc., but before I read about the Albanian women, I don't think I'd ever heard of a culture where trans/gay women are similarly recognized. Are there others?
posted by rtha at 10:59 PM on September 16, 2010


rtha, there are four genders in South Sulawesi. Calalai. More info, will need Google translate unless you speak French.
posted by nickyskye at 11:47 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


rtha, there are three genders traditionally accepted in Samoa where fa 'afafine are accepted as normal. Formerly they were boys raised as girls, but not necessarily homosexual. It was just that the family did not have enough girls to do 'women's work', and the fa 'afaine would continue to do women's work, but it was quite acceptable for them to marry a woman. Nowadays fa 'afafine are usually homosexual, and have usually chosen to live that way rather than the path being chosen for them. And this is in a country/society that is highly religious, as in Christian.
posted by Megami at 12:05 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


There was a comment a while back about the third gender in the Marsh Arab culture of Iraq. Here it is. They are called mustarjil.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:51 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems like societies have an easier time accepting same-sex behavior if they can slot it into the known dichotomy, i.e. 'oh, you like men? Then you are a woman. So just put on a dress.' Seems to take a lot more progressiveness to come accept 'oh, you like men AND you're a man.' So maybe that's where sexism and homophobia connect.

Some societies do, yes. Western societies have the opposite problem: even in places where gay people are (relatively) accepted, trans people are still vilified and killed.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:09 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I know nothing about trans stuff outside of Europe and the US/Canada, so thanks loads for this post and the beautiful photos.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:27 AM on September 17, 2010


If they're forcing gay men to live as women, yes, it's bad. But talking about "gay" or "homosexual" with reference to a lot of these folks -- muxes, kathoey, etc. -- is often a misnomer. If we must use English labels, "transgender" would probably be far more accurate.

Also, by continuing the "trans women are just reinforcing gender stereotypes" argument, you're following in the footsteps of great transphobes like Germaine Greer and Janice Raymond. Please don't.


I'm really not sure "transgender" is an appropriate term here at all. It's entirely possible that Western mindsets really have a word for Muxes.

And I don't think anyone said anything about trans women and gender stereotypes at all.
posted by hippybear at 8:04 AM on September 17, 2010


Odelay!
    Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
posted by Twang at 8:34 AM on September 17, 2010


I'm really not sure "transgender" is an appropriate term here at all. It's entirely possible that Western mindsets [don't] really have a word for Muxes.

I already addressed this: "If we must use English labels, 'transgender' would probably be far more accurate."

And I don't think anyone said anything about trans women and gender stereotypes at all.

What? rkent said "It's still a very strong gender stereotype that is pressed onto [muxes]", and various other things implying that muxes are just playing into a system that reinforces gender stereotypes.
posted by jiawen at 8:59 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, and what I'm saying is... I don't agree that "transgender" is accurate.

And on the basis of that, I don't think that you're interpreting what rkent said in full understanding of the actual situation. You can't simply just decide that Muxes = transgender, therefore OMG OUTRAGE. The world is far more nuanced than that.

If anything rkent is also lacking nuance, in that he's making the leap that Muxes = gay. It's clear from the CNN reporting that neither of these equivalencies are correct. The culture there has a different take on this particular slice of human sexuality altogether, and using Western terms (which come with a specific load of cultural baggage) to describe what Muxes are shortchanges the situation altogether.

Mexican culture (and hispanic immigrant culture in the US) has recently seen a blossoming of acceptance toward homosexuality of all stripes. I was in a country-western gay bar in Albuquerque not too long ago which was full of spanish-speaking men, nearly all of them in traditional ranchero garb (it being a country western bar), all of them having a great time being true to themselves. I don't think it's true that Mexico forces gay men into dressing like women to conform to stereotyped gender roles. (Granted, this WAS in Albuquerque, not actually in Mexico.) But my experiences growing up in southern NM 45 miles from the border and having a lot of encounters with hispanic men never seemed to involve enforced gender roles, at least not with manner of dress or manner of expression.

But don't try to force Muxes into a mold which suits either the gay agenda or the transexual agenda. They are their own thing, perhaps difficult for people in the US to fully understand.
posted by hippybear at 10:04 AM on September 17, 2010


But don't try to force Muxes into a mold which suits either the gay agenda or the transexual agenda. They are their own thing, perhaps difficult for people in the US to fully understand.

Yeah, and it's certainly the case that in the US and Europe, there are people who don't see themselves as gay men or women, or trans men or women (inasmuch as they can be set up in opposition to each other), but as something else, or several somethings else. They just don't have as many newspaper columns as the rest of us.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:57 PM on September 17, 2010


I have the documentary Muxes of Juchitan. It's fabulous, definitely check it out if you ever get a chance.
posted by Theta States at 6:32 AM on September 20, 2010


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