Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Muxe Of Mexico

TransGriot Note: The New York Times published this interesting story about the Muxe of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. As I and other transgender people have pointed out, there are various cultures around the world that make room for either a third gender category or simply make room for those who feel from birth they are female to live their lives.

A Lifestyle Distinct: The Muxe of Mexico

Published: December 6, 2008
Katie Orlinsky contributed reporting and photos from Juchitán, Mexico

Mexico City — Mexico can be intolerant of homosexuality; it can also be quite liberal. Gay-bashing incidents are not uncommon in the countryside, where many Mexicans consider homosexuality a sin. In Mexico City, meanwhile, same-sex domestic partnerships are legally recognized — and often celebrated lavishly in government offices as if they were marriages.

But nowhere are attitudes toward sex and gender quite as elastic as in the far reaches of the southern state of Oaxaca. There, in the indigenous communities around the town of Juchitán, the world is not divided simply into gay and straight. The local Zapotec people have made room for a third category, which they call “muxes” (pronounced MOO-shays) — men who consider themselves women and live in a socially sanctioned netherworld between the two genders.

“Muxe” is a Zapotec word derived from the Spanish “mujer,” or woman; it is reserved for males who, from boyhood, have felt themselves drawn to living as a woman, anticipating roles set out for them by the community.

Anthropologists trace the acceptance of people of mixed gender to pre-Colombian Mexico, pointing to accounts of cross-dressing Aztec priests and Mayan gods who were male and female at the same time. Spanish colonizers wiped out most of those attitudes in the 1500s by forcing conversion to Catholicism. But mixed-gender identities managed to survive in the area around Juchitán, a place so traditional that many people speak ancient Zapotec instead of Spanish.

Not all muxes express their identities the same way. Some dress as women and take hormones to change their bodies. Others favor male clothes. What they share is that the community accepts them; many in it believe that muxes have special intellectual and artistic gifts.

Every November, muxes inundate the town for a grand ball that attracts local men, women and children as well as outsiders. A queen is selected; the mayor crowns her. “I don’t care what people say,” said Sebastian Sarmienta, the boyfriend of a muxe, Ninel Castillejo García. “There are some people who get uncomfortable. I don’t see a problem. What is so bad about it?”

Muxes are found in all walks of life in Juchitán, but most take on traditional female roles — selling in the market, embroidering traditional garments, cooking at home. Some also become sex workers, selling their services to men.

Acceptance of a child who feels he is a muxe is not unanimous; some parents force such children to fend for themselves. But the far more common sentiment appears to be that of a woman who takes care of her grandson, Carmelo, 13.

“It is how God sent him,” she said.


Bad hair days said...

In every actual culture that accept a third gender it's always all about trans-women, trans-men are still invisible. Why is that?

Monica Roberts said...

good question....

Syrlinus said...

I was about to ask the same thing. I suspect it's the reality that there are fewer trans-men. Someone once suggested to me that my transitioning was about a desire to gain privilege and such but that's definitely not it. It's interesting that few people consider it (the mass media generally is "trans == only trans-women")

Monica Roberts said...

I also thin a lot of it is because for the longest time, transmen basically 'went stealth' after doing so and haven't had the same amount of media coverage that transwomen have since 1953.

Alexander of the Trees said...

I have noticed that reports and studies look more at mtfs than ftms. So does the media in general. I'm sure there are many reasons for this: transmen tend to run stealth more, transmen may have more trouble finding medical supervision for their transition (which means they are harder to track for studies), also ftms are less shocking to the patriarchy than mtfs (therefore less enticing for study).
Another reasons might be: women have a long history of taking charge despite social norms that dictated otherwise.

After some rasearch, I discovered social structures that allowed for an ftm-third-gender (or at least for women to live in the roles of men without having to completely hide their birth sex) among the:
chinese, japanese, native american, slavic, siberian, celtic, gaelic, germanic, scandinavian, western european, greek, roman, and many other cultures.
However, the feminists claimed all this as women's history. Many of these people were something we in the trans community might call transmen, but many were women...and the line between the two groups is quite blurry, historically, making it very easy for women to claim them all as early-pioneers. Once more, women's lib both helps (see protection of gender expression in much of the US) and hinders (rendering us invisible) ftms.

Renee said...

Thanks for posting this. I had no idea. Also the comments make a really interesting point. Until reading them it had not even occurred to me that trans men are quite invisible. Really it leads to some interesting questions but I am still in the STFU & L category so I think I'll do some research.