Published On: Thu, Mar 13th, 2014

Meet the “Muxes”, an integral part of Zapotec culture

Share This
Tags

In the Zapotec culture of the state of Oaxaca (Southern Mexico), a muxe (also spelled “muxhe”) is a physically male individual who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with the female gender; they may be seen as a third gender. Some marry women and have children while others choose men as sexual or romantic partners.

According to anthropologist Lynn Stephen, a muxe “may do certain kinds of women’s work such as embroidery or decorating home altars, but others do the male work of making jewelry.”

The word muxe is thought to derive from the 16th-century Spanish word for “woman”, mujer.

A muxe and friends after Mass on the second day of the vela, a celebration of muxe culture.

A muxe and friends after Mass on the second day of the vela, a celebration of muxe culture.                                (Photo Erin Lee Holland for the Advocate Magazine)

The first thing most people notice about muxes (pronounced MOO-shay) is that they appear to be men dressed as women. Some have had their breasts enhanced, others have nose jobs. But most wear long hair, dresses, and some makeup.

Local muxe and hairdresser (and the 2012 Mayordomo) Pedro Martinez Linares, helps his friends prepare (Photo: Erin Lee Holland for the Advocate Magazine)

Local muxe and hairdresser (and the 2012 Mayordomo) Pedro Martinez Linares, helps his friends prepare

The majority of muxes start young, in their teens, and are trained in womanly ways by family and friends, taking their place in a Zapotec cultural tradition that predates the Spanish colonizers. Now their traditional role has become that of caretaker.

Local girls march throughout the town as part of La Regada, a parade on the second day of the celebration (Photo Erin Lee Holland for the Advocate Magazine)

Local girls march throughout the town as part of La Regada, a parade on the second day of the celebration

Sons and daughters get married and have families of their own, so the person that stays to care for the parents is the muxe,” explains Pedro Martinez Linares, a well-known muxe who began his training at age 13. “That’s why they are so highly valued.”

Guests at the vela celebration where the new queen and mayordomo are crowned. (Photo: Erin Lee Holland)

Guests at the vela celebration where the new queen and mayordomo are crowned.

Like their Two-Spirit sisters in North America, the muxes are an integral part of Zapotec culture, revered, not reviled. And like other third gender people, muxes are not gay. Some take male lovers, others take wives. And they’re not transgender. They are distinct. Nor do all muxes work solely as women. Many take more “manly” career tracks: one muxe, Amaranta Gómez Regalado, ran for Mexico’s congress in 2003. And despite the popular description, not all muxes dress as women. Those are just the vestidas. There are also pintadas, the less common muxes who wear men’s clothing and makeup. And both come together each year for the muxes’ annual pageant, the four-day long La Vela de las Auténticas Intrépidas Buscadoras del Peligro, which translates to “The Celebration of the Bold Seekers of Danger.”

The 2013 mayordomo (left) with family members posing for photos at La Misa, the Mass during the second day of the celebration.

The 2013 mayordomo (left) with family members posing for photos at La Misa, the Mass during the second day of the celebration (Photo: Erin Lee Holland)

The vela began nearly four decades ago as a friendly celebration“, says Linares. “It all started as a small party, something like a reunion with only six or seven muxes who were already nearing old age,” he says. “Every year they would celebrate the life they shared together… but you know how it goes. One invited friends, then the others invited their friends and it began growing that way.”

Today over 5,000 people come to where it all began, Juchitán, Oaxaca, for the massive celebration. But now the focus at this “beauty pageant” isn’t on poise, grace, or faces. It’s on wallets. You don’t so much earn the crown as buy it. “To be the mayordomo, you have to have the desire, but above all you have to have the money,” says Linares. The mayordomo honor runs around 60,000 pesos (around $4,400 USD), while the queen’s crown costs about 100,000 pesos ($7,400 USD).

As pecuniary as the modern-day festival’s politics may be, the result of the pagent is loftier: a celebration of a tradition that survived Spanish conquistadores, Catholic crusaders, communist revolutionaries, and the rise of Mexico’s machismo culture. And they even have the local church’s respect; it hosts a Mass during the vela, and many of the muxes attend.

http://www.advocate.com/

Mexico Travel Care

footer-john-2


Comments

comments

Displaying 6 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. These people deserve to live as they wish.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>