Our Siblings of Juchitán

There is a book store in a train station in a large city in central Europe that offers hundreds, maybe even thousands of magazines, comic books and newspapers from all over the world.  Well, maybe not from all over the world, but certainly from Europe and North America.

I recently discovered the shop while doing some exploring during a 10-day business trip that kept me in Europe over a weekend.

In perusing the racks and stacks of magazines, comic books and newspapers from not quite all over the world, the color photograph on the cover of one of them caught my eye.  The image was of twin girls of about six years of age, wearing dark blue velvet dresses as though ready to go to church, both looking out from the book with large, brown, soulful eyes.

Upon flipping through the pages, I realized it was a photography periodical, the name of which I have forgotten if I ever took notice of it at all; the title was not printed on the front cover.  This particular edition was devoted to Mexico and included both portraits and journalistic images of Mexican people and places.  A photo essay included within gave me pause at the enormous coincidence of picking up this particular publication among the hundreds that were displayed and led to a discovery that is the subject of this post.

I purchased the book with the intention of scanning the image on the front cover to include in this post, but after I returned home from the trip, I couldn’t find the book when I unpacked.  I cannot for the life of me understand what happened to it — I checked that hotel room three times before I walked out to make sure I wasn’t about to forget anything — but I can only assume that I left the periodical behind.

So I did some digging when I got home and found not only the web site of the photographer whose work I saw in the publication, but also information about the subjects in his photography project that I had stumbled across by pure, random chance.

The photographer was Nicola Ókin Frioli, and his photo essay Princesses in the land of Machos is about the Zapotec Muxes  in Juchitán in the state of Oaxaca in Southwestern Mexico.

From "Muxes - Zapotec Transgenders" from Nicola Ókin Frioli's Flickr photostream. Click on the image to see more.

Described in the media as homosexuals and/or transgender, the Muxes define themselves as neither men nor women, but simply as Muxe, a third gender.  They are an integral part of the indigenous Zapotec culture as described by Frioli in his essay:

MUXES – We are Princesses in a land of Machos (Oaxaca-Mexico)

They drink beer, they are part of local government and they are  a 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.

Los Muxes (in zapotec language means homosexual) are considered as a blessing in Juchitan and you can count almost 3000 of them.

According to a taxi-driver, there is a homosexual in every family and Muxes themselves assert to be “fallen from a broken pocket of San Vicente Ferrer” the patron saint of Juchitan, during his holy walk over the town (a local expression to say they are lucky, chosen people).

It is a luck for a homosexual to be born in Juchitan, where in a population of 160.000 people, the most of them feel respect for Muxes, while they walk proudly in the streets, dressed as women with huipiles and enaguas, typical dress of the Tehuantepec Isthmus.

The homosexuals of Juchitan have gained a place in economical and political activities, normally reserved to men.

They are owners of shops,they work in hospitals, they are successful stylists of the typical local dresses and owners of beauty salons.

A resident in Juchitan says ”Thanks to God, we have one of them in every family… they are like women, they work as a man, but they wash, cook, clean the house and when the other sons will get married and leave, they will stay and look after their old parents”.

“A lady living here, has accepted a son muxes… and then she has winned the lottery.. it is a real blessing. .everybody should accept them as they are.. in every place they are”.

Carlos Lopez Toledo, municipal councellor, explains that when a family realizes that a child has a bent for homosexuality, they treat him as a lucky charm, because Muxes are good producers.

“A lot of us are in this way, because our parents have converted us and treated as female “says Felina, a 36 years old Muxes, owner of an Estetica (beauty salon). ”I’m not a man.. I’m not a woman.. I’m a Muxes and there is place for everybody in the Vineyard of Lord “.

Mistica, 27 years old, makes traditional dresses “When I was a child, I used to play with my sisters,I dressed as a woman and I made myself up… my mother was happy and used to say she would like a son muxes… My father didn’t accept immediately and decided to bring me to the farm with my brothers… but once arrived… I run to pick up flowers…”

The Muxes have been covered in the media by the New York Times, in a documentary by Alejandra Islas entitled “Muxes – Authentic Intrepid Seekers of Danger” and in a series of videos by CNN, “Men, Women, Muxe: Mexico’s Third Gender.”

Part 1: Mexico’s Third Gender

Part 2: Evolution of Mexico’s Third Gender

Part 3: Muxe Today in Mexico

Perhaps you have heard of the Muxes before but their story was new to me.  If not for the blind luck of finding that photography periodical among the hundreds of publications in the book shop in the train station in the large city in Europe, I would not have known about the Muxes.  For those of you who did not know of the them before reading this post, I hope you enjoyed, as I did, learning about our beautiful siblings of Juchitán.


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8 Responses to Our Siblings of Juchitán

  1. Cameron says:

    Wonderful post- a blessing!

  2. j says:

    Nice to read. thanks.

  3. maddox says:

    Thanks for posting. I am from Mexico and the culture around LGBT issues there is very backward. As well, there is discrimination of indigenous groups and cultures, which are considered “backward” but ironically are often not, as we can see here. There is an extremely rich culture and there have been many advances to try and promote it and maintain it.

  4. Pingback: The Muxes of Mexico | Trans*Life

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