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Behind the Mask: Third Gender Defies Image of Macho Mexico in a Zapotec Community

Bettye Miller -
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April 7, 2017

Los Muxes: Mexico's Third Gender (VICE)

Behind the Mask: Gender Hybridity in a Zapotec Community
by Alfredo Mirandé
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There is a popular myth told in the city of Juchitán, Mexico, to explain the prevalence and acceptance of indigenous men who consider themselves to be neither male nor female, but a hybrid third gender. It goes something like this:

God entrusted San Vicente, the patron saint of Juchitán, with three sacks of human beings: One was filled with women, one with men, and one with a third, mixed gender. Vicente was supposed to distribute these people evenly around the world. But when he got to Juchitán, the sack containing the hybrid gender ripped open and the region received more than its allotment of third-gender people.

Hybrid-gender Zapotec men – known as los muxes – are the subject of a new book by University of California, Riverside scholar Alfredo Mirandé, "Behind the Mask: Gender Hybridity in a Zapotec Community."

Muxes challenge the image of Mexico as a male-dominated land of machismo and homophobia, Mirandé said. Over a span of seven years, the sociologist interviewed muxes and community residents and leaders in Juchitán, a city of nearly 75,000 people in the state of Oaxaca, approximately 425 miles east of Acapulco on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Los muxes are technically gay in that they have sexual relationships with other men, but they live their lives dressed as women – mostly in traditional, feminine, Zapotec attire – and adopt feminine behaviors. They distinguish themselves from gay men and transvestites, however, and consider themselves a third gender, Mirandé said.

"Muxes separate sexuality from gender. They have sex with hombres, 'real' men, not with each other," he said. "They challenge stereotypes about gender and machismo. In Mexico, traditionally, if you're the dominant one in a same-sex relationship, you're 'straight.' If you're passive, you're 'gay.' This is why macho men in Mexico can have sex with other men and not be gay. Muxes are always passive in these relationships."

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