In the predominantly Catholic and, at times, socially intolerant land of Mexico, there is a cultural phenomenon which exemplifies the ultimate flexibility in views towards gender and sex. In the southern state of Oaxaca, the indigenous Zapotec people have sanctioned and preserved, over the course of centuries, a gender class known as muxes (pronounced MOO-shace)—men who see themselves as women and occupy a socially accepted station in their community that hovers between the two sexes.
Anthropologists trace this practice back to the pre-Colombian era, referencing accounts of cross-dressing Aztec priests and Mayan gods who possessed both genders simultaneously. Throughout Mexico, this tradition and tolerance were lost with the Spanish colonization of the 1500s and consequent imposition of Catholicism. However, these dual-gender identities persevered up to modern day in the area surrounding Juchitán, where the ancient Zapotec tongue is still spoken.
Muxes express themselves differently: some cross-dress, others resort to hormones or surgery to alter their bodies, and some simply prefer men’s clothes. But they are all accepted by their society and are believed to possess exceptional intellectual and artistic talents. Muxes are ubiquitous throughout Juchitán society, but generally take on traditionally female roles: cooking and cleaning in the home, embroidering traditional clothing, selling goods in the market, or even prositution for male clients.
In November, muxes flood the town for a grand ball—attended by all genders, ages, and walks of life, including tourists—at which a queen is selected and crowned by the mayor. The above slideshow showcases a spectacular and compelling portrait study of muxes, photographed at this very event by the gifted photography duo Trujillo Paumier.