The Overly Mysterious "Muxes" of Mexico

Meet the Muxes, a mysterious "third category" of person with "special intellectual and artistic gifts"...or maybe just a bunch of transvestities in Mexico?

Reporter Marc Lacey did his bit for multiculturalism, romanticizing a community of transvestites (without actually using the word) among the Zapotecpeople livingin the Mexican state of Oaxacain his Sunday Week in Review story, "A Lifestyle Distinct - the Muxe of Mexico."The photo-heavy story accompanied onlinebyan outlandishphoto slideshow, "In Mexico, Beyond Gay and Straight."


Withoverwrought mystery, Lacey's article spoke of a special "third category" of people - "Men who consider themselves women." The Reuters news agency, in this instance less politically correct, simply used the standard term " ">transvestite." Perhaps the P.C. Times considers the T-word retrograde in this enlightened day and age.


Lacey's opening sentence contrasted intolerance and religion with liberalism:


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.


The Muxes not only like to wear dresses; they are also a special caste with mysterious powers:


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.


Lacey soft-pedaled the seedy side of the story: Male prostitution, possiblyinvolving teenagers.


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.