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Photo: Miho Hagino
Felina Santiago, Muxe activist, President of the Muxe Group Las Auténticas Intrépidas Buscadoras del Peligro Photo: Miho Hagino
Lukas Avendaño, a Zapotec muxe performance artist.

In Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca (southern Mexico), a muxe (also spelled muxhe; [muʃeʔ]) is a person assigned male at birth who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with women; they may be seen as a third gender.[1][2]


The Zapotec word muxe is thought to derive from the Spanish word for "woman", mujer.[3] In the 16th-century, the letter x had a sound similar to "sh" (see History of the Spanish language § Modern development of the Old Spanish sibilants).

Gender and identity in Zapotec culture[edit]

In contrast to Mexico's majority mestizo culture, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec has a predominantly Zapotec population, one of the country's indigenous peoples. It is widely reported that muxe face less hostility there than homosexuals, effeminate males, and trans women do elsewhere in Mexico. One study estimates that 6 percent of males in an Isthmus Zapotec community in the early 1970s were muxe.[4] Other Zapotec communities, outside the Isthmus, have similar third gender roles, such as the biza'ah of Teotitlán del Valle.

While there’s no exact number of individuals that identify as muxe, there are large debates on what exactly a muxe is. Some[who?] say that a person is not considered muxe unless they are born in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, and is instead considered gay if they are born outside of the village.[5]

Some marry women and have children while others choose men as sexual or romantic partners.[6] According to anthropologist Lynn Stephen, 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".[6][7]

Muxe may be vestidas ("dressed", i.e. wearing female clothes) or pintadas ("painted", i.e. wearing male clothes and make-up). It has been suggested that while the three-gender system predates Spanish colonization,[citation needed] the phenomenon of muxe dressing as women is fairly recent, beginning in the 1950s and gaining popularity until nearly all of the younger generation of muxe today are vestidas.[8]

Within contemporary Zapotec culture, reports vary as to their social status. Muxe in village communities may not be disparaged and are highly respected, while in larger, more Westernised towns they may face some discrimination, especially from men, due to attitudes introduced by Catholicism.[9] Muxe generally belong to the poorer classes of society. Gender variance and same-sex desire in wealthier communities of the region are more likely to follow a more western taxonomy of gay, bisexual and transgender. Such individuals are also more likely to remain "in the closet". Despite this, muxe have traditionally been considered good luck, and many now have white-collar jobs or are involved in politics.

Anthropologist Beverly Chiñas explained in 1995 that in the Zapotec culture, "the idea of choosing gender or of sexual orientation is as ludicrous as suggesting that one can choose one's skin color."[10] Most people traditionally view their gender as something God has given them (whether man, woman, or muxe), and few muxe desire genital surgery. They generally do not suffer from gender dysphoria. There is not as much pressure to "pass" as in Western societies.[citation needed]

Lynn Stephen writes: "Muxe men are not referred to as "homosexuals" but constitute a separate category based on gender attributes. People perceive them as having the physical bodies of men but different aesthetic, work, and social skills from most men. They may have some attributes of women or combine those of men and women." If they do choose men as sexual partners, neither are necessarily considered homosexual.

Prominent individuals[edit]

In 2003, 25-year-old Amaranta Gómez Regalado from Juchitán de Zaragoza gained international prominence as a congressional candidate for the México Posible party in the Oaxaca state elections. Her broad platform included calls for the decriminalization of marijuana and abortion.[11][12]

Lukas Avendaño is an emerging performance artist whose recent work constitutes a queer performatic intervention of Mexican nationalistic representations, particularly that of Zapotec Tehuana women. Avendaño, born on the Isthmus, embodies the complex identity of muxes. His cross-dressing performance interweaves ritual dances with autobiographical passages and actions that involve audience members, in order to challenge the widely-held view of a gay-friendly indigenous culture and point towards the existence of lives that negotiate pain and loneliness with self-affirming pride.[13]

Alex Orozco is an actress, playwright and theater director that has won several regional awards with "Bala'na", a monologue about Muxe sex workers in the state of Oaxaca.[14]

Marven is a food vendor often referred to by her business name Lady Tacos de Canasta. Her first notable appearance was a viral video taken while she was selling food at a 2016 Gay Pride march. Since then, she has grown in popularity and been featured on multiple media outlets. She was featured in Episode 3 of Taco Chronicles, the 2019 Netflix documentary series, in which she discusses both her business and gender. She was involved in multiple reported incidents with police in February and July 2019.[15][16][17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chiñas, Beverly (1995). Isthmus Zapotec attitudes toward sex and gender anomalies, pp. 293-302 in Stephen O. Murray (ed.), "Latin American Male Homosexualities" Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
    Chiñas (p. 294) defines muxe as "persons who appear to be predominantly male but display certain female characteristics" and fill a "third gender role between men and women, taking some of the characteristics of each."
  2. ^ Maiale, Brenda (2010). "Muxe as Hyper-Tehuana: "We Are That Kind of Women"". PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e652962011-001. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  3. ^ Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika (2008). "Muxe: el tercer sexo" (PDF) (in Spanish). Goethe Institut. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  4. ^ Rymph, David (1974). Cross-sex behavior in an Isthmus Zapotec village. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Mexico City.
  5. ^ "The Muxes Of Juchitan: Unapologetically Being Who They Want To Be". March 25, 2016 – via VAGA magazine.
  6. ^ a b Stephen, Lynn (2002). "Latin American Perspectives," Issue 123, Vol.29 No.2, March 2002, pp. 41-59. "Sexualities and Genders in Zapotec Oaxaca." (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-01-29. (98.6 KiB)
  7. ^ MIANO, M. (2002). Hombre, mujer y muxe' en el Istmo de Tehuantepec. México: Plaza y Valdés. CONACULTA-INAH.
  8. ^ Gómez Regalado, Amaranta (2005) "Transcending." (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-01-13. (50.0 KiB)
  9. ^ Stephen, Lynn, op cit.
  10. ^ Chiñas, Beverly (1995). Isthmus Zapotec attitudes toward sex and gender anomalies, pp. 293-302 in Stephen O. Murray (ed.), "Latin American Male Homosexualities" Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press
  11. ^ Medina, Antonio (June 5, 2003). "La nueva visibilidad lésbico-gay". LETRA S. Retrieved March 13, 2016 – via La Jornada.
  12. ^ "Archived profile from Amaranta Gómez Regalado for the WorldOut Games in Copenhagen 2009". Amaranta Gómez Regalado – WorldOut Games 2009. Wayback Machine Internet Archive. January 11, 2016. Archived from the original on July 21, 2009. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  13. ^ Stambaugh, Antonio Prieto (2014-01-01). "RepresentaXión" de un muxe: la identidad performática de Lukas Avendaño". Latin American Theatre Review. 48 (1): 31–53. doi:10.1353/ltr.2014.0030. ISSN 2161-0576. S2CID 141999742.
  14. ^ "Bala'na, una historia contada desde la intimidad, la identidad y la muerte". March 13, 2022 – via Cámara Oscura.
  15. ^ M, Sthefany; Mandujano (2018-08-28). "Lady Tacos de Canasta: hay de chapulines, iguana, arroz con leche..." (in Mexican Spanish). Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  16. ^ "A Lady Tacos de Canasta, policías la agreden y le tiran su puesto". www.milenio.com. Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  17. ^ "Autoridades intentan retirar a Lady tacos de canasta, en alcaldía Cuauhémoc". El Heraldo de México (in Mexican Spanish). 2019-07-29. Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  18. ^ "'The Taco Chronicles' Does Justice To Mexico's Misunderstood Street Food Staple". culturacolectiva.com. 2019-07-18. Retrieved 2019-08-12.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]