Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Mysterious World of the Muxes: Amid Mexico's Traditional Culture of Machismo, in the State of Oaxaca There Exists a Rare and Unexpected Sanctuary for Muxes, Men Who Live Their Lives as Women. Photographer Ann Summa Immersed Herself in Their Culture and Captured These Stunning Portraits of Their Lives

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Mysterious World of the Muxes: Amid Mexico's Traditional Culture of Machismo, in the State of Oaxaca There Exists a Rare and Unexpected Sanctuary for Muxes, Men Who Live Their Lives as Women. Photographer Ann Summa Immersed Herself in Their Culture and Captured These Stunning Portraits of Their Lives

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THERE'S A LEGEND IN MEXICO that says when God was flying over the country distributing homosexuals, he got tired over the state of Oaxaca and left most of them there.

This southern state, where many indigenous Zapotec residents still honor Mayan dual-sex gods and cross-dressing Aztec priests, stands out among the others in mostly mestizo (people of mixed native and European ancestry) Catholic Mexico. Oaxaca has a matriarchal-based society; women are responsible for running most of the businesses here. As a result, most gay people find the state the most welcoming in the country. Similarly, a huge concentration of muxes (pronounced mu-shay, a Zapotec bastardization of mujer, the Spanish word for woman), male-to-female transgender people who hold a distinct, even esteemed place in society, have chosen the state's second-largest city, Juchitan, as their home.

"We are the third sex. There's men and women and there's someone in between, and that's who I am," a muxe named Felina told Los Angeles--based photographer Ann Summa, who created the portraits of muxes--aged 14 to 40--in this portfolio.

There are, of course, other such gender nonconformists in cultures around the world: the two-spirit berdaches of Native American peoples, the hijras of India and Pakistan, and the Thai kathoeys. In Oaxaca, the rarely married muxes are often considered a family blessing, prized as family caretakers, and, along with widows, are considered acceptable partners when it comes to premarital sex for young Catholic boys. "Sleeping with a muxe does not make a man gay," Summa says she's been told. "It makes him feel more macho."

Muxes are a part of the social fabric in working-class Juchitan. "These people work in the world, not as entertainers. In the market, you might see vestidas--muxes dressed in tejuanas, the traditional embroidered outfits popularized by Frida Kahlo, an icon of muxes--or pintadas, who wear male clothing, makeup, and gold jewelry."

Summa's photographs are a vibrant representation of a fiercely creative community. Immersing herself ill the culture, Summa heard stories that were both heartbreaking and hilarious: the muxe who was thrown onto a cactus by her brothers, and the one who fretted about breaking her nails working on the family ranch. …

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