In Oaxaca, one of the southernmost states of Mexico, the indigenous Zapotec people have embraced a third gender within their communities: the muxes.
Said to be derived from the Spanish word for women, mujer, the Zapotec word ‘muxe’ is used to describe the young boys and men who choose to identify as women or are unable to identify concretely with either gender.
As Estrella (born Mario) and her mother shows viewers in the video above, posted by the international news company GlobalPost, muxes are generally socially accepted by their families and neighbors.
"On the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, especially in Juchitán, every family considers it a blessing to have one gay son," Susana Trilling, who manages a cooking school hours from Juchitán, told Travel + Leisure magazine. "These sons do handicrafts and sell embroideries in the market with the women, while the men work in the fields, so it's a monetary boon to the family. And while daughters marry and leave home, a muxe cares for his parents in their old age."
According to The New York Times, anthropologists believe the acceptance of people of mixed gender can be traced to pre-Columbian Mexico accounts of Aztec priests and Mayan gods who cross-dressed and were considered both male and female.
Since the 1970s, the town holds a three-day festival known as Vela de las Intrepidas (Vigil of the Intrepids) to celebrate the muxes. Many crossdress for the event, as well as in their daily lives, as they walk the streets of what many have called a “haven” or “paradise” for gay men and transgender people.
This haven has caught the attention of muxes outside of the indigenous communities. Alex Hernandez who immigrated to the United States from Oaxaca at the age 4 returned recently as an adult with photographer Neil Rivas to take part in the November festival for the first time, something he told NPR felt like “reclaiming a role that was lost in time.”