There is a unique group of people in southern Mexico’s Oaxaca state called “muxes.” According to a piece in Fusion, muxes are “a community of gay men who date heterosexual men while dressing as women, sometimes assuming traditional female roles within the family and society.” In the 1980s, a group of anthropologists studying the muxes cited them as an example of a third gender, showing that gender norms might be more fluid than we sometimes think.
When she became aware of the muxes, photographer Nuria López Torres went to southern Mexico to meet them. Torres was interested in how the muxes fit into the Zapotec society found in the area. In particular, she was interested to see how the muxes interacted with their families and how they were welcomed into society.
When Torres got to the area where the muxes live, she made acquaintance with several of them and was able to delve into their lives. In the course of photographing their daily lives, Torres also learned several things about this unique group.
Torres told In Sight that in the community where the muxes live, there is a “permissive attitude” that contributes to their being welcomed in society and in their families, even in an area that is strongly Catholic. In fact, the muxes are not only welcomed but also can play important roles in their communities and families.
As an example, Torres says that a muxe son can be a family’s economic and emotional support because “they are educated to become good workers and caregivers for their parents in old age.” The muxes often also take over caregiving duties for their parents because their other siblings get married and leave the home.
In her project, Torres was inspired by the aesthetics of Frida Kahlo’s paintings when determining how she wanted to portray the muxes. Torres notes that Kahlo herself was Zapotec and “always wanted to show her ethnic status in her paintings.” In addition to the aesthetic inspiration Torres drew from Kahlo, she approached her work with the muxes in two ways: posed portraits and daily documentation of their lives.
The resulting work is a vibrant portrait inviting us into a unique slice of humanity that Torres also believes, not unlike anthropologists in the 1980s, shows that gender identity is not necessarily set in stone but can be molded by cultural surroundings. Torres notes that before the arrival of Christianity, many indigenous groups had different names for people living with mixed-gender roles like the muxes — and, in some cases, could identify not only a third gender but up to five genders.
You can see more of Torres’s work on her website.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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