A transformation in the Zapotec community, and a perspective of their future based on the research of Marinela Miano (2014)
The aim of this article is to present the specific case of the muxe (homosexual transgendered men) community of Juchitán Oaxaca in relation to some NGOs and other International organizations, in how these have had either a positive or negative impact on the muxes and their pursue to eliminate discrimination, social barriers, political recognition and a dignifying life. Furthermore, this article helps to understand the mediatization of this “queer paradise” in relation to the help donated by organizations, which had transformed the concept and role of the muxes in the name of acceptance in that apparently equalitarian, patriarchal society. Finally, there will be analyzed how the intervention of international organizations have transformed juchitecan society, and will present the possible scenarios proposed by Marinela Miano based on her research, and will add some perspectives based on the experience in the making of this article.
Key words: Gender * Oaxaca * NGO * Muxe * Transgender * Social role
The case of the muxe community in the Zapoteco community of Oaxaca has been a topic for the gender regime, mainly because of its existence and survival to the patriarchal Mexican society. Due the scandalous it could be that homosexual men were recognized in pre-Columbian societies as a third gender, and due the great diffusion of this community through different supporting LGBT documentaries, academic papers, and over all the word spread that gay men were socially accepted in that community among the LGBT international community. It also has raise in importance due the help of International Organizations, which has come through scholarships, monetary funds, and the creation of local NGOs in order to be solidaritarian with this community, and for the accomplishment of a dignifying life according to International treaties in this matter. Despite all these actions can be seen as in pro of a better life for the muxes and the conservation of a beacon of hope for the international gay community, it also have had its inconvenient part such as the misconception of the muxes in the “modern world”.
Fotos de VOGUE por Tim Walker
One hypothesis of why this community has been receiving attention is due the idealization of a society where gay men are accepted, respected, and have important roles within the community. Despite these affirmations are true, it is also true that their social situation is far from paradise, especially because they are accepted but the exercise of their sexuality is not. On the other hand, it is interesting to know, the different reactions that the muxe community has had to the help of the international organizations, which way they want to follow to have the life they want, and how they will keep connected to their culture.
It can be hard to understand how it is possible the existence of a community that accepts homosexual men as an essential part of it within a society –Mexican society- that has been characterized by conservatism and the rejection of gender minorities, mainly homosexual men. It can be explained due several factors that have contributed to the lack of influence from the hegemonic society, letting it develop by itself according to its own standards, also Juchitán is a town far from the city of Oaxaca and much more far from Mexico City, and the distance and ways of communication are determinant factors in the influence of thinking.
The case of the muxe community and its relation to the gender regime
Firstly, in order to understand this phenomenon is necessary to be clear with the term gender, and how the zapoteco community has define muxes as a third gender. Due the traditional line of thinking in the western societies where there is a patriarchal perspective in which heterosexual men are above all the other social groups, such as women and homosexual men, in terms of power, the elites in power, conformed mostly by men, have been trying consciously or unconsciously to perpetuate the relations of power in a convenient way for them.
Due this situation societies have established the roles that men and women must fulfill being based on the biological existing difference between them (sex). This difference, forces each one to assume a very punctual role to be able to survive in the society, and be accepted in it. It also supposes inflexibility in the concepts of man and woman, and everything related to each of them, therefore any breach with this “ideal one” was, or is, considered as a violation for the established social contract. Nevertheless, lately it has been question the veracity of ” the biology is destiny ” (Butler, 2007: 54), in which sex and gender share a binary nature.
In the case of the zapoteco community of Juchitán these predetermined roles assigned to men and women are valid, but there is also a different relation among the concrete factors that conforms a man and a woman, such as behavior, clothes and lifestyle, because it seems to be the existence of flexibility to the muxes. They are men by nature, but they are partially accepted in society as homosexuals, and they are allowed to wear dresses and makeup, and also to initiate young men in sex techniques -which implies intimate situations between men. The fact that men can develop these actions and wear those garments implies that in that community the determinant binary relation among sex and gender does not apply. In those terms is possible to say that the predetermined roles mentioned before are not an obvious bounding for, at least, homosexual men to fell free to dress and act as they consider better to express themselves, and do not fell limited by the traditional modus vivendi of men or women.
In order to comprehend this phnomenon it is important to differentiate properly the concepts of sex and gender because those concepts are commonly mistreated, and occasionally confused, and in the case of the muxes these concepts have a clear differentiation. Lamas defines gender as:
… A category in which three basic instances are articulated: 1) The assignment of gender [sex], [with regard to the genitalia] […]; 2) The Identity of gender […] that makes it identify in all his/her manifestations as “boy” or “girl”; and 3) The role of gender, which is formed by the set of procedures and prescriptions that the society and the culture determine on the feminine or masculine behavior, with its variations of agreement according to the social class, ethnic group and generational level of the individual … (Lamas, 1997: 6).
Therefore, the distinction between sex and gender, can be found in that gender is a composition of diverse construction and determinant factors for an individual, not only being based on the genital differences, but also on the context and the social discourse with which the individual is influenced to get in the society. Then, it is possible to affirm that though it is presupposed:
… The stability of the binary sex, it is not clear that the construction of ‘men’ will give like proved only masculine bodies or that the ‘women’ interpret only feminine bodies. In addition, though the sexes seem to be clearly binary in its morphology and constitution […], there is no motive for believing that also the gender supports in an implicit way the idea of a mimetic relation between gender and sex, in which the gender reflects to the sex or, otherwise, it is limited by it. (Butler, 2007: 54)
In this regard, if the classification of gender is based on the binary character of the sex (masculine and feminine), it excludes other factors that contribute to the construction of the gender, such as family and social context. It would mean a limitation to only two, despite the different combinations of the existing agents to be able to define a gender. Based in this argumentation is possible to state that though the sex is determined by genetics, the gender is acquired in relation to the context where the individual develops, without coming to the point of affirming that the culture (society) establishes the destiny of the individual.
foto de Lukas Avedaño
Putting together these thoughts and the muxes, is possible to observe the difference between sex and gender. Despite muxes have the genitalia of a man; their gender is composed by the integration of behavior, garment, and lifestyle that society has created and they have acquired and adopted as their own identity. With this example is possible to confirm the supposition of Butler in which some specific social constructions cannot be alienated only with men and women, but also can be alienated with other identities.
The study of these communities, and the study of gender and its differentiation with sex raise in importance due the relevance that the regime of gender has acquire in recent years in the international arena impacting Mexico’s gender concepts and policies. Regimes are defined as “…implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations” (Kresner in Hasenclever, Mayner and Rittberger, 1996: 179). In this regard, Hafner-Burton and Pollack claim that gender regime have evolved along the years worldwide firstly as the attempt to achieve the equal treatment among men and women, secondly the positive action which looks for the adoption of specific action on behalf of women, and thirdly the mainstreaming which involves the systemic incorporation of gender issues into the government and policies. (Hafner-Burton and Pollack, 2002: 341-342) Because of these actions is possible to state that the rise of gender studies have achieve to be taken into account in policies worldwide, and paper like this one.
Butler, J. (2007). El género en disputa. Feminismo y la subversión de la identidad. España: Paidós
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Lamas, M. (1999). Usos, dificultades y posibilidades de la categoría género. Toluca, México: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México
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Miano, M. (2002). Hombre, Mujer y Muxe en el Itsmo de Tehuantepec. (2nd ed.). México City, México: INAH
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