THERE ARE FEW THINGS as refreshing as the sensation of a stereotype being exploded before your very eyes. Here today to apply a brilliant shade of eyeshadow to the often-referenced machismo of The Latino and Mexicano Male iconry are l@s muxes straight from Juchitan:
JUCHITAN, Mexico (Reuters) – Attaching flowers to a ribbon headdress, pulling a lace slip under an embroidered skirt and draping a necklace of gold coins over his head, Pedro Martinez puts the finishing touches on the traditional costume of Zapotec women in southern Mexico.
“When I get all dressed up like this my father always says, ‘Oh Pedro! You look just like your mother when she was young,” beams Martinez, 28, gluing on fake eyelashes in front of a mirror.
Martinez spent two hours in the hair salon he owns getting ready for this weekend’s festival of the “muxes,” indigenous gays and transvestites in the town of Juchitan who have found a haven of acceptance in Mexico’s macho society.
The muxes (pronounced moo-shes), mostly of ethnic Zapotec descent, are widely respected in the southern town where a dance and parade that crowns a transvestite queen and celebrates the harvest has been held annually for the last 33 years.
Anthropologists say the tradition of blurring genders among Mexico’s indigenous population is centuries old but has been revived in recent decades due to the gay pride movement.
Several dozen muxes were blessed by a Catholic priest at a mass before joining visiting transvestites and other townsfolk at a raucous party on Saturday night. The muxes wore either traditional local costumes or ball gowns and high heels. […]
Some of the muxes, a Zapotec word derived from the Spanish for woman, or “mujer”, dress as women year round and others are gays who only don women’s clothes at the annual party, or not at all.
The area around Juchitan, a laid-back town near the Pacific, has a history of women playing leading roles in public life.
“The legend here is that mothers pray for a gay son who can take care of them when they are old,” theater director Sergio Santamaria, 56, said over a traditional breakfast of iguana soup and sweet corn tamales.
I so enjoy the acceptance in these stories. Not only a refreshing blast of love and truth in the face of so much backward fear, hate, loathing, ignorance in our own USA culture (especially as demonstrated as of late by the Mormon Church and others who pushed for Proposition 8/”Prop Hate”), but also a beautiful contrast to what I’ve too often witnessed personally in my own life.
I am grateful I did not take on some of the attitudes I saw demonstrated in my youth. Homophobia staked out a visible presence there. I watched supposed role models start fights with people because they felt that threatened by the presence of gayness. It was amazing.
I never connected to that reaction. Not a bit. Maybe it was another thing where if my (adoptive not biological) father was against a thing, I more or less aligned with that thing. But no, I just think part of my nature could never be like that. The truth is, in my life, I more often felt persecuted by the Male Expectation I felt peering at me through invisible crosshairs than a part of it. In the Male Role world, I was always an outlier, a spy, a fraud. I’m not into and have never been into so many typical “Male” signifiers and activities and maybe that’s because I associate these things (football, visiting strip clubs, hunting, racing, talking luridly about girls you’re with, idiocy, etc) with the stack of unspoken rules that come with being in that club. All the ones that screamed in your ear about how NOT to sit, stand, speak, dress. Ugh. Hell, remember, I’m the kid who took Typing and Home Ec in high school, rather than the highly-sought after Auto Shop. But it’s not just about ducking from the heavy, suffocating, dull, half-dead box that is opened for the Adult Western Male to fit into, it is also about celebrating the non-rigid, the emotional, the intuitive, the fluid, the flamboyant, the colorful—the Feminine aspect of myself.
It is a given to most of us paying enough attention that there is a prevalent misogyny in our culture. Normalized to the extent that hostile and violent imagery against women is a regular presence and energy in our media. In posters, in jokes, in titles, in ideas. From the slightly dismissive to the outright derogatory to the blatantly vile and vicious. Our focus is often (and should be) on the women targeted by this hate, the women who suffer under this stream of threat and this actuality of violence. It should be focused on the actors and co-conspirators as well. Aside from those who take direct part in that hate or violence, another important piece of this is the effects of this misogyny upon the male in general. What misogyny does to the male identity and psyche and sense of peace and self-love. After all, the Female is not hated in a vacuum. So, too, is the Feminine, entire. And that cannot be walled off to one gender. This loathing, this hatred points back to what we know to be part of our natural being.
Men (as boys) are “asked” to join the oppression (under great threat of both social humiliation and physical violence and over and over, too) and to do this of course, we must snuff out/suppress the Feminine in ourselves. This is, of course, a great pain and loss to a human. And as this loss cannot be mourned by implied decree, this pain becomes a bitter, perverse mess that is blind to itself. And so men not only join the hate against women, but they then envy women for their freedom (to still be allowed) to be expressive, emotive, beautiful, affectionate, relaxed, vulnerable. And the loathing to self-loathing ties to envy ties to sorrow and loss and is given ground, and men are emotionally insane when modeled as instructed. And they act out this insanity even when they don’t know why. It is because they have too often been prevented from even knowing who they are to begin with.
I’ve never wanted to be a part of typical men, men groups, or Man Roles. That’s why people like Pedro Martinez to me, bedecked in color and flowing robe and smiles and ribbon, seem so much healthier to me than men buttoned into suits and then pews and pushing propositions. (On a mundane level, part of my being puzzled as a child growing up was also why the “boys” and “mens” sections had all the boring clothes! I could never figure that out.)
Part of undoing misogyny and sexism, and a huge part it seems to me, is men revealing to other men that we are sold an illusion. The “man” some (and a system entire) would have us be is an unnatural and dangerous one. It is a maimed beast; a muzzled, anguished, and hungry creature. Even the ideal is lonely and half-blind. The Myth of Man is a fanged, bereaved, lie. His is the shifting shape of oppression and self-denial with a wolfskin slung over one eye. It is a shroud. Even for those men who feel it makes them more so. For if a man cannot love the feminine aspect of himself, nor can he love a woman. And if he is hiding from that half of himself, he cannot fully see a woman. And if he would abdicate half his power, he is weak to the point of failing.
It is a spiritual thing, of course. Not even a social thing. For me, I’ve always seen my Artist priorities as rising above any imagined “Male” Role priority, and so I’ve long been comfortable with costume and decoration and wearing makeup and masks and just about any way of expressing whatever it is I feel needs to be celebrated or given shape in a moment. (More comfortable than in many typical settings!) And of course I’ve had to become comfortable (or be ostracized at times) for remaining expressive, intuitive, emotional, flamboyant/theatrical and given to many behaviors that violate the Male Code. And yet of course, there is still the work of untangling some of the corrosive and binding threads that our patriarchal/misogynistic culture has sewn into my form.
I love that the same (Zapotec) Indians who gave the world Emiliano Zapata gives us the Muxes! How perfect.
I like this too:
Native people in the Americas with ambiguous gender were often regarded as wise and talented, said Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley.
“They were seen as have having a kind of spiritual power that comes from being more like the ancestors who are mothers and fathers at once, and more like the divinities who may be dual gendered,” Joyce said.
Anthropologists have found evidence of mixed gender identities across Mesoamerica, from Mayan corn and moon gods that are both male and female and Aztec priests who ritually cross dressed.
The Spanish conquest in the 16th century and the Catholic Church snuffed out much of that tolerance.
Because Colonization (and Patriarchy, too) are about control. And thus, Prop H8. And thus stiff collars and the Western Modes of acceptable and authoritative dress. And thus stark unforgivable lines. And thus dichotomized stances and laws that no person lives under comfortably and organically, unless they crave unnatural and aggravating wires strapping them down to the earth, making up for all the strength they have abdicated and would have used to guide and know themselves otherwise….