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¡Oye! I Contain Muxtitudes!

November 24th, 2008 § 20 comments

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.

Mexican transvestite fiesta rocks indigenous town

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:

DUAL-GENDERED GODS

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.

——Mexican transvestite fiesta rocks indigenous town

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….

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§ 20 Responses to ¡Oye! I Contain Muxtitudes!"

  • Joanna says:

    You said it, and so eloquently and directly! What a great post. A book I read that illustrates what you are talking about so well is Paul Monette’s memoir Becoming a Man; it illustrates the price straight men pay just to be “normal”, like a mutilation.

    I also have been thinking about my own memories of Dan White’s assassinations of Moscone and Milk 30 years ago, when i was growing up in the Bay Area, and how it was so clear to me at the time (although I couldn’t articulate it as such) that their political murder was bound up in Dan White and the hypermasculinized police culture of San Francisco, their fear and insecurity and violence. White’s psychosis was so NORMAL. That is to say, mutilated and horrifying.

  • whatsername says:

    I loved this story too, came across it late last night. Especially “up here” we’re fed such a specific version of “Mexico” it was nice to see that rather exploded.

  • Richard says:

    The thing about the Muxtes is that they also challenge the idea that sexism runs one way. Zapotec society is matriarchal, and women have the economic and political power. A lot of the Muxtes aren’t that different than a woman executive a few years ago who wore a “manly” styled suit or a policewoman whose uniform is more or less masculine. A male vendor in a dress (and I’ve met some of these guys around Tehuanatepec… he is seeking economic and social empowerment in a sexist society.

    It takes balls to go up against female chauvinism :-)

  • nezua says:

    Hey! I was waiting for your comment. That is interesting, no doubt.

    I do know that about the Zapotecs. I also remember well your thoughts before on “Female Chauvinism” in that light. And yet, it seems that the “Gender Blurring” the article talks about is not exclusive to that one reversed dynamic.

    I wonder if you have any further thoughts on gender roles as I was extrapolating them here.

  • Kai says:

    Beautifully said, Nez. A refreshing, thought-provoking post. And so necessary.

    Ironically, in my Buddhist training I was taught that “masculine” energies (yang) manifest naturally in personality traits such as being flamboyant, emotional, expressive, colorful, whimsical, artistic. And “feminine” energies (yin) are more naturally adept in realms of power, politics, law, society, governance; “feminine” being the generative power which shapes and sustains life and the manifest world. And I don’t mean that men are yang and women are yin; everyone is both and each must find their own unique balance. I remember when I was first learning about certain Tantric meditations on power, as a 20-year-old muppet-like novitiate, I idly joked to my mentor, “So is this the manly meditation?” She replied simply, “Power is a feminine aspect.” And we moved on.

    This cultural background is probably why I’ve come to believe in matriarchal society, not just flattening patriarchy. As you suggest, that box of patriarchal masculinity which you describe actually doesn’t fit most men at all; it’s a bad casting call in a violent B-movie. It’s not good for anybody. I feel pressured by it everytime I interact with the world, to some degree even as I write in this male-structured European language. So I try to remember what my mentor said, “This is a dark age; the world is upside-down; don’t follow the ways of the world, be right-side-up.” I’ve learned to play the world’s game in order to avoid getting crushed by life’s superhighway but I try to remember not to believe my own acting. In fact there are a number of spiritual traditions (including mine) in which men must spend some time dressing as women in order to help break the box. The great Indian guru Sri Ramakrishna comes to mind. Not to mention cultural pockets like this.

    From what I understand, matriarchal societies once flourished, and there are still remnants and signs of it here and there. It seems like patriarchal masculinity arose with the elevation of a fearful male god who held dominion over nature, rather than being one with nature and mother to the world; like a movement of people scared of our own innate spirituality, scared of interconnectedness, scared of the generative feminine power within each of us; and so ascended patriarchy with its Logic, its divisions, its violence, its conquest, its misogyny.

    Hehe, talk about resorting to generalities! Hopefully this comment makes some sense and doesn’t contain too many confusing or problematic formulations, as I haven’t had time to really refine it. I guess this subject could probably be expanded into many volumes. I’ve tried several times to write essays on this, but it’s complex, difficult terrain and I haven’t managed to finish anything. So I appreciate your posting this, Nez. A win for matriarchy, and for men, if ya know what I mean! ;-)

    Peace.

  • nezua says:

    interesting. a recasting of the very natures of the Feminine and Masculine concepts. Yes, I can’t say I know which is “Masculine” and so on…or that which word chosen affects me too much, just that the traits we define here as belonging to the Feminine aspect are the ones men are so often not allowed. In general, we seem to have just very rigid roles in place on both sides, and as you say, not good for anyone. But the implications of the yin/yang paradigm as you describe them are beautiful. And most of what I see in these roles as offered here most of the time is how deftly they are sculpted to channel and reinforce or diminish power. And of course the Feminine is the creative! The generative! The making power.

    And I know what you mean about language, I’m often thinking on stuff like that and regarding English, it’s funny that it seems most limber when working in the service of force! So when you are trying to go in other directions, or be less conclusive or more expansive or nuanced, the language can begin to elude your purpose, to feel inadequate.

    “I’ve tried several times to write essays on this, but i’ts complex, difficult terrain and I haven’t managed to finish anything.”

    I think if I tried to make something definitive and complete and as big as this topic feels, I’d not have written a word. Like most things, I peel the onion. I keep hitting it, I keep letting parts out, they keep triggering deeper thoughts. I mark it as I go. Feeling cautious and unsure! But delighting in taking steps on the new ground. And like a lot of posts, this one started out different! Just a comment on the story. I didn’t know the onion was in reach.

    thanks for adding that, ‘mano. it made a lot of sense to me, yeah.

  • Theriomorph says:

    Rock on, Nez. Glad you walked through this post’s subjects out loud – we need more of this.

    Glad to learn about muxes, thanks. There’s always been native tradition for more flexible gender expression throughout North America, too: ‘Two Spirit People,’ third and fourth gender and/or blurred genders (boté/Crow, nádleehí/Navajo, winkte/Lakota, alyha: or hwame:/Mohave) – the online resources I’ve found for learning more about these traditions suck (most of what I’ve learned has been from trans/Two Spirit identifying people), but maybe someone knows good ones?

    As with the muxes, there’s been a lot of movement in the last couple of decades in the U.S. and Canada to bring these traditions into wider public consciousness by way of Native American GLBT communities (and through public health efforts, too) in the interest of not only violence prevention and cultural preservation but of honoring traditions offering saner, healthier models than our current mire has produced. Anyway, many, many people know way more about this than I do, but I’m always glad to see the subject open – because we’re fucked about gender, and all over the world throughout history there are and have been models we can look to for more humane guidance.

    I share Kai’s interest in matriarchal/patriarchal religious transitions and what legacies they have left, too – being a (Greek) Classics geek, the transition between Minoan and Mycenean religions is where I’ve focused most (and it’s chock full of gender legacies).

    Many say the event which precipitated the end of Minoan society (matriarchal, focused on agriculture, art, and naval politics and trade) and the takeover by Myceneans (patriarchal, the intro to the Mediterranean of the now-familiar pissed off sky god ruled by passions and real estate war) simultaneously started shit all over the world, too – crop failures, climate change, plagues leading to huge political and social shifts from China to Egypt, many of them involving big patriarchal changes in gender roles.

    Damned volcano.

    Plato’s all over this, too, of course – have you read the Symposium as an adult/free of boring teachers? SO, so funny and awesome in general (‘let’s get drunk and talk about love!’), but there’s also Aristophanes’ whole ball-people thing about gender and sexuality, which I love, and which also posits three foundational identities: male, female, and both.

    Anyway. A lot of interesting legacies, and enough of my ranting about it. Thanks for the post, Nez. : )

  • nezua says:

    thank you, theriomorph.

    let’s get drunk and talk about love!

  • John says:

    Good post, I like your writing style! I’ve added http://theunapologeticmexican.org/elmachete/ to my feed reader, and will be reading your posts from now on. Just a quick question – did you design your header image yourself, or have it done professionally? If you had it done by a professional, who was it?

  • Malicia says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I also liked the vid of the Polynesians in Kai’s comment. They were very relaxed, as one word Nez used to describe how men aren’t allowed to be. Stress is bad for your blood pressure and health overall, people around you subconciously adopt your stress and have to conciously try not to, it’s nothing to aim to be. I think I have been trained to see being stressed as something that will earn me a prize – like it must be a result of me doing something important, good, and productive. Seeing those women, and the breath of fresh air they bring, reminds me how important beauty and other things that take us out of stress-more are, and that they’re not trivial to society. Stress gives people heart-attacks, maybe without people who take the time to add a little beauty to the world society would have a heart-attack, too.

    Thanks for speaking your truth, Nezua.

  • charles says:

    Thank you Nezua, as always. Men who are willing and talented enough to help us unpack these hideous restrictive destructive gender rules/roles are too few and too far between. Thanks for standing up and speaking out.

    In light of recent events, i was also intrigued by Malicia’s comment:
    “I also liked the vid of the Polynesians in Kai’s comment. They were very relaxed, as one word Nez used to describe how men aren’t allowed to be. Stress is bad for your blood pressure and health overall, people around you subconciously adopt your stress and have to conciously try not to, it’s nothing to aim to be.”
    This reminds me of the new and very different role model all of us in America have been given (by the Gods/Goddesses?). One who’s best-known characteristic is his coolness under fire, his ability to stay calm when it seems the world is falling in around us. His calmness, like our stress, is contagious.
    Ah! To live in a world with male role models like Nez and President Obama! I’m usually a major pessimist, but even i “got to admit it’s getting better.”

  • That’s totally fucking cool! I wonder if any cishetmale dudes also dress up like women for the festival? I would totally love to!

    BTW, I am here via linkage from Jaded Hippy.

  • bluecanary says:

    Thanks so much for this post. What I know is that we need to talk about how men are hurt by misogyny, and we need to stop thinking about gender as dichotomous, male vs. female. But so often I am unable to adequately express this. You do so eloquently and expressively. Thank you again.

  • nezua says:

    thank you for letting me know it worked for you, bluecanary. this is just one more area i’m working at understanding, sort of talking it out as i go. important part of the journey, your feedback is helpful. :)

    comrade prof! good to see you here.

    thank you charles and malicia and everyone for your comments, always love reading your thoughts. john, i make all my graphics, it’s part of my work too at xolagrafik.com thanks

  • […] takes on the concept of masculinity: Men (as boys) are “asked” to join the oppression (under great threat of both social […]

  • NancyP says:

    Thanks for the interesting post. When I was a teenager, I wished that I was male because of the privilege of being taken seriously, having self-confidence to the point of feeling entitlement, and having career opportunities (ok, this was a while back), but never saw the psychic price of conformity to male stereotype. It’s probably a lot easier (in the US) being an aloof soft butch egghead woman than being a reserved slightly effeminate egghead man.

  • nezua says:

    that made me laugh. and think. thanks. :)

  • Arban says:

    Wow, this is so cool. I knew there is a similar culture in India, but not Mex. You might love the work of Tino Rodriguez, he is my favourite contemporary painter. He is like the gay son of Frida and Diego.

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