A Critical Approach to Gender Identities in the “Muxe” Case
Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume 6, Issue 4, July 2018, Pages: 130-136
Received: Jul. 24, 2018; Accepted: Aug. 17, 2018; Published: Sep. 11, 2018
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Carlos Mendoza-Álvarez, Department of Religious Studies, Iberoamericana University, Mexico City, Mexico
Saúl Espino-Armendáriz, Center for Historial Studies, El Colegio de México, Mexico City, Mexico
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This paper provides an interdisciplinary approach to the Muxe collective, a sexual diverse community rooted in the millenary Zapotecan culture, located in southern Mexico. The muxe subjectivity is portrayed in some interviews, based on the focal life history methodology. As a critical approach to gender issues, this analysis emphasizes the fluidity of the sexual and gender subjectivity of the muxeidad with ethnical, ethical and communitarian dimensions. The social context is considered from the concept of necropower, coined by the African thinker Achille Mbembe. The experiences of violence and oppression in the muxes’ lives are analyzed, as well as the tactics and strategies of resistance that they have developed over recent years. Muxes have an extraordinary resilience that translates into bountiful spirituality. The dimensions through which they express their identities, practices and political options are quite symbolic and diverse. The values, beliefs and spiritual practices result inextricably linked to the muxe subjectivity, allowing us to understand that this community is a sign of change of world, as a theological reading in which their resilience may reflect a Messianic anticipation of the Kingdom of God. An analysis of these resistances in the case of some muxe individuals and collectives demonstrates the crucial importance of dismantling the sacrificial religion that justifies the segregation and scapegoating of the muxes. The original wound of being human is transformed here from fragility to resilience, into what can be considered an eschatological anticipation of the messianic temporality. In conclusion, this paper asserts that the muxe collective portrays a glimpse of another kind of intersubjective paradigm.
Vulnerability, Resiliency, Systemic Violence, Muxes
To cite this article
Carlos Mendoza-Álvarez, Saúl Espino-Armendáriz, A Critical Approach to Gender Identities in the “Muxe” Case, Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol. 6, No. 4, 2018, pp. 130-136. doi: 10.11648/j.hss.20180604.16
Copyright © 2018 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
It is worth to remember here the classical criticism Mary Daly made to the patriarchal idea of God: “After the Death of God the Father” in Beyond God the Father, Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Boston, Beacon Press, 1973, p. 13-43.
See Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. New York: Orbis Books, 2001.
See Miriam Solá & Elena Urko (eds.), Transfeminismos. Epistemes, fricciones y flujos. Nafarroa: Editorial Txalaparta, 2014.
See Marcella Althaus-Reid, La teología indecente: perversiones teológicas en sexo, género y política. Barcelona: Bellaterra, 2005.
See Jorge E. Aceves Lozano, “Un enfoque metodológico de las historias de vida” in Graciela de Garay (ed.), Cuéntame tu vida. Historia oral: historias de vida. México, Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mora, 1997, p. 9-15.
“Masculine/feminine, male/female are the categories which serve to conceal the fact that social differences always belong to an economic, political and ideological order … For there is no sex. There is but sex that is oppressed and sex that oppresses. It is oppression that creates sex, and not the contrary.” Monique Wittig, El pensamiento heterosexual y otros ensayos. Madrid, Barcelona; Editorial Egales, 2006, p. 22. In this same sense, in an interview in 2013 Bourdieu held that the real content of sex “against nature” was to go against the “social hierarchy” and that homosexuals “reproduce the masculine/feminine hierarchy in their couple relationships” when they perpetuate the active/passive binary. See Catherine Portevin and Jean-Philippe Pisanias, “Entrevista a Pierre Bourdieu: la transgresión gay y dominación masculina,” in Sociólogos. Blog de actualidad y sociología, available at: http://ssociologos.com/2013/05/12/entrevista-a-pierre-bourdieu-la-transgresion-gay-y-dominacion-masculina/, accessed on 06-01-2016.
There are two different theories regarding the etymology of the word muxe. Some consider that it comes from namuxe that in Zapotec means shy or fearful. Others believe it is a Zapotecan rendering of the word mujer, woman in Spanish. See Elí Bartolo Marcial, “Los enseñantes de la diversidad,” in Sergio Santamaría and Nallely Tello (eds.) Elí Bartolo. Filósofo de la muxeidad y enseñante de la diversidad. Oaxaca, Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca y Servicios para una Educación Alternativa, AC, 2015, p. 17.
Anthropology has studied the third sex phenomenon in Amerindian cultures under the term berdache or two-spirit. More critical studies on this theme, without denying that it is a gender regime that differs from the Western one, demonstrate that many of these studies are typically exoticizing. For a study of the third-gender social phenomenon in Amerindian cultures from the perspective of gender performativity, see Michael J., Horswell, “Toward an Andean Theory of Ritual Same-Sex Sexuality and Third-Gender Subjectivity,” in Pete Sigal (ed.), Infamous Desire. Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 27ff.
In explaining the important role women play in the economy and social rituals, it has been claimed that the Zapotec culture is matriarchal or matrifocal. See Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, “Juchitán, la ciudad de las mujeres,” Juchitán, la ciudad de las mujeres. Oaxaca: Instituto Oaxaqueño de las Culturas, Fondo Estatal para las Culturas y las Artes, 1997, p. 24-25. More recent anthropologists, like Marinella Miano, Hombre, mujer y ‘muxe’ en el Istmo de Tehuantepec. Mexico, Conaculta, INAH, Plaza y Valdés Editores, 2002, p. 15, have criticized this vision.
Beverly Chiñas claims that the key lies in the Zapotec culture, which in spite of being strongly segregated by sex, considers that the sexual aspect is of secondary importance in defining a person’s value. In other words, there are in fact clearly marked role differences, but they are not hierarchized as in the Western world. See Beverly Chiñas, The Isthmus Zapotecs. Women’s Roles in Cultural Context. New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, INC, 1973, p. 111.
A vela is a ritual Zapotec feast usually in honor of a Catholic Saint. These celebrations, expressive of popular religiosity, are organized by the mayordomos (communities stewardship) and follow a very clear protocol (the mass, the tossing of fruit, the dance, etc.). Throughout the year there are myriad velas in Juchitán and the Isthmus, but it is in May that the main vela take place, including the Vela of San Vicente Gola known as El Grande, the Great One, Juchitán’s patron saint. See Marinella Miano, Hombre, mujer y ‘muxe’ en el Istmo de Tehuantepec, p. 127ff.
The fifteen-year old debutante ball (XV años) is celebrated in Mexico when girls reach the age of 15 as a way of introducing a young girl to society.
See Brigitte Holzer, “Economía de fiestas, fiestas como economía,” in Bennholdt-Thomsen, Juchitán, p. 79-96.
The resilience that allows them to adapt and take ownership of the cultural novelties in their surroundings is one of the qualities anthropologists have highlighted from the Zapotec culture: “Zapotecs absorb and incorporate new elements into their culture without thus weakening it. On the contrary, they nourish and enrich it.” See Margarita Dalton, Mujeres, género e identidad en el Istmo de Tehuantepec. Oaxaca: Centro de Investigaciones Superiores en Antropología Social, 2010, p. 157. In fact, scholars like Flores Martos interpret the emergence of the contemporary muxe as a “Zapotecization” of a modern identity “in the context of a cultural resurgence or ethnogenesis, and at the same time they have become visible and taken on importance in the practice of different mestizo performances, such as sociability in social clubs and travestite shows.” Juan Antonio Flores Martos, “Cuerpos poderosos y sobrexpuestos: los muxes de Juchitán como transgéneros amerindios modernos,” in Pedro Pitarch and Gemma Orobith (eds.), Modernidades indígenas. Madrid: Iberoamericana-Verveurt, 2012, p. 321.
Mayate is a category related to that of chichifo (a male hustler) in other contexts. It refers to a heterosexual man who has sexual relations with other men —in this case with muxes— in exchange for money or favors. Not all muxe husbands are mayates, but all of them “far from hiding their sexual activity linked to the muxes, brag about their adventures and intimate encounters in order to construct symbolic prestige so as to thus reproduce the hegemonic model of masculinity” Joaquín Robles Mora, “Introducción” in Santamaría and Tello (eds.), Elí Bartolo. Filósofo de la muxeidad y enseñante de la diversidad, p. 10.
Since 2006, the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City approved domestic partnerships, contemplating the possibility of same-sex marriage. Since then a dozen states have approved this form of marriage.
Brutal violence is exercised against the LGBTQ population in Mexico and other Latin American countries. This is clearly illustrated by the case of Viviany Beleboni, a transexual model who participated in the LGBTQ pride parade in São Paulo in June of 2015. She was attacked by a man who claimed to “act in the name of God” because the model had appeared seminude, carrying a cross and wearing a crown of thorns like Jesus on the way to Calvary. See André Musskopf, “Cuerpo, gracia y placer para teologías no-sacrificiales” in Carlos Mendoza-Álvarez and Héctor Conde (comp.), Arqueología de la violencia: Nuevos paradigmas en el pensamiento y el lenguaje para la praxis no-violenta. México: Universidad Iberoamericana, 2017, p. 167-178.
It is interesting to see how the LGBTQ population has generated a very specific kind of solidarity. This muxe solidarity can be seen as a practice of resilience carried out by victims of exclusion.
In one of his texts, Elí Bartolo recalls two myths describing the foundation of the muxeidad. Saint Vicente Ferrer is the protagonist in these two myths. In one of them, the Dominican Saint from Valencia, the founding patron of Juchitán and creator of the Isthmus, is carrying a sack of muxes to Central America and Mexico, but it tore and most of them fell in the Isthmus region. The other myth says that, “Saint Vicente preached in his sermons that all men should love another man, Jesus, the son of God, and that all women should love another woman, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God.” According to Bartolo, “this idea reinforces the existence and tolerance towards muxe identity from a ‘theological’ perspective.” See Elí Bartolo Marcial, “Los enseñantes de la diversidad,” in Santamaría and Tello (eds.) Elí Bartolo. Filósofo de la muxeidad y enseñante de la diversidad, p. 18.
The iguana is not only an animal that represents the Isthmus as well as part of the region’s culinary tradition, but it is also a play on words allusive to homosexuality (“the iguana leaps from stick to stick…”). Besides, it has already been seen that contemporary muxeidad is a Zapotecization of modern gender configurations, rather than of systems preceding the Conquest.
By resilience we understand the dynamic process “that allows for positive development to take place, even in contexts of great adversity, based on a set of abilities that make up this complex and changing capacity.” See María Stella Rodríguez Arenas, La resiliencia como vivencia del Reino de Dios. Bogotá: Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2015.
See Marta Lamas, “El fenómeno trans”, Debate feminista, No. 39, 2009, 11.
Barbosa’s thesis, with a clear psychoanalytic background, is that muxe identity not only challenges Western sex-gender categories, but also demonstrates that desire is always ungraspable. See Luanna Barbosa, “Muxes de Juchitán: sobre la errancia y el efeminismo en campo,” Seminário Internacional Fazendo Género, No. 10, 2013, p. 4.
This is how Butler defines performativity. See Judith Butler, El género en disputa. El feminismo y la subversión de la identidad. Barcelona: Paidós, 2007, p. 17.
See Marinela Miano Borusso and Águeda Gómez Suárez, “Dimensiones simbólicas sobre el sistema sexo/género entre los indígenas zapotecas del Istmo de Tehuantepec (México)”, Gazeta de Antropología, No. 22, 2006, p. 12-13.
Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, Juchitán, la ciudad de las mujeres, p. 24-25.
Michel Foucault, “El cogito impensado,” in Las palabras y las cosas. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1968, p. 313-319.
For Foucault, devices form part of the “general strategy of power” and allow the State to control people’s lives. See Michel Foucault, “Clase del 11 de enero de 1978” in Seguridad, Territorio, Población. Curso en el Collège de France (1977-1978). Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2006, p. 15-44.
See Iohann Baptist Metz, Memoria passionis, una evocación provocadora en una sociedad pluralista. In collaboration with Johann Reikerstorfer. Santander: Sal Terrae, 2007; Johann Baptist Metz, Por una cultura de la memoria. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1999.
See Gustavo Gutiérrez, Teología de la Liberación. Perspectivas. Salamanca, CEP, 1972.
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Para descolonizar Occidente, más allá del pensamiento abismal. Buenos Aires: CLACSO-Prometeo Libros, 2010, and Una epistemología del sur: la reinvención del conocimiento y la emancipación social. México: Siglo XXI-CLACSO, 2011.
Achile Mbembe, Necropolítica. Seguido de Sobre el gobierno privado indirecto. Spain: Melusina, 2011.
See the chapter “Imaginando el cambio de mundo” in Carlos Mendoza-Álvarez, Deus ineffabilis. Una teología posmoderna de la revelación del fin de los tiempos. Barcelona/México: Herder/Universidad Iberoamericana, 2015, p. 392-394.
Sayak Valencia, Capitalismo gore. Spain: Melusina, 2010.
See Raúl Zibechi, Latiendo Resistencia. Mundos nuevos y guerras de despojo. México: El Rebozo, 2015.
See María Stella Rodríguez Arenas, La resiliencia como vivencia del Reino de Dios, 39.
Carlos Mendoza-Álvarez, Deus ineffabilis. Una teología posmoderna de la revelación del fin de los tiempos. Barcelona/México: Herder/Universidad Iberoamericana, 2015.
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