Striking Portraits of Muxes, Mexico’s ‘Third’ Gender


Before Spanish colonization blanketed Mexico with Catholicism, there were cross-dressing Aztec priests and hermaphrodite Mayan gods; gender flexibility was inherent in the culture. In much of the country now, machismo prevails and attitudes toward sex remain relatively narrow. But things are different in the southern state of Oaxaca where more pliant thinking remains. In the Zapotec communities around the town of Juchitán, men who consider themselves women—called “muxes”—are not only accepted, but celebrated as symbols of good luck.

Mexico City-based photographer Nicola “Ókin” Frioli traveled to Juchitán to photograph muxes for the series, We Are Princesses in a Land of Machos. His photos capture just some of the estimated 3,000 muxes in the area, which has a total population of around 160,000. The muxes traditionally adopt female roles like cooking, embroidery, sewing, and preparing for celebrations. They are seen as having special intellectual and artistic gifts.

Local lore has it that the muxes fell from the torn pocket of San Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of Juchitán, during his holy walk over the town. Which is to say, they are the lucky, chosen people; colonizing the ephemeral state between genders, and bringing good fortune to a culture already blessed with open minds and good will.








This post was contributed by writer and photographer Melissa Breyer.

  • vanderleun

    Just no end to the freak show, is there?

  • jh

    @vanderleun: If you’re not interested in it than don’t look at it.

    I wasn’t familiar with the Muxes and think the photographs illuminate a fascinating part of Mexican culture.

  • Derek

    There’s no end to the ‘freak show’ for cowards that tremble in fear at all of life’s diversity. I suppose we could all study and emulate your life, vanderleun, but I suspect it’d be too boring for words.

  • Rose

    Colonization and Catholicism ruins everything. Muxes of the world, unite!

  • @van, Anybody who don’t got no freak flag just fades away in the parade.

  • Donovan

    This is too awesome

  • Rose,
    So very true.

  • I think it’s more freakish to scroll through a group of well-shot photographs, skip over an interesting article about a unique subculture, and expose your own ignorance and pettiness in the comments. That’s just me, though.

  • Aquiles Baeza Vergara

    “In much of the country now, machismo prevails and attitudes toward sex remain relatively narrow.”

    Cultural imperialism and hegemony is only acceptable when defending your attitudes towards gender, I see.

  • Esperanza

    Channeling Frida? Yes! They are gorgeous, these photos are so damn dramatic and rich. Fucking yes.

  • Beautiful. Just lovely. We are blessed to have them in our world.

  • Raymond

    I’m from Spain, lived there for 5 years and it’s not like this article describes it

  • Lava

    I’m sorry, but what is the “Third” gender here? And what do you call “the ephemeral state between genders”? It’s just a fancy expression, which doesn’t mean absolutely anything. Especially, when “traditional” gender roles are re-established just above…
    From what’s said in the this text, the muxes are free or “gifted” to choose these roles, while the females just what?… – have them? This is ridiculous. Same as males adopting “feminine” appearance etc. Things feminine under the name patriarchy and heteronorm

  • Brenda

    Raymond, this article is about a state in Mexico, not Spain.

  • d

    thank you for sharing. love the photos and appreciate the acknowledgement of how the crusades, etc. erased the fact that people outside the binary of cisgender men and women have existed for thousands of years.
    would appreciate more if instead of “men who consider themselves women,” these people’s genders were respected and something like, “women who were deemed/assigned male at birth” were written.

  • Alejandro

    Raymond and d, This is about the Zapotecs of Oaxaca’s Tehuantepec region who were never properly Hispanized by the Spaniards or their church. Zapotec is spoken freely and the Spanish Inquisition did not reach their lands. In fact, each Isthmus Zapotec family is happy to have one son a mushe so as to protect elderly mothers. They also are not mugged or beaten for what they are. Sincerely, Alejandro

  • Jose

    I’m blown away. The concept of the third gender in Mexico is something that I never knew about. I’ve only learned about it in some Asian cultures where it’s sometimes labeled as “kathoey” Not man, not woman, but in between. This is beautiful.

  • AngelinaHerself

    Great article!

  • Keila

    The dresses are so pretty! I want their blouses right now.

  • dani

    I have studied muxes and this concept in a sociology (college) class a few years ago but this is the first time I have seen pictures. The class was gender across culture and very interesting. This is not how I pictured the muxes, they sounded much more feminine then pictured. These photos all have decidely masculine faces. I do appreciate that they are celebrated people but they look quite stoic. I wish there were a few with smiles or lightness about them, this is somber, almost grim. The text is so beautiful and richly descriptive, the photos don’t align with it.

  • Sasha Cisneros

    I wouldn’t call them striking. Most of them just look angry.

  • Mary

    The vast majority of those of us who have gender identity disorder think of ourselves no differently than anyone else who has any other kind of challenging disorder or deformity. We seek medical help to correct our disorder and try to live as “normal”, as functional and as healthy a life as possible. Unforturnately, our lives are made even more difficult by the exploitive indignity of these ambulance chasing papparazzi who pander to the needs of the real freaks who find this sort of stuff “striking”. What’s next? “Striking” photos of people with partially corrected club feet?

    Contrast this tabloid “photography” with the work of a real artist, Diane Arbus. If you can’t tell the difference, then I suggest that you need to study art and experience life outside your comfort zone.

    If you still don’t understand, then imagine having half of your face missing or severely deformed, trying to conceal or correct the problem and then imagine how you would feel about someone photographing others who were only partially successful in their corrective attempts for the same condition and calling it “striking” or referring to you and them as a “third” type of a person. That would be just another way of calling you a freak. If these corrective attempts were successful, there would be nothing to photograph, would there?

    Yes, there will always be a few “freaks” who are complicit in these travesties for their own monetary gain, due to their vanity or fetishism, or because they have bought into the marginalizing and destructive prejudices of their culture. In the last case, they are as unliberated as those in the “freak show” audience.

  • LEH

    These muxes are quite beautiful. I wonder if the culture also accepts women who feel more comfortable with male roles?

  • Tristan

    “Just no end to the freakshow, is there?” Apparently not, with a comment like that. Have some respect, all of you. They are living their lives in a way that makes them happy and harms no one. So until you have something nice to say, I’d recommend you say nothing at all.

  • This is beautiful. I’m happy this culture exists, long live self expression.

  • Jimbob

    For the guy who described them as beautiful. ..He must’ve entered the texas horse crap eating competition and got some In his eyes whilst tucking into a pile of turd! Honestly beautiful. ….lol

  • skinhead808

    Well with a name like ‘Jimbob’, I suppose you’re too f*cking stupid to know that beauty comes in many forms and sizes. And beauty also goes beyond the outer self.

    But I may be jumping the gun here with you, cause in your defense, you may not have gotten that far in your third grade class yet.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get some visual inspiration into your day!