A Culture of Acceptance

There is a part of the world where those who fall between the edges of the gender spectrum have an accepted identity all their own.

The Zapotec people of southern Mexico, an indigenous population located in rural Oaxaca, has long embraced persons called muxes. The term allows for flexibility with respect to gender identity and expression as Lukas Avendaño, a prominent muxe and performance artist, describes in a recent BBC article (Synowiec, 2018):

“It’s hard to describe who a muxe is. Basically, we can say that a muxe is any person who was born a man but doesn’t act masculine,” Avendaño said.

Unlike Spanish, the Zapotec language has no grammatical genders.

“There is only one form for all people. Muxes have never been forced to wonder: Are they more man or woman?” Avendaño explained.

This so-called third gender has been embedded in Zapotec society for generations. Muxes are celebrated as a part of the Vela de las Intrépidas, a three-day festival in November, and are valued members of society. And while there are folk tales in the community to explain why it is home to so many muxes, the Zapotec people seem to understand that their prevalence is a symptom of acceptance more than anything else.

“It’s not true there are more of them here. They’re just more respected, so they can be more visible,” said Fernando Noé Díaz, a primary school teacher who has many muxe friends. “I guess muxes are so respected because they are more a social gender rather than a sexual one. They have an important role in the community.”


Muxes are more accepted in the Oaxaca communities they spring from than in Mexico at large. Watch this YouTube video to hear directly from individual muxes about their identity.

Mexico's Third Gender

Here’s an overview of the gender and its origins in Zapotec culture.

A brief history of Mexico's third gender

The BBC took an in-depth look at the lives of muxes and their cultural heritage. Learn more about that relationship.

The third gender of Southern Mexico


Cocking, L. (2018, January 10). A brief history of Mexico’s third gender. The Omnivore. https://medium.com/the-omnivore/a-brief-history-of-mexicos-third-gender-7d80451419e6

Great Big Story (2018). Mexico's Third Gender [Video]. YouTube.

Synowiec, O. (2018, November 26). The third gender of southern Mexico. BBC Travel. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20181125-the-third-gender-of-southern-mexico

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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