‘We are Princesses in a Land of Machos’
THE TRANSGENDER POPULATION IN THE MEXICAN STATE OF OAXACA IS THRIVING
‘m any people think of Mexico as a macho country,’ says Mexico City-based photographer Nicola Ókin Frioli.‘You only need to look at stats about domestic violence, homophobic murders and even the role women generally play within Mexican families.’ From this vantage,the country seems like a strange context for a vibrant transgender community, but in Juchitán, in the southern state of Oaxaca, that is what you’ll find. Juchitán is known for its unusually progressive mentality towards gender roles, and some three thousand transgender people – known as ‘muxes’, and sometimes referred
‘When I was a child I used to play with my sisters, I dressed
as a woman and I made myself up...’
to as Mexico’s ‘third gender’ – live in the town. ‘The era when muxes will be respected and people start seeing them with different eyes is still far away,’ says Frioli.‘But for the people of Oaxaca this is a reality.’ He set out to document the muxes in his series We are Princesses in a Land of Machos.
Once Frioli arrived in the town of Juchitán, his task was clear. ‘All it took was to ask for Mistica,’ he says. Mistica is one of the most famous muxes (in Frioli’s portrait she graces a hammock, yellow skirt offset by a mint-green wall, staring down the lens with sumptuous haughtiness). ‘When I was a child I used to play with my sisters, I dressed as a woman and I made myself up... my mother was happy and used to say she would like a son muxe,’ Mistica told Frioli. ‘My father didn’t accept immediately and decided to bring me to the farm with my brothers, but once [I] arrived, I [ran] to pick up flowers.’ Another muxe Frioli met, Felina, had always been treated as female by her parents.‘I’m not a man, I’m not a woman: I’m a muxe,’ Felina said. ‘There is place for everybody in the Vineyard of the Lord.’
Gender flexibility is a reality the world over, but what is unique about Juchitán is that it is given space to exist publicly, and perhaps even to thrive. ‘If people were to study the history within their own culture they would likely realize that the concept of a “third sex” has also existed within their society,’ says Frioli. ‘I wanted to portray the muxes with all their dignity and within their environment, like a “deserted island” where homophobia is not common and transvestites don’t have to defend themselves or hide from society.’ Okinreport.net
Jesusa, 33, is dedicated to make-up and makes peinados (a traditional hairstyle) for women in weddings or for the celebration when a girl turns 15.
From top to bottom Toya, 32; Mistica, 32, is a traditional dressmaker.