‘We are Princesses in a Land of Machos’

THE TRANS­GEN­DER POP­U­LA­TION IN THE MEX­I­CAN STATE OF OAX­ACA IS THRIV­ING

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - REPORTBACK -

‘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.

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