The Third Gender of Southern Mexico

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11/26/2018

“Which form should I use when I talk to you: feminine or masculine?” I asked Lukas Avendaño, who I had seen in trousers earlier in the day but now was wearing a traditional black skirt with colourful embroidered flowers called an enagua. We were speaking in Spanish, with its gendered nouns and pronouns. “I prefer you’d just call me sweetheart,” Avendaño giggled.  Here, in the Istmo de Tehuantepec region in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, there are three genders: female, male and muxes. This third classification has been acknowledged and celebrated since pre-Hispanic times, and it’s hard to imagine life without muxes here. But in this region where most people speak the indigenous Zapotec language, my question doesn’t make much sense. “In Zapotec, as in English, there are 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.

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