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The Atlantic Selects

The Third Gender

Jan 29, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by Ivan Olita

“There are women, men, and muxes,” says a non-binary individual from the Mexican town of Juchitan in Ivan Olita’s short documentary. “We have our own muxe identity, which is what defines us.”

Muxes explores the indigenous Zapotec culture of Oaxaca, which not only accepts but also celebrates a third category of mixed gender. Some muxes are men who live as women; others are gender-fluid, with both male and female characteristics. All are viewed as good luck—even a blessing—for Zapotec families. Generally, muxes are not defined by the mere fact of their predominantly feminine attire, but rather by the social role they occupy. They are accepted in both male-dominated public spheres, such as sports venues and cantinas, and female-dominated arenas, such as the city markets.

“It was incredibly reassuring and heart-opening to see how 100% of the people in Juchitan seem to celebrate the muxes and recognize them as an asset,” Olita told The Atlantic. “They are aware that [muxes] bring something different to the table rather than worrying about their differences.”

Olita learned about the existence of muxes in a Werner Herzog seminar. Determined to tell their story, he traveled to Juchitan with “absolutely no idea of how to track them down.”

“This is the kind of documentary in which the pre-production research is pretty limited,” Olita continued. “You have to physically go to the place that you want to document and start from there.” Once Olita arrived, he connected with a local film director, Michael Matus, who helped produce the film and began introducing Olita to muxes. “We would jump on these little cars and just cross the city up and down,” Olita continued. “I was trying to find personalities that would fit together, and at the same time help the audience to understand the diversity within the community.”

Although Olita encourages viewers of his film to observe the lack of discrimination muxes face in their society, “we cannot assume that whatever brought the muxes to be accepted will allow transgenders to be accepted everywhere,” he said. “We can, however, analyze and be inspired by the outcome of limited stigma.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.