THE ISTHMUS OF Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico, is home to a matriarchal society in which the youngest son in the family is raised to be gay. From a young age this child is dressed up as a woman and treated as such; isthmeñan society embraces this role and encourages it. This is a long-standing Zapotec tradition extending back before the arrival of the Spaniards.
The sons are called muxhes and have historically been treated not as homosexuals, but rather as a third sex. They take up the roles as women in the matriarchy, and they carry the additional obligation of taking care of their mothers in old age.
Nowadays, muxhes are one of those anomalies that both defines a culture and blatantly contradicts it. This was evident during last month’s festivities, as the organization Vinnii Gaxheé (“different people” in Zapotec) held parades and velas (a type of all night party unique to the isthmus region) to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its founding.
During the organization’s gay pride parade, muxhes threw condoms from floats and served beer out of liter bottles to old women, young gay men and lesbians, straight couples, and families. The feeling was one of fiesta, and the Oaxacan community—conservative, Catholic, and traditional—rallied around it without seeming to blink an eye at the drag queens in elaborate isthmeñan dress laughing and holding hands aboard the floats.
Likewise, the atmosphere at the vela held the Friday following the parade was one of jubilance and abandon. Lorena Herrera, Mexico’s Pamela Anderson, graced the screaming, sweating, drunken croad with her presence and crowned Kathy the 1st the new muxhe queen.
There were parades featuring mock soldiers and the virgin Mary, traditional isthmeñan dances, telenovela stars, crates of Coronas piled in heaps on tables, and drag queens getting down to cumbia. Despite a small electrical fire which shut off the lights on half of the outdoor space, the party kept raging, isthmeñan style. And it seems Vinnii Gaxheé only gets stronger as the years go by.