Elvis is 26 years old, she lives in Juchitán de Zaragoza; she has a law degree, she’s a poet and a craftswoman. She makes huipiles (the most common traditional garment worn by indigenous women from central Mexico to Central America). She writes in Zapoteco and Spanish on topics surrounding sexuality, muxes, erotism, HIV and discrimination.
The term muxe originated in the sixteenth century. It’s a variation of the word mujer (woman).
What is being a muxe for you? Is it born or made? Do mothers pressure you?
Being a muxe is having an identity and sometimes, a feminine gender expression. I’ve identified as muxe since a very young age. I’ve never felt attracted to girls but only to boys, I didn’t like masculine toys, I liked to play with dolls. I think being muxe is another LGBT identity, it should be LGBTTTIQM. Because they can't pigeonhole us into a letter of that acronym, we don't fit into any and we fit into all of them, that's why it's a separate identity.
image credit: Elvis Guerra
Are muxes born or made? I think generalizing is always a mistake; saying that all the Mexican people have brown skin is a mistake, saying all the people of Mexico are poor is a mistake, saying that all the people of Oaxaca are ugly, or thieves is a mistake and to say that all muxes are born is a mistake. Some are born, some are made. But we are here and finally, I believe that identity is built in part on who I think I am, who I assume I am; but also on how society perceives me, what I reflect.
It happens a lot in lower-class families, for example, as the families are large, the arrival of a muxe child solves the problem of housework in their lives because most of those people are merchants. This is the reason why muxes usually don’t have access to education, and the majority don’t have a profession. But I think muxes have already gone beyond washing dishes. There are professional muxes, there are artist muxes. So, for the families of the lower class, it continues to represent an issue of labour exploitation. It does seem to me that this love - a Mother’s love - is a love of conditions. A painful love. Because, finally, when parents die, muxes are left alone. Ultimately, we are all alone but I think loneliness doesn't hurt when you choose it, it hurts when it is imposed on you. So that happens with muxes. If you ask the parents “why do you accept and love your muxe kid?” The answer 99 percent of the time is “because my son won’t get married, because my son will take care of me and the house when I age” and, if you look closely you will notice that there absolutely exists love but not absolute love. It is a tolerance that is conditioned. I tolerate you because you are going to do this, I accept you because you have to do this.
image credit: Elvis Guerra
I have heard outsiders say that there is a matriarchy in Juchitan. What do you think?
Yes and no. Historically in Juchitán, only one woman has ruled (2016). And if you ask me how many muxes have ruled…none. If we see it from a Western point of view, there is no matriarchy. But if we see it from the community perspective, there is a matriarchy. In the education of children, the mother dominates, in money management the mother is the one who manages it. Here in Juchitán, the men come home from work and give their full salary to their wife to manage it. She is the one who gives money to the man if he wants to buy something.
I believe that, in the most important decisions of the family such as the education of the children, the administration of the money and the social presence dominates the woman. And, the man is left with the public administration, patriarchal politics. Because it seems that women do not care. So that's why I say yes and no.
How important is socio-political activism for the community?
For there to be sexual freedom, there must be political freedom. And that is what happened in Juchitán.
In 1971 or 1972, in Juchitán, there was a social movement called “the movement of the Rural Student Workers' Coalition of the Isthmus (COCEI)”. They sought to remove the PRI, the government from power, to end the one-party system that existed.
image credit: Elvis Guerra
One year after that, another movement called Authentic, Intrepid Seekers of Danger emerges. It was a group of Muxes who organized clandestinely to discuss their problems and put a stop to the patriarchal system.
Before that, we couldn’t go out in the street dressed like women. The police would arrest us, beat us, and kill us. No more than three muxes could meet in the city center, or else it was to "prostitute themselves", and all the stigmas being a muxe implied.
I do believe that muxes should know this side of history, they are not here by chance. They can walk the streets freely because once upon a time a group of muxes took a chance and fought for our right to be here. I wouldn’t be talking to you right now if it wasn’t for them.
Now, what we have to do is legislate. Because it is very nice when we say that the muxes live in peace, that there is no discrimination. But we have to create public policies so that all that beautiful stuff we talk about is written in law.
It fills me with joy to see little kids expressing their gender at such a young age. At 12 or 13 years old the Muxehuiini’ already dress and live like women and that’s more than amazing but many of them don't develop a social conscience.
image credit: Elvis Guerra
To this day, muxes are prohibited from entering certain parties here as women. There are some parties in our town where they continue to prohibit us from entering dressed as women. So, political action is needed to make a change. I want the little muxes to go to school dressed like women. Because in my case, like many others at 7 or 8 we already identified as muxe. And although our family agrees, the educational system says no so they leave us with 2 options: Either you defend your identity and you dress like a woman or you abandon school. So we have to keep fighting, we still have a long way to go.
What does Ramonera mean?
It’s the title of my book. I will briefly explain how the zapotecas and muxe sexuality works. For the zapotecas there are 4 genders (man, woman, muxe and Nguiu’) and from there there’s some variations, for example:
Muxe’ gunaa - muxe woman (muxe who dresses and is assumed as a woman) the closest thing could be transgender.
Muxe’nguiiu - muxe man (they are the muxes who do not dress like women but have a traditionally feminine job like cooks and embroiderers) in Juchitán there is a sexual division of labor, there’s specific jobs for man and woman. Apart from having a feminine job, the whole community identifies him as a muxe body, of course he has homoerotic practices but he is also married to a woman, has children and life as a common family. It would be the closest thing to bisexual, but there are very specific perticularities here.
Muxe’ nguiu’ - Lesbian Muxe. The most recent gender, they’re young muxes who happen to have a relationship with another muxe. Historically, muxes could only relate to heterosexual men and right now that binary is broken. Because muxes have studied abroad, they have already explored other things (pornography for example, social networks) now they allow 2 muxes to be together and because society sees us as 2 feminine bodies, they assume we’re lesbians.
From this last one, there’s a subcategory: Las Ramoneras. They’re muxes who have sex with heterosexual men and area top in their relationships. The heterosexual men live a common family life, are married, have children and masculine jobs. Previously, muxes could only be passive with heterosexual men, until one muxe had the guts to top a man named Ramón and in honor of him that word is baptized. The heterosexual community didn’t know what a Ramón was, or a Ramonera. It wasn't until I created my book of poems Ramonera that there was a boom and now many people know what it means.
image credit: Elvis Guerra
Why do you write? What are the social struggles that matter to you?
I write because it is a political stance and a way to say “world, indigenous communities are also here, we’ve always been here. In the indigenous communities we also fuck, we are homosexuals, we are lesbians, we also live all these processes of resistance against capitalism and neoliberalism, against neoliberal processes. There are other ways to see and live life. We are part of that diversity. In that diversity there’s another diversity.”
I’m mainly interested in two things: to raise awareness of the experiences of muxes and how the muxe community created codes to survive.
One of them is “tapa”, or four, which is code for HIV. It was a code we didn’t share, people asked what four was and we only knew the meaning of that code. But it’s a painful word, the word nobody wants to name. I wrote a poem about four in which I decided to make the indigenous reader uncomfortable because indigenous poems are extraordinarily conservative. They don’t want to address these topics, they don’t want indigenous literature to come out of the closet and that bothers me a lot. Now it’s my turn, it’s my time to talk about other topics and say “I’m going to write all of this down and put it on paper because what is not named does not exist” and we muxes exist. But, they have left us in folklore.
Tapa, es una palabra zapoteca que en español significa cuatro, y es un código que utilizamos los muxes para referirnos al SIDA. Tapa es una palabra dolorosa. Aquí una oración de cuatro letras.
Oración de cuatro letras
porque en cuatro me puse
cuando me infectaron,
porque cuatro son los puntos cardinales
y en ninguno lo volví a ver,
porque cuatro paredes bastaron
para el veneno que me inyectó su boca.
porque cuatro veces
fui mordida por el mismo perro
que me juró
que únicamente conmigo lo hacía natu,
porque fui la cuarta víctima,
la primera fue Carolina,
porque lo conocí en la cuarta sección
y porque le medía
más de una cuarta... párteme en dos.
porque cuatro nombres tiene la muerte
y en cuatro idiomas
se hace llamar Bárbara,
porque en un cuarto oscuro
conocí a las más bastarda
de todas las bichas,
porque cuatro cirios vigilan mi cuerpo
mientras mi madre llora
y le reclama a un Dios
que olvidó despertarme
en el cuarto día,
porque cuatro por uno
es igual a reactivo,
al fondo a la izquierda
puerta número cuatro.
porque cuatro es el número de la suerte,
porque cuatro llagas aparecieron en mi cuello
y cuatro veces maldije haberlo conocido,
porque cuatro cerdos hozaron mi cuerpo
y a los cuatro meses
me volví a acordar de ellos.
porque cuatro estrellas
tiene el hotel del abandono,
porque cuatro patas tiene la mesa
donde nunca más me invitaron a comer,
porque cuatro dedos
no siempre bastan para ser feliz.
porque por cuatro letras
no me voy a suicidar,
no es para tanto,
You can read the Elvis' full poetry collection in the book, Ramonera .