Before Spanish colonization blanketed Mexico with Catholicism, there were cross-dressing Aztec priests and hermaphrodite Mayan gods; gender flexibility was inherent in the culture. In much of the country now, machismo prevails and attitudes toward sex remain relatively narrow. But things are different in the southern state of Oaxaca where more pliant thinking remains. In the Zapotec communities around the town of Juchitán, men who consider themselves women—called “muxes”—are not only accepted, but celebrated as symbols of good luck.
Mexico City-based photographer Nicola “Ókin” Frioli traveled to Juchitán to photograph muxes for the series, We Are Princesses in a Land of Machos. His photos capture just some of the estimated 3,000 muxes in the area, which has a total population of around 160,000. The muxes traditionally adopt female roles like cooking, embroidery, sewing, and preparing for celebrations. They are seen as having special intellectual and artistic gifts.
Local lore has it that the muxes fell from the torn pocket of San Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of Juchitán, during his holy walk over the town. Which is to say, they are the lucky, chosen people; colonizing the ephemeral state between genders, and bringing good fortune to a culture already blessed with open minds and good will.