Lukas Avendaño: Reflections from muxeidad

© Mario Patiño

By Rita Palacios

Lukas Avendaño (1977) is a muxe artist and anthropologist from the Tehuantepec isthmus in Oaxaca. In his work, he explores notions of sexual, gender, and ethnic identity through muxeidad. Avendaño describes muxeidad as “un hecho social total”, a total social fact, performed by people born as men who fulfill roles that are not typically considered masculine. Though it would be easy to make an equivalency between gay and muxe, or transgender and muxe, it can best be described as a third gender specific to Be’ena’ Za’a (Zapotec) culture. Muxes are a community of Indigenous people who are assigned male at birth and take on traditional women’s roles presenting not as women but as muxes. Avendaño’s work is a reflection on muxeidad, sexuality, eroticism, and the tensions that exist around it. Though muxeidad is understood and generally accepted as part of Be’ena’ Za’a society, it exists within a structure that privileges fixed roles for men and women, respectively. It is important to note that his work provides a reflection on muxeidad from within rather than without, that is, he critically explores what it means to be muxe as muxe himself, providing an alternative to academic analyses that can exoticize.

In Réquiem para un alcaraván, Avendaño reflects on traditional women’s roles, particularly in rites and ceremonies of the Tehuantepec region (a wedding, mourning, a funeral), many of which are denied to muxes. For the wedding ceremony, the artist prepares the stage by decorating for the occasion, and then blindfolded, selects a member of the audience who presents as male to marry him. Such a union would not be well regarded in traditional Be’ena’ Za’a society, even though same-sex marriage was recently legalized in Oaxaca, an initiative spearheaded by a muxe scholar and activist, Amaranta Gómez Regalado, in August 2019. 

On May 10, 2018 in Tehuantepec, his younger brother, Bruno Avendaño, disappeared during a brief vacation from his duties in the navy. He hasn’t been found since and the artist has used his platform as an international artist to bring attention to the issue of the disappeared in Mexico. Other artists and activists join him as he travels around the world to show his work and create spaces where he can ask for answers at Mexican consulates and embassies for his brother as well as the 60,000+ individuals that have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade and a half. 

© Mario Patiño

For More about muxeidad and Lukas Avendaño

Muxes – Authentic, Intrepid Seekers of Danger © Alejandra Islas

About Rita Palacios

Rita holds a doctorate in Spanish with a specialization in Latin American Literature from the University of Toronto. She is a professor of languages in the School of Liberal Studies at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. Her research examines contemporary Maya literature from a cultural and gender studies perspective. She recently co-authored a book Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (March 2019) with Paul M. Worley, in which they privilege the Maya category ts’íib over constructions of the literary in order to reveal how Maya peoples themselves conceive of cultural production. https://ritampalacios.com