“Embracing the Liminal: Exploring the Intersection of Latinx and Trans Identities”
My grandfather’s name was also Rudy. He passed away a few years ago, and while it devastated my mother — the eldest of five siblings — I truthfully never felt like I knew him very well.
One fascinating thing I learned about him after he died, however, was that he and his family moved to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico after living in the area for generations.
Intrigued, I began some light research and came across a small town in Oaxaca called Juchitán. This city is not only home to a number of communities of Indigenous Zapotec people, but also to a generous population of Muxes (pronounced “moo-shez”).
Muxes are individuals assigned male at birth who either dress, behave, and live as women, or exist in the space between (and even outside of) the binary poles of man and woman — the liminal space.
When viewed through a modern Western lens, one might be tempted to shoehorn this community into a neat category: gay men dressing as women (drag queens), transgender women, and/or non-binary individuals.
This is to say that there is no single way to be trans and/or gender-variant, similar to how there is no single way to be Latinx. The concept of Latinidad itself is wide-spanning and includes numerous regions and peoples from around the world that are often erased from conversations around Latinx identities and issues, namely Afro-Latinx people from the Caribbean and other areas.
The Muxes in Southern Mexico are just one fraction of the myriad ways transness and Latinx identities can intersect and collide.
Is it fair to attempt to contextualize ancient identities through a modern lens?
What is lost by attempting to translate these ancient ways of being to fit our current understanding of gender theory?
In the early 1500s, the Spanish began invading what is now colonially known as Mexico. Over 500 Spanish Conquistadors docked their ships and effectively changed the fabric of life for countless people, places, ecosystems, and regions.
Settler colonialism, like the invasive species it is, began the systematic and violent process of erasing Indigenous peoples, their sacred spiritual practices, infrastructures, and very existence.
Sacred rituals and ancient practices were largely replaced with Catholicism, which — among other things — built and enforced strict frameworks around sexual orientation, gender expression, gender roles, and how deviance from these frames is inherently sinful and “abhorrent to God.”
Early on, the patriarchs in my family began policing my femininity. I was implored to “walk with less hips” and “talk like a man,” essentially coding this intrinsic way of being as unnatural at best, repulsive at worst. They largely championed “masculine” feats of strength and mocked softness — machismo.
For many years, I tried and failed to compartmentalize my queerness and transness to fit in the impossibly small box I was presented with. I simply could not help but expand and expand.
Is ‘machismo’ a reverberation of the brutishness of imperialism?
How do I navigate a cultural heritage that purports to both herald and revile gender variance all at once?
In the time leading up to my grandfather’s death, I had quietly come out to a small circle of friends as trans non-binary. I almost immediately started using the pronouns they/them, but more slowly and cautiously allowed myself to physically mirror this internal shapeshift — in clothing, affectation, and essence.
The decision came after years of nurturing a feeling I couldn’t assign a name, an abstract shape I couldn’t define. Once I had the language, the nebulous became concrete: I existed in the space between here and there; A and B; man and woman.
Invariably, my thoughts gravitated back to the Muxes of Mexico in traditional Tehuana dresses, decorated in flowers and donning full faces of makeup on the streets where my grandfather feasibly walked as a child. I was left tending to so many questions.
Is it possible to miss something you never had?
Am I allowed to call myself Muxe by birthright, even if my feet have never touched Oaxacan soil?
The Blue Myrtle Cactus (Myrtillocactus Geometrizans) can be found throughout the tropical forests of Oaxaca. This particular cactus is constantly evolving over time, taking on new shapes all the while. In its youth, a Blue Myrtle grows into a single blueish-green column, complete with spiky whiskers and a strong spine.
Over time, it begins to sprout branches upon branches upon branches — it’s often compared to a candelabra. Soon after, the cactus will sprout highly aromatic, cream-colored flowers that last just for one night before wilting.
This process is quickly followed by the emergence of “oblong-shaped dark blueish-purple berries” which are considered a delicacy. Beyond the fruit it bears, the Blue Myrtle Cactus is very easily replicable, both by seed and propagation.
These days, I also find myself adorned in flowers and growing at every odd angle, patiently waiting to bear fruit.
I began medically transitioning near the beginning of the pandemic. In short, I had an excuse to let my gender and its expression bloom in new ways outside the searing gaze of others, and within the safety of the locked-down greenhouse I called a studio apartment.
At first, I began by taking a regimen of testosterone blockers (antiandrogens), which slowly but surely reduce the levels of testosterone a body assigned male at birth (AMAB) naturally produces. A few months ago, I began using transdermal patches chock full of estrogen to be absorbed into my bloodstream.
I am gently beginning to make a home in my body.
This morning I spotted two absurd lilies growing
from between my ribs, three impish lilacs sprouting from
my wrists, one precocious orchid peeking through my
toes, and a soft-spoken bird of paradise nesting near
my left eye. I am robed not in galeforce
majesty, but in quiet flowers like those who came long
before me and long before them and long
before them and all I can ask is:
And the sage orchid replies:
You are the land worth tilling
You are the land worth tilling
Rudy Ramirez (they/them) is a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary creative and generative artist — playwright, poet, theatre director, performer, arts educator, national organizer, and visual artist. Ramirez was selected by Theatre Communications Group (TCG) as a member of the Rising Leaders of Color 2021 cohort in New York City. Currently, Ramirez serves as an experimental theatre teaching artist and a freelance consultant.