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Abstract

This study focuses on the manner in which gender identities challenge heteronormativity and are understood as a way to interpret the sexed body through culture in the documentary Muxes: auténticas, intrépidas, buscadoras del peligro (2005), directed by Mexican filmmaker Alejandra Islas Caro. In the context of a Gender Issues in Latin America course taught in a North American university, we explored how certain theories by thinkers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Pierre Bourdieu, and Judith Butler, among others, contend that sexual preference, gender orientation, and sexuality, can be built as a cultural constructs, contrary to popular beliefs on the subject. Some of the students found that those theories conflicted with preconceptions that they brought into the classroom. The documentary shows the everyday experiences of the “muxes,” a group of homosexual, cross-dressing, and transsexual persons who live their identities through a series of performative acts in the town of Juchitán. In doing so, they transgress the traditional roles and expectations that a patriarchal society has for both their men and women. Furthermore, their actions are presented in the film as everyday acts of defiance towards heteronormative patterns—that is, manners of interpreting the sexed body that have come to be considered acceptable by patriarchal societies. Islas Caro’s documentary allowed students to transcend the apparent dualities (i.e. man/woman, masculine/feminine; heterosexual/homosexual, etc.) that it is so commonly associated with this field of study. In addition, discussion and activities showed that students were better able to understand the theories that had been previously discussed in class, with special attention to the notions of sex, gender, and sexuality as social constructions.