Sexuality

As stated above, I do not believe that "sexuality" existed in Zapotec culture as a concept distinct from gender or even as a concept at all. Thus it does not make sense to discuss "heterosexuality" or "homosexuality" as such because until quite recently, as described below, these words were not a part of local descriptions of behavior. Women's and men's experience of sexuality tends to vary significantly by age and by migration status.

Migrant women and many young men are usually no longer under the authority of their parents and can choose their own sexual partners. Even in such situations, however, women are concerned about their sexual reputations. Cohabitation is considered a legitimate form of sexual expression; having multiple sexual partners is not.

Young men are discouraged from having sexual affairs when married, but, in contrast, are often told to experiment before they settle down.

In many communities, both married men and married women may be rumored to be having sexual affairs. While some men jealously guard their wives (even insisting on driving them to the marketplace), others allow their wives and daughters considerable independence. Wealthier men may spend much of their time in the state capital of Oaxaca or traveling and may be presumed to have sexual affairs.

Sexuality is certainly linked to gender in most Zapotec communities, but is not usually a separate aspect of social identity in public discourses in the community. This has begun to change significantly among Zapotec living in the United States, where sexual identity terms from the lexicon of popular American culture—gay, bisexual, homosexual, bisexual, lesbian, and joto and maricón (derogatory terms for a passive homosexual man)—have become part of people's vocabularies. These labels have begun to be imported into the community and used by some there as well. There are now some Zapotec men in Oaxaca City who may use the label of "homosexual" to describe themselves. In Zapotec communities, men who may engage in sexual relations with other men are not likely to use this label. They may use one of the labels for a third-gender category or none at all.

In the Isthmus, women eat, drink, and dance together at fiestas. They are occasionally rumored to have sexual liasons and relationships with one another while married (see Chiñs [1995] for discussion of mari-machas—women who have sexual relations with other women). However, the physical affection shown between women is not an indication of sexual attraction. It is a normal part of friendship (Ruiz Campbell, 1993, pp. 138-139). Some married women have also had sexual relations with men other than their husbands. At the same time, women are often victims of domestic abuse, may have to negotiate with their husbands on a variety of issues, and with some notable exceptions have not assumed political leadership roles in city, state, or grassroots politics (Rubin, 1997, pp. 230-233).

In general, migration appears to be the major factor in changing sexual interactions among young men and women as they move out of their parents' sphere of authority and cohabit outside marriage. The contrast between this type of marital and sexual relationship and the notions of preserving virginity, the "theft" of women, and formal petitions for marriage suggest the influence of Spanish colonial systems of gender, honor, and sexuality, and urban Mexican and U.S. cultures and experiences. The existence of a third-gender role for men that is blended with marriage and fatherhood signals the continued importance of indigenous systems of gender.

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