Mexican “muxes” take part in a traditional procession during the Muxes Festival on Nov. 17, 2018 in Juchitán, Mexico.
Jan Sochor—Getty Images
November 22, 2019 8:03 PM EST

Vogue Mexico‘s December issue will feature an openly transgender ‘Muxe’ on its cover, for the first time in its history. Muxes, or Muxhes, are indigenous transgender women (or third gender individuals) who have existed in southern Mexico for centuries. Accompanying the cover, the magazine features a series of editorial portraits, and profile of the Muxe community in the Oaxaca town of Juchitán.

On the cover is Estrella Vazquez, a 37-year-old Zapotec Muxe who says she didn’t know about Vogue until the magazine reached out to her for the story. “Everyone is seeing this cover, everyone is congratulating me,” she told The Guardian. “It’s just hard to make sense of the emotions I’m feeling. It almost makes me want to cry.”

Several Muxes were photographed by Tim Walker, a renowned fashion photographer, in a collaboration between Vogue Mexico and British Vogue. “To be muxe is a duality,” says La Kika, a Muxe and activist who is featured in the Vogue story by Karina González Ulloa. “We carry the role depending on circumstance. It could be that you see me on occasion as a man, but in other occasions as a woman.”

Though not immune to machista culture in Mexico that can include violence against LGBT people — Mexico, Colombia and Honduras accounted for 90% of more than 1,300 LGBT murders in Latin America in the last five years, according to a 2019 study — Muxes in southern Mexico are often seen in caregiver roles and are respected for their work as well as their identity.

Vazquez told The Guardian that she has seen a decrease in anti-transgender attitudes and behavior, and called the Vogue cover “a huge step.”

“There’s still discrimination,” she said. “But it’s not as much now and you don’t see it like you once did.”

Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com.

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