A New Paradise: The Transgender Tribes of the Colombian Amazon

Sensual, transgressive and playful portraits of the Ticuna tribe in Colombia.

by Nelson Morales
26 February 2016, 9:00am

All photos by Nelson Morales

All photos by Nelson Morales.

This article originally appeared in the Colombian edition of VICE magazine.

My first experience of photographing LGBT tribe communities was the muxhes of the Oaxaca isthmus, Mexico, where I'm from. They are a homosexual community which has transcended the idea of gender to assume an exaggerated female identity – based on the constant search for beauty. You might say they have developed a so-called "third gender". I photographed their world for several years.

Then I got involved with a photography project in the Colombian Amazon jungle called 20 Fotografos Amazonas. I wanted to immerse myself in the jungle – in its colours, its myths, its legends. It was there I discovered the Ticuna tribe, another homosexual community with strong similarities with the Oaxaca muxhes. I was struck by how similar their skin colour was, how both tribes were preoccupied with the accentuation of excess, and, above all, how the identities of both communities are shaped by the their desire to dress like women.

The Ticuna have loudly campaigned for the right to be able to express their fluid gender, and to be seen and admired by others without prejudice. You see them in the jungle, wading in the river, walking down the streets in their villages, adding colour and flavour to the region. Their community accepts them. Some work, others study with the ambition of one day obtaining a degree, others help their families with the housework.

Fifteen years ago, none of this would have happened in the Amazon jungle. Only recently, thanks to the influence of mass media, queer culture has taken a hold in these communities. I wanted to create portraits that transmitted the energy I found here – sensual, transgressive, and playful.