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Un-gendering a Language

     Despite its own flaws and difficulties, the English language has its perks, especially for those who may identify outside the gender binary. Though perhaps still not fully accepted or acknowledged, the increasing use of they/them pronouns has given individuals more freedom in their gender expression within the English language. Not only do we have a set of gender-neutral pronouns, but there is a general lack of gendering among our other words, something that can be found in various other languages.

      As a Spanish speaker, I’ve become more aware of the lack of gender-neutral words and the difficulties someone may face when trying to navigate it. So far, one of the words I’ve most often seen this issue arise with is Latinx.

    Latinx has been proposed as an alternative and a more neutral version of the usual Latino/a(s). The word has been in use since the early 2000’s, though it’s grown in popularity within the last few years. With Spanish being such a gendered language, it leaves little room for those who identify outside the gender binary. Latinx serves as an umbrella term, leaving out the masculine –o and feminine -a endings. The neutral Latinx not only provides a word to describe one’s ethnicity to those that identify outside the gender binary, but it also helps when simply addressing a group of people where multiple identities are present. Up until now, Latino(s) has been used as the default for the latter, despite its masculine ending.

       However, the increasing use of the word Latinx has not come without its own controversy.  Some argue that Spanish already has a gender-neutral term–– latinos. When speaking generally or referencing a group of people, the default ending becomes -o, regardless of gender. A room with more women than men will default to Latinos, never Latinas. 

     Though, simply because some use the masculine ending as a default when referring to multiple genders does not mean that Spanish has gender-neutral nouns. The word “Latinos” is still masculine, whether or not you fully intend it to be. Defaulting to masculine pronouns and using them to refer to everyone does not make it neutral–– it is still masculine based. With gender identity being such a fluid and certainly not a binary thing, our language should be able to reflect that, at least in some way. Though fully taking the gender out of Spanish would prove to be difficult when so many words are gendered, finding neutral alternatives for our nouns is not as intimidating. The main thing needed to do that is finding a neutral ending and the word Latinx already suggests one. What’s needed now is a wider acceptance and we’re well on our way to that as well. 


Sam Barrera

Agnes Scott '21

Sam Barrera grew up just outside of Chicago, IL. in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. She currently attends Agnes Scott College and is majoring in Creative Writing as well as minoring in Spanish. In her free time, Sam loves to journal, find new music, and explore the ATL area.
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