Neutrality in Grammar and Gender

“If X can stand for anything and anybody, then nothing and nobody is excluded by it.”

As we step further into the conversation regarding our understanding of gender and expanding inclusivity, beyond the traditional binary of male and female to include intersex, non-binary, and transgender people; words and expressions are being presented to find new ways of describing gender identity and expression. For example, you might have come across words such as “folx” “latinx” “Mx” and “womxn”.

The term folx is a modification of the word folks, and it has been used as a gender-neutral way to refer to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. A societal expectation and assumption that women had to carry is the binary burden of being identified as either Miss or Mrs. To denote age, gender, marital status and identity on legal documents or otherwise, this only perpetuated gender binary on people to be only recognised as a man or woman. The honorific which introduces gender neutrality to the standard usage of terms such as (Mr. Miss. And Mrs) became a common lingo in 2000s Mx. Makes up for a very refreshing option to people who want a title that can be used regardless of gender, age or marital status.

The word latinx has successfully permeated through the mainstream lexicon of gender neutrality as an alternative to the terms like Latino for men and Latina for women. All these words have the alphabet X in common and have made room for a new term which took advantage of the already flexible lexicon the letter X and, create womxn an alternative term as a strong political statement of re-spelling of the word woman and refused to be defined by the patriarchal structure. Some implied a woman’s identity was inherently reliant on a man, so replacing the ‘a’ with ‘x’ was an expression of female independence. The attempt to avoid the default association of the spelling was done in the past too when the feminist movement came up with new terms like ‘womyn’, ‘wimmin’, ‘wimyn’ or ‘womin’ but overcame these terms finally because of their roots in transphobia and how various forums have often associated the terms as the white, cisgender section within the feminist movement. So naturally, they turned their heads towards the term womxn for denoting gender fluidity and inclusivity.

However, this move has sparked a visible outrage as well on the online community, at first the word womxn would look like a typo but when the Wellcome Collection – a museum and library in London sent out a tweet promoting an event using the word as they felt “we feel it is important to create a space/venue that includes diverse perspectives.” They faced backlash on twitter from several women where they felt that “womanhood already has to struggle to be recognised and how no trans woman has felt offended by the recognition of being called a woman’’ and objectors have also argued that trans women and women of colour do not need a new term “when the term women didn’t only refer to cis and white women but everyone belonging to the category.” And so rendering the Wellcome collection to issue an apology.

 

This instance showcased the unfamiliarity to changes and language at large and which is normally the reaction to everything that is deviant to the norm of the society. It’s common to get upset about a change when it specifically comes to a language, because speakers often get attached to the words they use, to suddenly let go off the practice you’ve established and conditioned to from the very beginning of your childhood is indeed difficult. While the mainstream forums do not recognise or engage with the label easily but there are sufficient people to start this discourse, they often use this to promote inclusivity within cis- and transgender women, by avoiding the suffixes of –men and –man people aim to achieve female independence from patriarchal linguistic terms and reclaiming a separate narrative for themselves. The society has always resided within the grasp of “the man” , us being the populace of “mankind” and where man was the ‘norm’ and woman being the ‘particular’, a mere subcategory of the norm, this re-spelling was used as an incentive to be separated from that default identity given to them.

How the conversation initially meant to convey that women were not the appendages of men, then the discourse to put x in men too, to make the mxn inclusive as well and it would bring their identity to be derived from womxn and vice versa a whole new cycle starts existing again. This time it would be the opposite and obviously not the aim of the incentive.

The main reason to include X is to make traditionally excluded and marginalised groups to feel welcomed and letting people claim gender identities and not be provided with a binary or a predetermined option. The availability of an alternative spelling has made several people understand that there was a section of women who felt excluded from the main discourse including myself, sometimes a different angle clears the bubble of ignorance and privilege we are surrounded with. Reverting back to masculine alternatives for defaults is something that has exhausted many individuals and they chose to bring in alternatives, which has proved to be inclusive on many levels.

The usage of new words can be bothersome to a pre-existing structure, especially the top strata who have been enjoying privileges of not experiencing what it takes to be on the bottom, and when the hand of the clock starts ticking and bringing in the change to leisure that was promised forever to them, it irks many who don’t want the fortune to turntables and start resisting change itself. Then comes the ignorant strata, who have no idea what’s happening but fear change and deviance and so try to stop it anyway without acknowledging the end goal. Ultimately, the adoption of language depends entirely on the people who use the language. Whether or not a certain word permeates the crossing line into a broader discourse depends on the sustained usage of the word within the time, culture and will. Several forums have already started normalising the usage and that brings accessibility and awareness on a complete different level.

Terms like Mx., womxn, latinx and folx generally gives us more accounts of diverse, inclusive language that also describes the unique lived stories and experiences that come along the lines of presenting an avenue to the marginalised communities of the old times. We definitely have a long way to go, the letter X is a very powerful and promising way to help bring a change in the conversation and the way we perceive gender and identity, most of it is the way we talk and write about it. The letter X can be used to convey a commitment, not only to the norm of being inclusive, but also the norm of being further than being inclusive but not making an assumption about someone’s identity. It is popularly said, the only way of not misgendering anyone is not to gender them in the first place and, I’ve learned this quite recently. So it’s okay if you don’t know the intention of the change, but please be willing to understand the perspective behind it.