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Latinx is the gender neutral way of writing Latino but the new term has faced controversy. Image: NBC News. 
Latinx is the gender neutral way of writing Latino but the new term has faced controversy. Image: NBC News. 

Is the move to add “X” to show gender neutrality working? Or does it miss the mark?

In an age when people are being more open about their gender expression, they face linguistic struggles to feel included.

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“There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly-LGBTQ person elected to the Senate. 

Her words hold especially true in American society today. 

A specific event, milestone or date in the future will not be the decider of progress for LGBTQ+ rights in America. Equality is more likely to be achieved through seamless evolution rather than a revolution because of the difficulties involved in changing public perception on cultural matters. 

Slow progress

The U.S. principally distinguishes itself for being slow to evolve on rights for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that allowed same-sex marriage in America, was ruled on less than six years ago. 

Barack Obama and Joe Biden were in the White House at the time of the ruling, and they did not support same-sex marriage in both of their national campaigns. 

They instead professed about believing that although all couples should be entitled to the same benefits, they would only promote civil unions for same-sex couples. 

Twenty years ago, the Netherlands were the first country in the world to legalize same sex marriage. America’s neighbor to the north, Canada, did the same in 2005. 

Biden became the country’s oldest person ever elected to the presidency at 78, but even he has shown that the silent and boomer generations can still be moved on this issue. 

Having a diverse cabinet in terms of the background of the members rather than their political ideologies may seem like a window dressing tactic, but regardless of the sentiment behind it, the imagery helps Americans to stop dismissing the capabilities of those who are different. 

Former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg became the first openly-gay cabinet member since he began serving as Secretary of Transportation. 

Dr. Rachel Levine, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, is the first transgender person federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 

In the realm of policy, Biden urged legislators in his address to the joint session of Congress last month to pass the Equality Act. The bills aims to protect LGBTQ+ people under federal civil rights from discrimination in health, education, housing and more. 

“To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people who are so brave, I want you to know your president has your back,” the president said in his address. 

At the state level there has also been mild progress with equity and inclusion. 

Oregon led the way in 2017, and now 20 states allow their residents to change their legal gender marker to ‘X’ on their driver’s licenses. 

This allowed intersex, trans, gender nonconforming and non-binary people to have an option to choose outside of the typical ‘M’ or ‘F’ fixed binary. 

The ‘X’ in conversation

It is a simple start to referencing those who work outside of the binary, but confusion arises when it comes to addressing them in everyday conversations. 

The government will not be able to legislate this away, since it is a cultural issue that is still unfolding in society today, and it will be up to the populace to agree upon a general terminology for the group.

Terms like “non-binary” and “gender non-conforming” are not new ways of progressives pushing Orwellian “newspeak” upon the American populace. 

Both are academically and medically recognized ways for a person to express themselves. 

Speaking about his work 1984, George Orwell said “Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought,” but these terms allow people to gain a better understanding of the spectrum of expression. 

It can also make them abandon sexist stereotypes they may have had due to the limited vocabulary they possessed, which also limited their worldview. 

Before these terms existed people throughout history still felt like they were in that state but the existence of the words to appropriately describe themselves and their use in media helps validate their feelings and identity. 

Change may be a slow process, but that does not make it impossible. 

More people adjusting to using they/them pronouns when referring to a non-binary person or when gender has not been specified in a given context is an example. 

Ceasing  to add “man” titles like Policeman and Councilman and replacing them with police officer and councilmember also help dismantle old notions. 

Actions to promote change that can come across as forced are the inclusions of the letter ‘X’ unnecessarily in words to signal support for the non-binary community.  

Breaking down ‘Latinx’

The most common one that is pushed by the media is the term “Latinx.” 

This is a rejection of how gendered and male-dominated the Spanish language is. Prior to its use individuals would use Latino or Latina to refer to a man or a woman respectively. 

‘Latino’ is the default term used to collectively describe people of Latin American descent. 

A similar was when [email protected] was used in online circles, but it is not used much anymore because it does acknowledge everyone. It is used instead of saying “Latino and Latino,” but it keeps the binary standard and like Latinx, there is no clear way of pronouncing it. 

In Census data, they refer to people of Latin American descent as ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic.’ This leads many to question why Hispanic is not simply accepted as the gender neutral term. 

It would be if it did not exclude Brazil, Latin America’s most populated country. ‘Hispanic’ refers to a person from a Spanish speaking country and Brazilians mainly speak Portuguese. 

A solution that has not gained much traction is referring to everyone as ‘Latin.’ 

When searching for songs from Latin America on Spotify, they label it as Latin music. They do not call it ‘Latino’ or ‘Spanish’ because those would not be representative. 

If someone is looking up restaurants, they will see a section for Latin cuisine and not Latino foods.

Since this is already a rule for other things, then it can also be applied to describe its people. 

The ‘X’ is well intentioned, but if used mainly when a transgender or non-binary person is in the room and when a neutral alternative can be implemented, then it becomes more exclusionary than inclusive. 

Members from these marginalized groups want to feel like they belong in greater society, and not just insular communities of like-minded peers. 

Latinx is meant to be an all encompassing term, but the last letter makes the distinction that a specific group is involved while Latin does not give the same connotation. 

Other failed Xs

“Womxn” to replace the word women faced severe backlash for this same reason.

At the beginning of Women’s History Month in March, Twitch, a popular live streaming service, posted a Tweet to commemorate the event. 

“March is Womxn’s History Month. Join us in celebrating and supporting all of the Womxn creating their own worlds, building their communities, and leading the way on Twitch,” the tweet read. 

It was taken down quickly because many from their generally young audience rejected the new way of spelling women. 

Well-known Twitch and YouTube streamer Vaush commented on the social media blunder. 

“There is already an inclusive term for trans women and cis women, and it’s women. Nobody invented the term womxn to include both short women and tall women… The use of the term womxn implicitly suggests that the term women wasn’t already including everybody. The only reason you would ever believe that is if you don’t believe trans women are women,” he said. 

The platform came out with an apology tweet on March 3, but this showed the marketing executives realized the word does more harm than good.  

Of all the words that have been altered to fit a larger demographic, Latinx has caught on the most, but not among the demographic it is supposed to represent. 

Pew Research found that only 3% of Latin people in America use Latinx, and a fifth of them have heard of the term, but do not incorporate it into their vernacular. 

Shockingly, over three quarters of Latin population have never heard the word ‘Latinx,’ according to the 2019 survey.

There is not much doubt in the belief that the people who use Latinx and womxn, but a reflection of how it impacts the people they want to bring out of the shadows is critical.

“It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something,” said president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1932 commencement of Oglethorpe University. 

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