Language has evolved as we explore and engage with people around the world across virtual and offline communities. However, building unity while acknowledging and respecting our identities requires the necessary vocabulary. As a non-binary Latine person, gender-affirming and inclusive language are important because it creates space for trans and queer folks to flourish while validating our existence. Some communities within the Latine diaspora are demonstrating how even changing just a few letters can make all the difference.
• Make it a practice to introduce yourself with your name and pronouns and include your pronouns in your email signature, social media bios, etc.
What’s the difference between Latinos, Latinas, Latines, and Latinxs?
Are you Hispanic or Latino? The question often found in demographic inquiries assumes two different identities to be interchangeable. However, Latino means a person of Latin American descent (ABC News) and is credited by some to already be a gender-neutral option (Latino News Briefs) despite being most commonly used to refer to cisgender men of Latin American descent. Latin@ was introduced as a gender-neutral shorthand for Latino and Latina (NPR). However, it falls short of gender inclusivity because it still operates within the gender binary by suggesting that there are two genders (Alok V Menon). While the conversation of canceling Latinidad (Alan Palaez, Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture, Refinery 29) has become more prominent, the general use of Latinx as a gender-inclusive term has persisted across the Americas. Today, the “e” and “x” endings indicate a gender-inclusive reference to the community. The term Latinx has evolved out of a necessary and active demand to recognize the ever-evolving reality that nonbinary, gender expansive, gender nonconforming (GNC), and trans people within the community exist. Rather than assuming the gender identity of a group by referring to a group as Latinas or Latinos, Latines and Latinx acknowledges and validates the possibility that not everyone within a given group of people of Latin American descent would subscribe to being a cisgender man or woman.
Where does it come from? Is that even real Spanish?
Gender-inclusive Spanish in different forms derives from queer, feminist, and decolonial movements in Latin America (Miriam (Mimi) Urízar-Ávila), despite terms like Latinx being more commonly used by U.S.-born Latines who speak English (Pew Research Center). However, the origins of gender-inclusive Spanish have to be credited to the trans/GNC/genderqueer communities in Latin America that pushed for the acknowledgment of gender-expansive people that have existed across time, even before the colonization of the Americas.
More than gays and theys…
The reality is that gender-expansive and GNC people exist. They are not only navigating language but also making it one that is inclusive of all of our communities. Latinx or Latine functions as an identity and community marker. The words are a testament to the language activism spearheaded by the community. While the English usage of “they” as an individual’s pronouns can also refer to a group of people, the dual use of “elle” (singular “they”) and -x/-e is not as uncommon as one might assume (NPR). However, the change and evolution of language cause discomfort to those living deep in the trenches of the gender binary. There is a resistance to adapting (Remezcla). There is no new wave of gender-expansive, nonbinary, and/or trans individuals. There is simply a need for language that acknowledges our existence.
The use of they/them is not a “third” option, a one-and-done substitute for respecting individuals and correctly using their pronouns, nor does it erase the possibility of misgendering someone with the incorrect pronouns (Stephanie Julia Kapusta). It simply provides an inclusive approach for referring to a person or group of people without assuming a binary gender.
For example, in English, using the singular “they” is how you would refer to a non-binary person or talk about someone whose gender you do not know without assuming they are a “he,” “she,” or “he or she.”
Unfortunately, transphobia (Planned Parenthood) can morph into every language (Planned Parenthood). And for the most part, this is what has dominated the language space over the past centuries.
A common example of misgendering is: “This is Sam. Her pronouns are they” or in Spanish, “Su nombre es Sam y ella usa el pronombre elle.”
So what’s the issue?
Inclusive language and communication are crucial to creating space for trans and queer people and minimizing the harm imposed on LGBTQIA+ folks (The Trevor Project). Institutional spaces, groups, and organizations must go beyond announcing the open call to Latinx people as an easy pass to inclusive practices. While the shift towards naming spaces as Latinx inclusive has taken off the ground, additional accountability is required to actively support the queer and trans Latinx people within those spaces.
As a language worker and wellness practitioner, I incorporate gender-affirming language in my communication and teach inclusive language practices (Ser by Ali). An introduction and first impression can automatically be transformed by acknowledging a crowd using gender-affirming greetings and introducing ourselves by sharing our pronouns. The assumption that this alone creates a gender-inclusive space is incorrect. However, it is a necessary start.
KEY TAKEAWAYS • Respecting people’s pronouns is one step towards gender inclusion and equity, but a more thorough understanding and exploration of gender and how it operates in this society is necessary.
• Be mindful of your positionality within a given space and center the voices of folks living at the intersections of various marginalized identities.
• Language is a tool of resistance and movement building that is always shifting to include people from diverse communities and backgrounds.