A Conversation About Latinx: Gender Neutrality In Spanish

A Conversation About Latinx: Gender Neutrality In Spanish May 8, 2017

I’m going to start this off by acknowledging that by merely mentioning the word “Latinx” I’m practically begging for people to come here and tell me how I’m disrespecting Spanish despite the fact that I’m doing no such thing. I know that by having a post centered around Latinx I’m asking for people to label my blog as various things that it’s not including various Spanish equivalents of Social Justice Warriors. That being said this conversation isn’t going to be what you think it is.

I spend a portion of this article talking about how some of the phoenixes feel about Latinx so here have a phoenix.
I spend a portion of this article talking about how some of the phoenixes feel about Latinx so here have a phoenix.

Because I know that there’ll probably be some people who don’t read the whole article: use Latinx if you like it, don’t if you don’t like it. I am not making this post to mock people who disagree with me just to call for people to treat each other with respect, relative to this often heated linguistic debate in the Hispanic and Latin-American communities. Just treat people who do use the term and people who don’t use the term with respect. To people who feel like they need the term Latinx it’s an important term and even if you don’t use it please don’t disrespect people who feel like this matters. The reason I am making this post is that I have seen far too many people who don’t like the term insult and belittle people who do, unnecessarily.

As A Supporter Of Latinx I Don’t Care If You Use It Or Not:

You read that right. For the sake of clarity I’m going to say that my gender pronouns are he/his/him and that I use the term “Latinx” in two contexts: when I’m unsure of someone’s gender identity and their preferred pronouns and they happen to be Latin-American, and to refer to a group consisting of multiple Latin-Americans of different genders. I use it as a gender-neutral identifier for either individuals or groups and I’ve used it in conversation to explain it’s meaning in the past. But I don’t care if you use it or not. I won’t judge you differently for disliking it personally, or finding it ugly, or finding it just unpleasant to use in conversation. There is something important to note here: I will judge you for making fun of others who use it.

I will judge you for belittling people who disagree with you about its usage whether you use it or not. I will judge you for mocking people who disagree with you on this topic. I see people who don’t like it making the stupidest comments imaginable on all sorts of articles and this level of childish disagreement and language policing is infuriating. I’ve seen people compare Latinx users to Gretchen from Mean Girls with her love of the expression “Fetch”, to other people claiming that this term is “whitening” Spanish, to people claiming that “real Latinos don’t use Latinx”. It’s dumb. I’ve never seen someone make fun of people who don’t use Latinx. I’m sure someone who does that exists, but I can honestly say that I’ve never seen it anywhere online.

It’s fine to not use Latinx. It’s fine to find it vocally unappealing or dislike it, or even somehow claim that it’s linguistic imperialism (which is a silly claim by the way, but fine if you want to think that go ahead). But can we all agree that bashing people who use it or don’t use it is something we just shouldn’t do? Why do we feel the need to get into fights because of this? It’s a dumb way to use our time but if you’ve ever read an article that includes it that’s on a popular publication such as Mitu, you’ll find people mocking Latinx supporters. I make the mistake of reading the comments section whenever there’s a new “The Kat Call” video on Mitu. Big mistake. It’s worse on their Facebook page than in the YouTube comments but even there I’ve seen this.

There Are Lots Of Dumb Arguments Against Latinx:

I’ve never heard a good argument against Latinx. At least not a good argument against it that makes it worth rejecting the term outright. I’ve heard arguments about why singular individuals make the decision not to use the term, citing that they think it’s unpleasant to hear, and that it’s unnecessary with terms like “Latin-American” and “Hispanic” existing as gender neutral alternatives to Latino and Latina. Those are fine reasons for individuals not to use the term. I’ve admitted that and been perfectly civil about this. I’ve also rightfully pointed out that these arguments do not merit making fun of individuals who support the usage of the term “Latinx”.

Even if you think the term Latinx is a silly term and make the choice not to use it that’s fine. No one I’m aware of who uses Latinx will be militant in getting you to use it. We understand that you don’t like it and we won’t push you on it. So if people who don’t like it could stop being such children about their dislike for this term that’d be great.

Linguistic imperialism is generally defined as the imposition of one language on another. Even at its most generous interpretation Latinx is not linguistic imperialism. At most Latinx is akin to taking something some people like from another language (most people seem to think Latinx is taking from English, and lots of people comment about Latinx “whitening” Spanish or it) and incorporating it into Spanish. At this point people point out how Spanish is not gender-neutral and then act as if Spanish shouldn’t be gender-neutral. This could be an interesting argument but no one ever fleshes it out, explaining how Spanish’s default gendered language is somehow superior to Spanish becoming gender-neutral.

When people complain about Latinx somehow “whitening” Spanish I roll my eyes. Spanish has always been influenced by other languages with words like azucar, hasta, ojala, and almohada being Arabic, canton, soja, charola, and caolin, being Chinese, and of course the commonly accepted reverse where English speakers accept and take words from Spanish and make them English or use them commonly enough that it’s forgotten that they were originally Spanish. I don’t understand why “whitening” Spanish is somehow bad and no one has ever seriously explained this to me. Usually when asked why incorporating English words and concepts into Spanish is bad, people who perpetuate the idea that it is are silenced or awkwardly try to move onto a different argument.

If you don’t like Latinx don’t use it. But the people who use Latinx deserve respect and to be taken seriously. Just because you dislike their linguistic contribution to Spanish doesn’t somehow mean that you get to disrespect them or insult them without consequence. Additionally: the more we fight here the more time we waste which we could devote to other topics where our views align. We need unity, especially when our disagreements are so minor, but I’ve seen ridiculous comments from the anti-Latinx camp where they mock lots of people acting like Latinx isn’t a real word. It is a real word with an agreed upon definition. It’s a real word and if you don’t like it that’s fine but to keep perpetuating the idea that it doesn’t exist is dishonest.

Responding To The Phoenix:

I’ll take some time to respond to one of the few written articles against Latinx. Because I think their argument is worth-reading so that you can see a fleshed-out argument against Latinx. You can check it out here.

In this piece from late 2015 Guerra and Orbea wrote an opinion piece against the slowly increasing popularity of Latinx. They dislike it because they incorrectly call it linguistic imperialism (it’s not, it’s selective inclusive of a third alternative to the traditional binary in Spanish of o/a with an x for people who feel like they prefer it over either o/a). Despite what they claim proponents of Latinx do not advocate for the degenderatization of all words in Spanish, just ones that refer to people whose gender-identities are not included in the binary. So words like “Latino” and “hermano” might in fact become “latinx” and “hermanx” but this isn’t a bad thing partially because it’s only for people whose genders don’t fit the binary which is not a big deal. And even in their article they never explicitly state why it’s a bad thing in their opinion. They incoherently claim that erasing the gendered part of Spanish would erase Spanish but this is an ridiculous claim due to linguistic elasticity and the fact that even with their provided examples the sentences can clearly be understood just that reading it out-loud might confuse a speaker of Spanish but seriously the sentence “Lxs niñxs fueron a lx escuelx a ver sus amigxs.” is an obvious one. The children went to school to see their friends. Spanish is a gendered language but would easily survive being degendered and anyone who claims otherwise doesn’t have a very solid grasp on the Spanish language.

Some of the stranger claims that they make include one which defeats an entire argument of theirs: the paragraph about Latino being gender-neutral. They admit that Latino is not gender-neutral when they state that they use the masculine ending to identify groups of mixed-genders. That’s by definition NOT gender-neutral. That’s part of the reason why advocates for Latinx want Latinx to be used to identify groups of mixed genders, so that no single gender is given undue linguistic sway. Then there’s the claim that Latinx excludes people who understand Spanish. It doesn’t. Anyone with a grasp of Spanish can look beyond the gendered sections of words in Spanish and identify what the words are. Just because these two can’t doesn’t mean that we should insult Spanish speakers everywhere by thinking that their levels of Spanish fluency must be below the level of skill of these two linguistic legends.

There are various claims in this article that are subjective and/or ignore how languages change over time. One such example is how they claim Latinx does not fit into Spanish and never will. Or that it’s unpronounceable. Or that it’s a misguided desire to change a language. Who decides that it won’t fit into Spanish, a language that is practically alive and has always been molded by its surroundings, or that a part of it is unpronounceable? If languages have to be governed and regulated the best way to do that would be through a democracy, and there’s no real way of knowing how Latinx would fare if someone asked the entire Spanish speaking world to accept it or reject it.

Their worst argument has to be the one about how it’s used largely within the United States. You know why that’s a bad argument? Not only because the United States has the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world but also because it shouldn’t matter where someone is from if they can have an impact on a language they speak. This is an argument that I hear all the time from Spanish speakers from all over the world but it’s a bad one. Spanish in Gibraltar is real Spanish and Spanish in the United States is real Spanish. The idea that the impact of the United States on Spanish should be ignored is not a real argument and makes the people arguing it look silly. Additionally it’s insulting to all of the people that it claims wouldn’t be able to adapt to it who would undoubtedly be able to survive this minor change to Spanish.

Look: Latinx should not cause this much of a debate in Latin-American/Latinx communities. But if you’re going to argue against it please try to do so effectively.

Once again: If you don’t like Latinx don’t use it. That’s fine. No one is going to judge you for choosing not to participate in this. But don’t make fun of people who do use Latinx. To many of them this is probably an important topic, even if to you it isn’t.

This ended up being really long but I hope you liked it and I’d love to know what you think. In the end the only thing I really care about is that you treat people with respect and don’t mock them even and especially when they disagree with you. Or at least try not to mock them.

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