I’m a bit of a wimp. I’ll admit it. I absolutely abhor confrontations of any sort. I’m the type of person who will sit there and eat a meal at the restaurant if the order didn’t go in right. The problem is, I also have very strong morals and opinions that make it so I have to speak out about issues when I see them. So when the news paper at my university published an article railing against the use of the term “womxn” in certain material from the University during Women’s History Month, I wanted to say something.
Should I write an article in response? Email the editor? The wimp in me said to do nothing…. so I did. Then a professor of mine gave us an assignment. “Write an editorial about an issue you’re passionate about. It must be a current event piece.” What else was I supposed to do? I had the passion and reason to write my article now. I wrote it and got great feedback telling me that I should send it in to the UPress, but the wimp in me won out again. Women’s History month was done and over with, the issue had been resolved. But I am proud of the article and wanted to share it somewhere where I hopefully won’t have to deal with too much confrontation, so I decided to publish it here:
We’re having a bit of a “moment”, culturally. Social Justice issues are being brought to the light and in turn, societal changes are slowly but surely being made. The response to these cultural changes haven’t been entirely positive though, there’s significant pushback from certain segments of society. Recently, the UPress released an article that criticized the use of the term “womxn” in some of FAU’s promotional materials for Women/Womxn’s History Month. I believe that this article is part of this cultural pushback.
The author of the article expressed a common criticism about the term womxn- that rather than being inclusive of trans women it is exclusionary towards them, but the issue of this argument is that it entirely disregards the reasoning behind its use (a reasoning that was explained and dismissed within the very same article). Womxn was initially used to be inclusive of trans women while also excluding the prefix “-men”, in an attempt to break the paradigm that places men at the forefront of everything. Times have changed though. Terms that use the letter “x” in place of another are now used to be inclusive of people who exist outside of the binary.
Part of the issue is that our society operates under the assumption of a binary and any attempts to break out of that binary are a threat to that system which was created by Europeans who saw their own cultures as superior and proceeded to force that culture upon everyone that they came into contact with. Countless forms of expression were erased and ignored and marginalized through colonization. Another aspect of colonization that is less talked about is the way that language is affected by it.
The English language is a bit of an outlier in that it is not inherently gendered. We don’t call a chair a “she” or a table a “him” (though certain objects are gendered through the wonderful process of misogyny). One would think that this gender-neutral aspect of the English language would be a plus in the cultural movement towards acceptance that we’re in, but the cultural strength of the two genders myth is very pervasive and attempts to change the language in ways to make it more neutral are facing a lot of pushback- sometimes deservedly. The term Latinx is well-meaning, but not realistically usable for Spanish and/or Portuguese speaking people. Terms like folx are being mocked for being unnecessary since “folks” is already gender neutral, but all of these terms come from the same types of spaces and the same frame of mind. These terms (Latinx, womxn, folx, etc) all come from primarily Black and brown Queer spaces where people were trying to change the English language in a way to fit their world, instead of trying to change themselves for the world.
So what is gained by pushing back against Queer PoC creating inclusive language? Who benefits from this and when articles like the one the Upress ran earlier this month are released, who is hurt? The article from UPress said “it must be acknowledged that those who identify as nonbinary are much less likely to use the term “woman” or “womxn” to identify themselves, the same goes for many trans women.” The thing is, I’m non-binary and I like “womxn”. It lets me know that I am welcomed and recognized in a space. At last years Women’s Leadership Institute, I was nervous. It was the first year that I would be going and using my correct pronouns (they/them/theirs). My trepidation melted away a bit when I walked into the room and saw banners welcoming “womxn”. While terms like “womyn” or the stomach-turning “wombyn” are obvious slights against trans women, I think we as a culture need to leave space for womxn and all the things we do.