The Debate Around the Word “Latinx” from the Perspective of a Nonbinary Latinx Person

Design by Shannon Boland

Image description: A computer pop up window with the word latinx. Another pop up window with the alert: “The transphobes are trying to dictate language. Do you want to let them dictate language?” And a cursor over the “No!” button.

As a nonbinary Latinx person, identity becomes a big point of conflict when it comes to language. Spanish is an extremely gendered language, to a point that it seems like I can’t exist in a non-gendered way. There aren’t gender neutral words for terms like “sibling” or “child” or “friend” in Spanish.

In response to the gendered nature of the Spanish language, Latin American activists in the 90s began using the “x” instead of the a’s and o’s that make Spanish gendered. Others have opted to use “e” instead of the “x’ as some find it easier to say in Spanish. Instead of saying Latinos to refer to a group, Latinx and Latine have become gender-neutral alternatives. This has been an important shift for those who do not align with masculine or feminine gendered terms, such as some nonbinary people.

These changes do not come without pushback, however, as transphobic cis Latinos and Latinas have made their unwarranted opinions loud and clear. They have argued against “Latinx” and the adoption of the “x” in general, stating that the changes are being imposed by outsiders. Some have even labelled these shifts “language imperialism,” because opponents are under the misconception that it is a term created by people in the U.S. who don’t have a grasp on the Spanish language or the impact of the word on Spanish speaking communities. According to them, the x does not fit into Spanish linguistically despite the fact that the term was coined by Latin Americans. People against these shifts claim that the adoption of these new terms represent imperialism and colonization without addressing the fact that imperialism and colonization are what brought us the Spanish language and its rigid gender binary to begin with. 

They also argue that it is a term limited to academics and elites implying that it is inaccessible to the everyday Spanish speaker, undermining the ability of many Latinxs to learn. This stance once again ignores the fact that the term arose from activist spaces filled with everyday Latin Americans. Cis Latinos and Latinas have even tried to argue that “Latinos” is somehow already gender neutral and that trans and nonbinary Latinxs should be happy with the language as it is. In effect, they debate if nonbinary people who use gender neutral language matter enough to change a language so that we can use terms that align with our identity. 

Every few weeks, these cisgender “protectors” of the Spanish language decide to spark up this discourse on Twitter and it seems they look for any opportunity to further their narrative. Under Elliot Page’s Twitter post where they came out as trans, was a tweet with about 5,000 likes that told Page not to use the term Latinx because it is an “invented word.” Then there are the seemingly endless think pieces, such as “The X-ing of Language: The Case AGAINST ‘Latinx’” and “Progressives, Hispanics are not ‘Latinx.’ Stop trying to Anglicize our Spanish language” that nobody asked for. These articles entertain the “devil’s advocate” by giving transphobes a platform which only serves to create further harm as they continue to treat the topic as a debate.

It isn’t a debate! Changes to the Spanish language are already happening and will likely continue to happen. Shifts in the language used to describe identity have already been seen through distancing from the term Hispanic. Hispanic refers to anyone who comes from a Spanish speaking country, including Spain. Those from countries with the shared experience of Spanish colonization did not want to be grouped with their colonizers. Therefore, the term “Latino” came into use to include many of the countries that were colonized by Spain. As people continue to reject the impact of colonialism in language, it is important that the colonial ideals of gender are also addressed. The changes towards gender-neutral language are an effort to, at the very least, acknowledge the existence of all people who are Latinx. On a larger scale, gender-neutral language aids in creating an environment in which nonbinary people and trans people are not as stigmatized and can express themselves freely.

Further, cis people have decided that their opinions are the only ones that matter as they refuse to listen to the experiences and perspectives of nonbinary Latinxs. Opponents to these changes justify their positions by chalking up their bigoted points of view to them being language purists, not transphobes. In reality, they’re just transphobes who don’t want to be labeled transphobes.

According to the Washington Post, some people have stated that these shifts away from gendered terms are “insensitive to the Spanish language.” But what about the continued insensitivity toward and exclusion of nonbinary people? Cis Latinos and Latinas show their loyalty and regard toward a language imposed through colonization rather than actual people who are impacted by gendered language. These arguments against changes to language convey that nonbinary people just don’t matter to cis Latinos and Latinas.

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