Making Spanish gender-neutral friendly
Sept. 15th marked the start of Latin Heritage Month. Latin Heritage is something to be proud of, and to celebrate. Labeling your heritage is an important part of many people’s identities. I am Ecuadorian-American. I am Latina. It seems simple enough, right? For some, however, labeling in the Spanish language has become difficult, particularly when a label for you doesn’t seem to exist.
Today, I want to take a closer look at a certain aspect of the Latin identity that is relevant and necessary for society: gender-neutral terms for those who identify as gender non-binary. For English speakers, non-binary pronouns include “they” and “them;” however, in many Latin countries, the idea of gender-neutral terms has simply never come about. Don’t assume that this ignorance is due to bad intentions — for now, at least, what Anglo-saxon cultures criticize as the “gendered nature” of Spanish is normal for Spanish speakers. But we are reaching a time where the norm isn’t good enough anymore; we need to address the growing population of people who aren’t comfortable identifying as Latino or Latina.
The fight for the gender-neutral term, “Latinx,” to become standard has been a long and turbulent one; historically, it has been tough to find a single unifying term to describe all people from Latin countries such as Cuba, Mexico, and Peru. We are all from different cultures and identities, so combining it into one all-encompassing word is difficult. “Hispanic” alludes to Spanish colonialism, while simply calling Latin Americans “Spanish” is extremely ignorant. However, Latinx has certainly gained steam in the United States, especially in left-wing politics and colleges nationwide. It is easier to say than Latino/a, let alone “Latin@”, and is becoming more and more acceptable. But we have to ask ourselves: is this a good thing?
Besides homophobic complaints about the “horrid” political correctness of the word Latinx, other arguments against it are valid and worth listening to. While Latinx, with the futuristic “x” ending, has a special ring to it, we need to realize that gender neutrality needs to apply to the rest of the gender-natured language (e.g. bello versus bella). How does the “x” fit? How would it sound? Bell-x? It simply does not make sense on a broader scale. I commend the intentions of Latinx — in the end, it is a step forward in the language to be more inclusive. However, the mere fact that Latinx is a word created and spread by Americans almost completely invalidates it. It is modern linguistic imperialism, another failed attempt to unify us under one term in the guise of 21st century “wokeness.”
Fortunately, there is an alternative to the “x” ending. Back in June, a young Argentinian girl went viral after a video of her explaining the importance of gender neutrality to the Spanish speaking LGBTQ+ community was posted on Facebook. What she says is enlightening, and a total game-changer: “There are trans people who identify as women. But there are algunos y alugnas y algunes that don’t identify as either man or woman… Nosotras, nosotros, and nosotres respect how we want to be called. We also need to respect how ellos, ellas, and elles want to be called.”
If we were to apply her “e” ending alternative to Latinx, we’ll get Latine (pronounced LA-TEEN-EH). Is it as trendy-sounding as Latinx? Maybe not. Nonetheless, it’s a step forward in figuring out the confusing intricacies of labels.
It is worth admitting that many, if not all, Spanish-speaking countries in South America are traditional, and have not even taken the strides to incorporate Latinx. So what will make them consider Latine, as well as the “e” ending rule? That is a question I do not have the answer to. The arguments against gender neutrality in the Spanish language are rigid: it infringes on the language, it ignores the differences between American culture and theirs, and it is simply something “no one cares about.”
Perhaps, in the distant future, all Spanish-speaking countries will recognize the importance of gender-neutral terms to those who are non-binary. But for now, we should take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror as Americans, and as citizens of a country growing more diverse and aware of our differences. Is Latinx a good start? Sure. Is it worth making the word nationally standardized? No, at least not in my opinion. It is our responsibility as Americans, in this era of holding ourselves accountable and being aware of cultural differences, to do more than just grab and digest any woke-sounding term that arises — especially when it completely ignores the possibility of expanding gender neutrality past just one word.