The push for gender neutral identifiers in language is not a revolutionary concept. History shows us how language evolves to adapt to the changing times- just take a look at English. While English has moved to become more gender neutral, Romance languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish continue to use gendered words in everyday discourse.
In the 1990’s, Latinos started utilizing the at-sign in place of the masculine -o and feminine -a, creating a new word: Latin@. Latin@ intended to include both men and women, as opposed to simply one gender. Since 2014, we have seen people replacing the letter -o and -a at the end ‘Latino’ with the letter ‘x’ in an effort to be more inclusive. In other words, Latinx includes people of all gender identities; the ‘x’ in Latinx degenders the word and makes it neutral, as it does not emphasize masculinity or femininity through its identifiers.
The use of Latinx has been more prominent in social media sites that boast a Latinx subculture such as Tumblr. Latinx Tumblr blogs have amassed a tremendous following by users who themselves identify as Latinx and Chicanx.
Many Latinxs online argue that ‘Latino’ and ‘Latina’ promotes heteronormativity and does not acknowledge members of the LGBTQIA community who may not consider themselves as male or female, but fluid. However, the word Latinx attempts to include individuals who do not fall into the gender binary instead of marginalizing them.
Arguments Against 'Latinx'
Scholars and bloggers alike have clashed heads in their arguments for or against adopting 'Latinx' as the norm for inclusivity. However, should people motion to degender an entire language when the Royal Spanish Academy(REA), the institution founded in 1713 to preserve the Spanish language and dictates the changes made to the language, says that the letter -o is meant to be inclusive? 'Latinx' isn't acknowledged by the REA and isn't categorized in their dictionary, nor is it part of a native Spanish speaker's everyday vocabulary. Could the change to 'Latinx' be seen as a misguided attempt at inclusivity by deconstructing an old Romance language?
“Now begins the bulldozing of Spanish — a language which predates English by a few hundred years — with the goal of creating a linguistic parking lot.”(Alamo, 2015)
Those against taking apart the Spanish language claim that doing so would only lead to confusion by native speakers and learners alike. Many argue that Latinx is difficult to pronounce, and replacing every -a or -o in a word would become too messy. Millions of people would be affected by any change made to the Spanish language.
Hector Alamo, Editor in Chief of Latino Rebels makes a good point on language's chameleon like ability to transform and change in definition based on cultural or current events. He says, "the word no longer applies strictly to male Latinos but all Latinos, just as the “men” in “all men are created equal” now means all people. The word Latino, once a fork, has evolved into a spork, and so there’s no reason to invent an all-purpose substitute.' (Alamo, 2015)
In an Op-Ed penned by Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea for Swarthmore Pheonix, the two authors strongly discourage using Latinx and even go so far as to say that degendering Spanish would not only be reverse appropriation, but those who do fight for an ungendered alternative are advocating the erasure of Spanish. The two exclaim that by accepting the 'x' identifier, advocates are adopting American ideologies and beliefs by forcibly trying to insert it into the Spanish language.
The Gilberts' argue that taking away the gender from Spanish would make the language incomprehensible, and provided this gender neutral sentence to prove their point: "Lxs niñxs fueron a lx escuelx a ver sus amigxs." (Guerra & Orbea, 2015 )
Arguments in favor 'Latinx'
Many of the arguments made against Degendering Spanish revolve around three main emotionally driven points: pride, dignity, and the false assumption that change is difficult.
The Gilbert's state that accepting the masculine -o in Latinos to be gender inclusive, also respects the “dignity” of the language as a whole. But refusing to change Latinos to Latinxs - or any other words for that matter, on the grounds of ‘dignity’ and preservation of the Spanish language, is their misguided opinion and ‘justification’ to keep things the way they are.
Advocates are pushing to add the -x alongside the -o and the -a; they are not asking to completely eradicate the masculine and feminine identifiers. A woman who identifies as a cis, feminine and heterosexual, can openly use ‘Latina’ to define herself. Meanwhile, gender fluid people who are not comfortable choosing to stick themselves into one category or the other, can use ‘latinx’ to appropriately define who they are; the ‘x’ then becomes the ‘they/them’ pronoun for this identifier.
The authors see the adoption of Latinx as a ‘radical’ change, and degendering Spanish would lead to erasure. Making a language more inclusive does not equal erasure of culture and identity. Latinxs can adapt to ‘radical change’ as they have countless times throughout history. Although the term had been previously used primarily by Latinxs in the LGBTQIA community, it has since been embraced by all Latinxs as a way to be more gender inclusive when discussing issues directly affecting the community.
"This argument is born out of unexamined privilege and lack of awareness about systemic oppression. When we hold privilege, we are used to being represented and thus we are not used to being excluded."
Professors Maria Scharrón-del Río and Alan Aja argue that the Gilberts’ rationale is no different from the individuals who push their “All Lives Matter” agenda instead of understanding and accepting the need to highlight “Black Lives Matter.” Although coining the term ‘Latinx’ wasn’t in response to the tragic events that have affected the Black Community in more recent years, it was a push to create a word that would include marginalized groups instead of excluding them.
What Happens Now?
The Royal Spanish Academy is making no moves to make any changes to the Spanish Language. While news sites such as HuffingtonPost, TheFlama (part of Univision Communications Inc.), and NPR's LatinoUSA have argued or favored the new term, Latinx remains relatively used in the blogospheres; Tumblr blogs popular within the Latinx online community, such as Thisisnotlatinx, MixedLatinxs, and AngryLatinxsUnited continue to serve as guides for users who are looking to understand the word, Latinx. As we move towards inclusivity of all genders, more and more people have adopted the word- despite the arguments crying out against it.