I was recently asked the following question in my Spanish for Medical Professionals online class about using gender-neutral and inclusive terms in the Spanish language:
I was wondering, with regards to pronouns and noun endings, what do we do when we want to be gender neutral/inclusive (i.e. not having masculine being default for mixed groups, being neutral when not wanting to assume someone’s gender, variations for nonbinary/genderqueer folks)?
This question generated quite a bit of discussion – and I hope it continues in the comments section as we all continue to learn from each other.
Traditionally, one would use the masculine pronouns and noun endings in mixed groups. For example, in a group of boys and girls, you would say chicos. Some people may say chicos and chicas – but many consider this redundant. Let’s take the word Latino, which is someone of Latin American descent. The term Latinos originally included both males and females.
You may also see words that could have a masculine and feminine ending written as o/a or os/as. For example, you may see chico/a or chicos/as – or Latino/a or Latinos/as. This is to show that the same base word could have different endings depending on the gender of the person.
Sometime in the 90s, the word Latin@ came into being (as well as chic@s, muchach@s, etc.) to be more inclusive. The @ represented the “o” and “a” ending combined together to include females. The Spanish word for this symbol – @ – is arroba.
In the last several years, the term Latinx (pronounced la-teen-ex) is being used more. Latinx is intended to be more inclusive of any gender. The article, Why People are Using the Term ‘Latinx’ from HuffPost dives into the origins and uses of word more thoroughly. NPR also covered this topic a few years ago. Latinx: The Ungendering of the Spanish Language is well worth the 11 minute listen.
“The x [in Latinx], is a way of rejecting the gendering of words to begin with, especially since Spanish is such a gendered language,” explains Jack Qu’emi, from the article and podcast Writer Jack Quémi explains the meaning of Latinx. The article further discusses that similar to the use of they/them/their pronouns in English (instead of the gendered pronouns he/him/his and she/her/hers), the term Latinx is an attempt to include non-binary people, those who are neither male nor female.
But are all Spanish-speakers on board with the various terms and the attempt for the language to be more inclusive? According to a recent article by NBC News, many consider “Latinx” to be elitist. “As the term gains traction, some scholars are pointing out that there are Latinos who don’t see themselves reflected in the word. Some see Latinx as an elitist attempt to erase a history of more traditional gender roles, or as a distraction from other pressing issues facing Latinos in the United States.”
So how do you “title” folks? Most people will still probably prefer Señor (Mr.), Señora (Mrs. or older woman), or Señorita (Miss or younger woman). If a person does not clearly fit into one of these categories and is on the younger side, you may want to consider the term joven (young person), which can be used for any gender. Unfortunately, there is not an equivalent gender-neutral word in Spanish for a person who is older. The takeaway? If you’re unsure, ask which the person prefers. If you have an information form to fill out for your office or workplace, you can do this easily by putting a question on the form asking about preference for title or to be called by the person’s first name.
I am so confused!
Are you now more confused than ever? As a Spanish student, are you not sure how to speak and write masculine and feminine words now? Having been learning and teaching the Spanish language for the past 30 years, it seems to me that the vast majority of Spanish-speakers still use the masculine and feminine ends without giving it a second thought. In fact, many Spanish-speakers may not have even heard about the –@ or –x endings. These endings are often used among the young, progressive, and university-educated Spanish-speaking population. I encourage you to speak with the native Spanish-speakers around you and see what they prefer and why.
As any language evolves over time, Spanish is evolving and it is important to be aware of this. In my opinion, it is fascinating to see attempts to change fairly quickly to include more gender-neutral and inclusive terms in just the last few decades. It will be interesting to see where the discussion and regular usage leads!