June 30, 2015 10:05 am
Although in most situations the social standards force us to consent the binary rules of gender, social reality is much more complex than that and counts with many exceptions; different gender identities and expressions that, fortunately, are increasingly more visible and claim the breakdown of this dichotomy. To break with these binary rules of gender and above all, to include people who decide staying out of them, it is important to make it visible also in language; after all, this is what shapes and gives meaning to our reality. Nevertheless, language rules are something difficult and very slow to change, also “the most intense and stubborn fortress of sexist assumptions” as Susan Sontag said in 1973.
In the last months two favourable changes in this field have occurred: First, the Swedish neutral pronoun “hen”. In second place, the much talked of, although not yet official, “Mx” to use alongside “Mr” and “Ms”.
“Hen”, the new Swedish neutral pronoun
The dictionary of Swedish language is adding “hen” as one of the 13,000 new words. This is a gender-neutral pronoun used for objects and people instead of “hon” (she) and “han” (he). It has been included for being used by transgender people who prefer identifying themselves as belonging to a third gender or non-gender and for people who don‘t want to reveal their gender, either because they think that it is irrelevant information or because they reject the division of male/female gender roles.
There are others who consider it also as a way to economise language, since it allows us to use inclusive language with only one word, avoiding the sometimes untidy and more complex form “she/he”.
“Mx”, the gender neutral title
The Oxford English Dictionary is considering including this neutral-gender honorific to be used alongside Mrs, Mr, and Miss. This will represent the most significant addition to the official list of honorifics in the last years. Although it hasn‘t been included yet in the OED, in English, the term is very popular and there are some institutions and companies that have included it already. One of them is the Brighton and Hove council in Sussex that adopted it on its council forms in 2013 after a vote that gave the support to the big trans* community of Brighton. Also two English bank companies and the Royal Mail introduced the term given the requests from customers.
Like “hen”, the “Mx” (abrevation of Mixter) represents transgender people and people who don´t want to identify as neither female, nor male. But in this case this honorific is also useful for many (cis) women, who will be able to avoid choosing between Mrs or Miss, since “Mx” didn´t reflect any marital status. It allows them to avoid being categorised as married/unmarried, as the old “Mrs/Ms” imposes.
- Other related news: “‘Cisgender’ has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary”
- Read more about Genderqueer Terminology
Written by Isabel Beldad; journalist, social media expert and editor. Communication trainee at TermCoord.
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