For today’s celebration of Olas Pride Week, we delve a little deeper into the Spanish language and the efforts of communities to branch beyond its traditionally gendered structure to include the identities of non-binary people, who have been essential in uplifting Central American communities for centuries.
In Spanish, words ending with -o are usually considered masculine and those ending -a are usually feminine. For example, to describe a tall girl, the Spanish phrase "chica alta" is used, yet when describing a tall boy, the phrase "chico alto" is used.
When referring a group of all girls, the word "chicas" is used, and when referring to a group of all boys, the word "chicos" is used. However, when referring to a group of boys and girls, the word "chicos" is used, drawing criticism of inherent "male dominance". An alternative when describing groups in which the gender is unclear would be to use the word "chicxs".
"Yet, this rigid gender binary has continued to exclude non-binary Spanish speakers."
To combat the gender assumptions posed by the restrictive -a and -o suffixes, Spanish writers use -@ or -o/a to promote gender inclusivity. Yet, this rigid gender binary has continued to exclude non-binary Spanish speakers, many of whom were central to gender equality movements.
The term "Latinx" emerged within queer spaces of the Internet in 2004, but didn't take off until a decade later. By 2015, most academics as well as LGBTQ+ and Latinx rights groups were familiar with the word, many making it a part of their lexicon and expanding the -x to other gendered nouns. For example, rather than excluding non-binary people using the categorizations "los chicos" and "las chicas" to describe a group of boys and girls, respectively, an alternative is to use "lxs chicxs". Though "lxs chicxs"might make sense on paper, it's nearly impossible to say out loud. Others have rejected the -x as an overt Americanization of the language, not nearly accessible enough to native Spanish speakers.
The use of the -e to neutralize gender has been gaining traction in the Spanish-speaking world. Already used in some genderless words like "estudiante" for student, the -e flows naturally while speaking Spanish.
"As non-binary visibility evolves, so does the language we rely on to shape our world."
In the United States, the use of the singular "they" as a pronoun has become so standardized that the Merriam-Webster dictionary adopted it as the pronoun for non-binary people. Yet, the struggle for gender-neutral language continues. Students everywhere from Argentina to Latinx communities in America continue to lead the movement. All in all, non-binary people have always been here and always will be. In Latin America, since before colonialism, they shaped indigenous communities and languages for centuries. As non-binary visibility evolves, so does the language we rely on to shape our world.
At Olas, we seek to honor this deep-rooted history by recognizing the modern, often overlooked movements and integrating considerations of gender into our curriculum. As non-binary visibility evolves, so does the language we rely on to shape our world.
We encourage you all to add your pronouns to your public accounts and bios in solidarity with non-binary people.