Growing up in the USA in the 1950s, as I did, it was “clearly understood” that there were two genders: boys and girls. So it never crossed my mind until I was much older that perhaps the binary world of gender was not so binary. And if one allows—even intellectually—for that possibility, you can begin to see how difficult daily life can be for transgender people, individuals who do not identify with the gender to which they were assigned at birth.
The more one thinks about it, the more complex being transgender becomes. Take a seemingly simple thing like filling out a standardized form: what do you do if you aren’t Miss, Mrs., Ms., or Mr.? This is the dilemma that opens Jacob Tobia’s recent piece in The Guardian, which I highly recommend. He writes of the difficulties of not having a gender-neutral option available in so many daily situations. As I read his article, I began to realize the privilege given to “cisgendered” individuals—those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Growing up, I assumed that the only way to have a gender-neutral title would be if I got a PhD and could make everyone call me “Dr”. For most of my life, I didn’t realize that there was another way out of the “Mr/Ms” dichotomy. That changed when, in my junior year of college, a favorite professor of mine introduced me to an artist named Justin Vivian Bond who used a gender-neutral term that I had never heard of before: “Mx.”
What?! Yup, that’s not a typo: the word is “Mx.” When I read this article, I thought everyone else must already know about it, since it is now included in OxfordDictionaries.com: “A title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.”
Judging by the reaction of the few people I have mentioned it to, this term is not in universal usage, at least not in my tiny little corner of the world. However, it seems a great addition to the English language for those who do not self-identify with binary gender assignments.
“…on 28 August 2015…That day, OxfordDictionaries.com – created by the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary – added Mx to the dictionary. Seemingly overnight, Mx went from an underground, somewhat obscure term, to an official part of the English language.”
Want to learn more about the challenges of being transgender? Watch this video with Jazz Jennings, a transgender youth. Want to learn how to be an ally to transgender people? Here are a few tips from Basic Rights Oregon. Want to understand some of the values that transgender individuals tend to share? Check out Cultural Detective LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), now part of Cultural Detective Online.