Gender Creativity for Latinx
Gender Creativity for Latinx | Part 1
What does gender creativity look like for Latinx? How can language be adapted so that it is gender-inclusive? How does Latinx culture affect gender creative parenting? What does gender creativity look like in the early childhood classroom? The goal of these Latinx articles is to address and discuss such questions. The gender-creative conversation must move beyond the English-speaking American culture. To begin, this article will address the term Latinx and examine the structure of the Spanish language in effort to begin to push beyond the gender binary within Latinx culture and language.
Latin-what? Latinx is a gender-inclusive alternative to the term Latino. While Latino describes the males and females of Latin American origin or descent, the term Latinx seeks to be more inclusive by moving beyond the male/female binary. In addition, Latinx breaks the emphasis of the male gender that is prioritized in the general term Latino. Understanding a few of the complexities of Latinx will strengthen your position as you incorporate the term into your vocabulary or teaching.
Latin@ (pronounced Latina/o) intentionally strived to emphasize and include the female gender in the term Latino around 2010. While the term ending in @ sought to break the gender hierarchy, it still emphasized the gender binary. Latinx evolved from Latin@ as a gender inclusive term to categorize all genders of Latin American descent and origin. As movements and ideas evolve, so too does language.
Structure of the Spanish language- the masculine and feminine binary
To begin, all nouns in the Spanish language are either masculine or feminine. For example, el dedo (the finger), el vestido (the dress), el autobus (the bus), el vaso (the glass) are all masculine nouns. On the contrary, la alfombra (the carpet), la planta (the plant), and la cuchara (the spoon) are all feminine nouns.
Before each noun is the definite article which is either el or la. The definite article is basically the introduction to the noun, similar to the English language in which the word the is used. The definite article always determines the masculinity or femininity of the noun. Here are a few more examples:
la mano: the hand-feminine
el clima: the weather-masculine
el tema: the subject-masculine
The take-away of this Spanish 101 lesson…every noun must fit a masculine or feminine box. Knowing this, we can further examine when and how the term Latino is used when identifying a group of Latin American origin.
The Spanish language gives precedence to the male gender:
Example A: group of five females of Latin American descent are labeled Latinas. Example B: group of five males of Latin American descent are labeled Latinos.
Example C: when a female joins the group of five males, the group’s label remains Latinos. Example D: when a male joins the group of five females, the group’s label automatically becomes Latinos.
Hence, within the Spanish language, nouns are either feminine or masculine. The male gender always has precedence over the female gender while the term excludes transgender, non-conforming, and gender creative individuals.
Latinx- Beyond the binary
The term Latinx does not end in the letter a or o; the letter x moves beyond the masculine and feminine binary. Latinx intentionally seeks to include a blended group of genders, ridding itself of a gender hierarchy and the rigidity of the masculine and feminine binary.
Progressive movements within the academic, social, and political environments, seek fairness and inclusion of all genders. Such movements call on us to reflect on terms and pronouns used within our language. These articles are intended to seek inclusion of all genders while drawing consciousness on the structure of the Spanish language.
I want to clarify the use and application of Latinx. In English, Latinx is pronounced as La-tin-X. In Spanish, Latinx would be pronounced as La-t(EE)n-(Equis), which is awkward for Spanish speakers as it does not flow naturally due to the structure of the language  . A gender-inclusive alternative of the term Latino in Spanish is Latine, pronounced La-t(EE)n-(ay). This more gender-inclusive term is being applied in Spanish-speaking countries like Argentina. Thus, if you are a gender-creative parent or gender-nonconforming Spanish speaker of Latinx descent, you may identify as Latine while speaking Spanish. Below are some more illustrations (I do note that these images are a bit binary-esque):
Latine disrupts the (o/a) male/female binary. By ending in the letter e, it more naturally flows in Spanish conversation as e is a common ending for Spanish nouns.
Now that we are more clear on gender-free alternatives to address people of Latin American descent, we can now examine gender-free pronouns for the Latinx gender-creative and non-conforming Spanish speakers.
Spanish Pronouns beyond the Binary | Part 2
Within the English language, gender creative parents can use the gender-neutral, singular they or them pronoun as an alternative to he/him and she/her. For example, instead of she doesn’t like chocolate or he plays the piano, one would say, they don’t like chocolate or they play the piano. Instead of the book belongs to her or the glass is his, one would say, the book belongs to them and the glass is theirs.
What about Spanish?
While they/them are gender-free pronouns in the English language, ellos/ellas are gendered pronouns in the Spanish language. The illustrations below demonstrate the binary:
Ellos (them -1 female, 3 males in group)
Ellos (them -3 females, 1 male in group)
Priority and Emphasis of the male gender
Furthermore, the structure of the Spanish language prioritizes the male(s) within a group. While a group of females are always labeled as ellas, a male who joins the group automatically changes the pronoun to ellos. The illustrations below further demonstrate the priority of the male gender which determines the pronoun:
Thus, while they/them serves as a gender-free pronoun in the English language, ellos remains a gendered-pronoun in the Spanish language, prioritizing the male gender.
Gender-Inclusive Spanish Pronouns
The goal of this article is to identify gender-inclusive pronouns within the Spanish language. While English speakers may rely on the gender-free pronoun they, I propose the following gender-free pronoun(s) to be used in both a singular and plural context.
While these pronouns are novel to the Spanish language, they serve as an appropriate gender-creative alternative.
To begin, Elle serves as an alternative for the pronoun el / ella (he/she/him/her). Elle can be used as a singular pronoun to refer to a gender-creative individual.
Elles serves as an alternative to the pronoun ellos/ellas (they/them) and can be used as a plural pronoun to refer to a group of mixed genders. Most importantly, elles disrupts the emphasis of the male gender in a group.
Each alternative pronoun ends in the letter e which is a more natural, common ending for a noun in the Spanish language. This is beneficial for pronunciation and conversational flow. Sophia Gubb writes on the use and application of these pronouns in her blog:
As mentioned, elle and elles is novel to the Spanish language. Unlike they, which is already part of the English language, elle(s) is novel for native speakers. The challenge and goal for Spanish-speaking, gender-creative parents is to purposefully and mindfully incorporate this pronoun into conversation.
Culture and Latinx families | Part 3
I want to point out some cultural complexities which may pose a challenge for gender-creative parents of Latinx culture. To begin, culture is infused with customs, rituals, and practices. One construct which has greatly influenced Latinx culture is religion. While the gender-creative parent may not practice or adhere to any specific religion, the culture of their parents, family members, and friends is influenced by religion. This next section focuses on traditional Christianity, more specifically, Catholicism and its influence on Latinx culture.
Organized religion influences the notion of gendered norms. Gendered norms imply expected and appropriate roles for a male and a female. Within the Church, certain rituals are reserved for individuals based on their gender. For example, leadership roles such as priests and bishops are reserved for males. Women are only allowed to serve in caregiving roles such as sisters and nuns. The ritual of marital union is only allowed to occur between a male and female and same sex unions are unacceptable. These rituals drive a continual cycle of heteronormativity, in which males and females are expected to fall into complementary gendered roles of one another. Male or female are the only recognized genders in the Church and practices and rituals revolve around the two.
Even if someone is not a church-goer, gender-based rituals influence Latinx families. Traditional Latinx families are patriarchal in structure. The family patriarch is the father or eldest male and he is the decision maker who is served by his wife, mother, and children. Men are dominant and lead the household and family, while women are to be docile, chaste caregivers.
Infancy. Gendered roles for females tend to be more prominent within Latinx communities. From infancy through adulthood, various rituals are practiced within Latinx families. For example, shortly after birth, female babies’ ears are pierced. The piercing occurs so that the child can be easily identified by others as a female.
Early Childhood. During religious ceremonies, such as the First Communion and Confirmation, females are dressed in white dresses. The color white signifies purity and chastity. This practice follows biblical description of the Virgin Mary.
Teenager. When a female turns fifteen, Latinx tradition holds that she is to be introduced to the community through a large celebration. This ritual is intended to announce the female as a woman to the family and community. The female is now properly prepared to become a male’s wife and child bearer.
These cultural practices have perhaps reinforced the gender binary within the structure of the Spanish language. These influences further pose challenges for the non-conforming Latinx parents who strive to incorporate gender-free vocabulary as they raise gender-creative children.
Gender-creative Latinx Parents | Part 4
The purpose of these articles is to address issues and challenges specific to gender-creative, Latinx parents which are unique because of language and culture. As discussed in the first article, Latinx parents cannot rely on the pronoun they in referencing their gender-creative child. They in Spanish is not gender-free, the pronoun is either male or female with priority given to the male. Instead of relying on they as a singular, gender-free pronoun, I suggested the following:
elle (he/she) elles (they/them)
These pronouns are novel to the language and would have to be consciously incorporated when speaking of the gender-creative child.
As described in the introduction of this article, Latinx parents have many cultural expectations to face when raising gender-creative children. While incorporating new pronouns into the language may be a challenge, emphasizing the idea of gender-neutral clothing and toys can also be tough. Children in Latinx families are often gifted with gender-specific clothing and gifts. Not to mention, the virtue of respect is highly valued in the Latinx culture; turning away gendered gifts can be considered disrespectful.
In addition, verbal and emotional interactions between children and family members are commonly based on the child’s gender. Males are reminded not to cry, while females are more likely to be cuddled and protected. Latinx parents may figure out their own way to enlighten family members about what gender-creative parenting means to them. This is important because in the Latinx culture as a child is not raised by a single person but instead by a community of immediate and extended family members.
Over the past ten years or so, the field of early childhood development has encouraged diversity and inclusion in childcare. Preschool teachers are encouraged to post diversity posters on the classroom walls and books are provided to students which discuss and depict differences among people. Some classroom evaluation assessments examine how teachers discuss diversity with students and the range of diversity materials in dramatic play. However, the idea of diversity is still narrowed to the following four categories: race, ability, age, and ethnicity.
While students may be allowed to dress up in “feminine” or “masculine” clothing in the dramatic play area, the boy/girl gender binary is still prominent. Gendered pronouns are still used, children transition to activities based on their gender (“boys line up here, girls line up there”), even attendance may be recorded amongst students based on gender. These practices are not unique to Latinx classrooms, they occur across cultures, more pervasive in some than others.
Latinx parent and childcare classroom
For Latinx parents, conversations with teachers and school director will be helpful and supportive in raising a gender-creative child. If Spanish is the language used in the classroom a proper introduction to (1) the meaning and use of a gender-free pronoun, (2) the spelling and use of elle and elle(s), and (3) the appropriate use of the pronoun(s). Again, the challenge for Latinx Spanish-speakers is that the pronoun is novel to the language and will have to be thoughtfully incorporated into conversation. This may take some time, but identifying supportive staff in the program will bridge the home and school development of the child.
Secondly, Latinx parents should make time to meet with the teachers to discuss some of the gendered activities which occur. For example, transitions in Head Start programs are a big part of the day. Parents should feel they have a right to have a conversation with teachers regarding gendered activities and gender-creative alternatives. Instead of children lining up for water in either a boy line or a girl line, they can incorporate an option to line up according to having a birthday in the winter or spring and another line for summer and fall birthdays. Just as a parent whose child may have a food allergy or special need, these matters are part of your everyday life. As a gender-creative parent, you have the right to speak on your child’s developmental needs, which should be met just as any other child.
Lastly, encourage the childcare program to be inclusive with gender diversity. As I mentioned, there has been a push within the last several years for early childhood classrooms to incorporate diversity into the curriculum. Help to promote the idea of gender diversity just as much as programs are expected to be inclusive with race, ethnicity, and ability. The more involved you are with your childcare program, the more comfortable the staff and teachers will feel in speaking with you on a topic that may be new for them. This will be helpful for future gender-creative families as well as have positive outcomes for children raised in more traditionally gendered homes.
Jessica M Ruiz is a faculty member of Education and Human Development at City Colleges of Chicago. In the summer of 2016, she served as a visiting professor at the Universidad de La Salle in Bogota, Colombia. In spring of 2017, she presented her research at La Universidad de La Habana in Havana, Cuba. Her research interests include Latinx studies, Critical Race Theory, Early Childhood Education and Assessment and topics focused on minoritized populations and social justice.