This simple switch has great consequences.
It was recently suggested to me that I should write a post explaining why I use an x in place of the traditional e in the spelling of womxn. Language — the words we say and the things we listen to — are both the most powerful tools we have to overcome and also the most powerful tools of our oppressors. I guess there was part of me that didn’t realize people didn’t know why (and many others) have adopted this spelling.
I also try to live in constant reminder of Maya’s Angelou’s words, Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. I use those words to force myself to hold off my judgment until I’ve explained whatever the thing is to the person and given them a chance to do better. I hope that my explanation here guides you go join us in this change, so I don’t have to judge you in the future.
What’s interesting about this particular post is that prior to doing the research for it, I actually didn’t know anything about how we started using womxn or when it became popular. I just knew that about a year and a half ago, a badass feminist womxn I respect wrote me an email using that spelling, and I knew instantly in my soul what it meant. I still don’t know exactly what it means for everyone who uses it. I hope some of you will share in the comments what it means to you. For me, it’s not just about why we are dropping the e, but also why we chose the letter x. Turns out X is one of the most powerful letters in our language and has been used that way for a long time.
Although it rarely shows up, when it does, it packs a punch. Xylophones — those are not quiet. Xenophobia — neither is that. And so I decided to write a little exposition on how the letter X has been used in our culture to create change, not just for womxn, but in many contexts.
Interestingly enough there is an actual petition on change.org by someone named Max Dubois (and signed by 4 other people) to Get rid of the letter “x” because it sounds like “z” and it’s bullshit. Something in my soul suspects Max is also not a fan of the spelling of womxn.
The first time I could remember the letter x being used in pop culture was on Sesame Street. X is feeling useless and decides to leave the alphabet. Then X is convinced he is special (in an effort to bring him back to the alphabet), and X decided to pursue a solo career based on his specialness. Then A & W convince X to rejoin the alphabet by explaining that he can’t spell any letters on his own.
I suspect there’s an entire post I could write in that episode. For today, yes, that storyline tracks for feminists. How many womxn have felt useless to make change or create the life they want? How many have felt this way because they don’t feel connected to their own community? And how many times have we all decided we were done and going to live on an island? And then someone or something reminds us that we are needed and special. So we puff up and decide to show the world what we can do. Alone. Until we realize it takes all of us, and we can’t actually do it alone. We need to do it together to make sense of it all.
The ❌ is inclusive.
Little Miss X
There are two stories of the bodies of young girls being found and no one ever figuring out who they were. One on Halloween in 1958 in Arizona. Reports say she was white or Hispanic, and was between 11 and 17 years old. And that she had wavy hair, but it may not have been natural. She had been dead between 9 and 18 months. (So much great information from 1958). The second girl was found on March 18, 1967, in Delaware, less than 24 hours after time of death. She was 3 months pregnant and died from an infection called bacteremia. Both girls were described as having good dental health. Both girls were mostly unclothed.
To this day, both of these cases are unsolved. No one who knew these girls ever connected them to the person they lost. It made me deeply sad to think that somewhere (surely) a family grieved and never had an answer as to what happened to their daughter/sister/cousin/friend.
What struck me about this is that they are representations of so many girls through time: girls who were never known or noticed; girls who were taken or given against their will; girls who were forgotten by family members and by life. And metaphorically, how many womxn around the world live and die without anyone noticing them or what they bring to the world? It’s time to recognize and acknowledge womxn and girls everywhere. It’s time to put names with faces and stories. It’s time to do whatever it takes to stop the situations where we are given or taken without our consent.
The ❌ reminds us that we are doing this for those that came before and those that will come after.
Miss X is one print of many that portrays honest and moving scenes of African American life during the 20th century, created c. 1940, by Dox Thrash. It was created using a dramatic technique that would later become Carborundum printing, which he invented. It was central to his practice as an artist and he used it to convey the strength and dignity of the working class he honored in his artistic portrayals. You can see a representation of it here, courtesy of SCAD.It is indeed harrowing and moving.
The series and Dox Thrash’s work in general, was praised by many, including (it seems) W. E. B. Du Bois, who talked about the importance of a visual culture for blacks, saying Off with these thought chains and inchoate soul-shrinkings, and let us train ourselves to see beauty in black.
When I saw it, it felt to me as if she was all womxn of color and no particular womxn of color at all. (Although it is speculated she was his future wife, Edna McAllister.) And if I understand the series, that was the point. How many times do we, as womxn, show our own strength and dignity by being unrecognizable as separate from our communities, histories, and beauty? We are all at once individuals and part of a collective identity that is now, and has always been, treated less than.
The ❌ tells the world that we are dramatic and beautiful and portray strength and dignity.
Most of us know all about Malcolm X and how he took X as his last name in order to replace the slave name that had become his family name. His name mattered to him. He wanted it to be separate from his oppressors. He wanted to be known by his own acts, beliefs, and name. Choosing a letter that is typically used to represent the unknown, the forgotten, the undefinable, and sometimes, even, the sneaky, was a bold powerful move (one among many from his life). Check. Check. Check.
The ❌ gives us the freedom to separate ourselves from our oppressors and harness the power that comes from that.
This is my generation. The generation that grew up as latch key kids drinking Sunny D. and riding in cars without seatbelts. We learned about sex, love, drinking, and life from John Hughes movies and later from Boyz in the Hood and Love Jones. We watched Michael Jackson dance on Johnny Carson; saw Debbie Gibson at our local mall; and were in constant awe of David Bowie. We also spent a lot of time in basements.
We were the first generation to carry our music with us on a small portable player with headphones. We perfected binge drinking and Prozac to deal with anything and everything. We got stoned. We partied. We shrugged. We traded our bright neon clothes and big hair for thrifted Levi’s and flannels. We also started flirting with gender-neutrality by wearing said Levi’s and flannels, unisex bathrooms in dance clubs of the mid 90’s, and our general (way too long) obsession with CK One.
If we cared, we’d be embarrassed that we started reality television with MTV’s real world and everything else MTV did that wasn’t playing music videos. But we’d be proud to say we also created Lollapalooza and followed Phish. We also survived watching the Challenger explosion live in History class, our brains on drugs in spite of Nancy Reagan, and the taming of AIDS in spite of her husband.
We’ve been ignored by just about anyone, paling in comparison to the overbearing Baby Boomers and digitally obsessed Millennials. We’ve been called the Forgotten Generation, the Forgotten Middle Child, andthe Forgotten Financial Superheroes. We have more debt than any other generation (90% of us have a lot of it), and we are the first generation to be taking care of our children and parents at the same time, many of us while running companies — ours or someone else’s.
And now we are early adopters of sheltering-in-place. While Gen Zers and Millennials kept partying at the beach and Boomers refused to believe the hype and kept brunching, Gen X stood up and took action and stayed in.We went quickly back to long phone calls, listening to moody music, and eating ramen (though it’s probably quite a bit fancier now and maybe made with quinoa).
Maybe that middle finger to literally everything we were giving was justified. We were never expected to do anything, and yet, here were are. Figuring it out. Taking care of the generation on their way out and the one poised to step up.
So too it is and has been with womxn. For far too long we were literally connected to men. Our collective identity a subordinate of theirs in name. Not a waiter, a waitress. Not an actor, an actress. Not a boss, a lady boss. Not a President, a woman running for President.
We’re still here. Still giving you the middle finger and telling you we disagree with your tired perspectives. And while you argue about everything that can be argued about, we’ll be over here writing, drawing, making music, launching businesses, raising future feminists, and moving along our path of finally having our moment in the sun.
(100% acknowledging right here that this section is WAY longer than the rest of the sections; maybe longer than all of them put together. But, hey, we’ve also gotten really good at putting the spotlight on ourselves when we need to, since typically no one else will. That’s why our theme song is, Don’t you forget about us.)
The ❌ proves we aren’t going away.
Miss X (SNK)
Miss X organizes the Queen of Fighters tournament in SNK Gals Fighters and wins the tournament. Miss X also holds the K Talisman, which has the power to grant any wish. Turns out Miss X is actually Tori Yagami, a fairly evil dude, dressed as a womxn. The womxn are not fooled.
This is one I feel like I don’t need to connect the dots on, but just in case. Some pretty gnarly dudes have held the power to grant womxn’s wishes for as long as we have had wishes. They have also frequently pitted us against each other for their own amusement.
The ❌ says we will no longer be fooled. We know who is behind the mask.
The X Factor
Created by Simon Cowell as a British American Idol, The X Factor is a television performance competition show. The X in The X Factor refers to the undefinable something that makes for star quality.
Need I say more?
The ❌ defines the undefinable thing that we have that draws you to us.
Both came about becuase people wanted to remove the homage to patriarchy inherent in our language. Both are an attempt to be inclusive of all genders. Both come after a long line of other attempts to remove patriarchy from our language. While there are certainly people who oppose and argue about these changes, both seem to be picking up steam.
These terms are certainly not the same thing, and I mean no disrespect in discussing them together. They did go mainstream around the same time (2016) and have a lot of the same motivations. It’s also worth noting that Latinx has sparked the Filipnx and Chicanx as well.
I learned while researching this piece that some people (of all genders) are now using Mx. before their surname to remove gender from that as well. I’ll
According to Ed Morales, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (in a 2018 TIME article), Others see the rather mysterious-looking Latinx as the perfect label for a group that is hard to define.
That’s how I feel about womxn too. We are a group that is hard to define. We are womxn born as womxn. We are womxn who transitioned to womxn. We are womxn who don’t believe in gender. We are womxn who believe gender is fluid. We are womxn who believe gender should be irrelevant. However we identify in those arenas and differ in our perspectives, we can agree on one thing.
The ❌ exists because we are done being exclusively discussed in relation to our connection to men.
Wanna know more about what is being done and can be done to bring equality to womxn? Follow me at lakaycornell.com where I discuss all the ways we need to change our language and rethink our icons.