These Latine Parents Are Embracing Gender-Neutral Language In Their Homes

The term Latinx may be unpopular with some people from Latin America but for many parents it's just one way to break the gender binary and raise kids with inclusive values.

two parents playing with baby

As a queer, bilingual, Latina mom, I am always looking for ways to be more inclusive in my parenting—and language is just one avenue to do that. Using terms like Latinx (in regards to individuals of Latin American descent) and amiges (to refer to friends of all genders) is something I am embracing more and more each day. While this is all a matter of preference, there's no shortage of strong opinions on whether or not we should be using gender-neutral terms. Some folks think it's pretentious to use terms like "Latinx" or that it doesn't make sense to use the x this way in Spanish, while others (especially in the LGBTQIA+ community) embrace it and other gender-neutral terms.

And while studies so far show that Latinx isn't being heavily used by the majority of people of Latin American descent, there is a clear desire from many individuals and groups who understand why using terms like Latinx, Latine, or other gender-neutral terms can be beneficial. Moreover, languages evolve over time, so why hesitate to embrace change—especially when the changes are meant to be more inclusive to marginalized communities?

Marisol Sanchez, a Chicanx psychotherapist based in Washington D.C. and California, says there are a number of reasons why more Latinx families are embracing gender-neutral language in their households.

"[For one, they are] wanting to create a household that is gender-inclusive for all individuals, to promote diversity, and show respect for everyone's preferred terms," says Sanchez. This includes a desire "to create an environment that respects and acknowledges the identities of all individuals in families." She says it also allows individuals to choose how they want to be identified and that using gender-neutral language can remove favoritism toward a particular sex.

There can be some downsides, however. "Particularly in Spanish, because of how the language is structured, it can lead to some confusion for others when spoken with gender-neutral replacements for nouns if they aren't already aware of the purpose of using 'x'/'e' in words that would otherwise have a gender with 'o' or 'a' in the word," says Sanchez.

Additionally, there can be the occasional backlash by family and friends who simply don't "get" it. When this happens, Sanchez advises in reminding yourself why this is important to you. "Remember that you are modeling in your household, to your children, and other family members what is important to you. Language is powerful. It encourages others to be more mindful and intentional of the language they use," says Sanchez.

She recommends having honest conversations about this with those who aren't yet on board, including teachers. "Speak with school administrators, the principal, or a trusted teacher and discuss why these topics are important and how they can create a more inclusive and supportive environment. Everyone should feel respected and supported in their school and community," she says.

So how are other Latinx families handling the use of gender-neutral language in their households?

Meet 5 Latinx Families Embracing Gender-Neutral Language In Their Homes

Parents: Nellie C. and Andre, Portland, OR

When Nellie and Andrew were expecting their first child, one of the many early conversations they had about parenting revolved around gender. "We believe in the abolition of all systems that uphold white supremacy—and we believe the gender binary to be one of those systems. We wanted to raise a gender liberated kid and language is just one of the ways we practice that," says Nellie, whose family hails from Colombia, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. "When speaking English we used they/them pronouns for [our child] Inti until they were able to let us know they wanted something different," she adds. Nellie says they also use they/them pronouns when referring to anyone whose gender identity hasn't been disclosed, and use terms like "elles," "Latine," and "amige."

"We found adding the 'x' was not easy to implement in natural conversation and when looking into some further research about non-gendered nouns in Spanish, these were easier to be consistent with," says Nellie. So far, this has worked well for their small family. "We haven't received much pushback because of the pandemic limiting our socialization, and the people who are in our bubble are aware and understanding of the language we use," says Nellie. The only pushback has been mainly from extended family. To combat this, they have provided resources and asked them to reach out with questions—which hasn't always worked, but also won't stop Nellie and her family from continuing to embrace gender-neutral language in their homes.

Parent: Danellia Arechiga, Long Beach, CA

"As a queer, unpartnered parent…it has become my life's mission to raise a child who is open-minded about the many possibilities of life—which include different family structures and identities that exist," says Danellia Arechiga, a 3rd generation Mexican-American who works as an Embodiment Educator and birth worker. "Having been raised in a religiously Christian/Catholic family in the 90s and 2000s, we didn't have access to these words that help all genders and people feel seen and heard. By incorporating gender-neutral language (folks, ya'll, people, humans) into our everyday interactions, we are normalizing that we are all allowed to determine how we prefer to be addressed when it comes to our gender, and that we should never assume someone's gender matches their outward physical appearance."

Arrechiga says so far her child has responded positively to learning gender-neutral terms. "She will actually correct me when I assume someone's gender or if I use a blanket term like 'you guys.'" Not only that, but Arrechiga shares that her child sometimes even educates other children and adults on using gender-neutral language.

Parent: Deborah Johnson Miranda, Seattle, WA

When Deborah Johnson Miranda's eldest child came out as nonbinary last year at the age of 21, she realized it was time to adopt gender-neutral language within her own household.

"My child's pronouns are they/them, and when speaking or writing in English, it was a matter of remembering to use the correct pronouns. In Spanish, it was another matter because it's a gendered language, so what I try to do is add an "e" to the end of words, or simply to refer to a person in the plural," says Johnson Miranda, who works as a financial coach at Bee Money Coaching. She gives the example of changing phrases like "Esta comiendo" (or "She is eating") to "Estan comiendo" ("They are eating") to make it more inclusive and neutral.

Johnson Miranda, who was born in Panama, says while her 88-year-old mother is supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community and celebrates her grandchild, she still struggles to understand what it means to be nonbinary, and to transition fully to gender-neutral language. Her two other children, however, immediately began using their sibling's pronouns and are quick to correct anyone who mistakenly or intentionally misgenders their sibling.

"Some of our family friends are nonbinary, so it's become more natural for us all to use gender-neutral language," she adds.

Parents: Irina Gonzalez and Adam Perski, Denver, CO

"I grew up speaking mostly Spanish at home and I was always a little bothered by the masculinity of the language," says Irina Gonzalez, a journalist and mother of one. She says the ways in which a group of female friends could go from being referred to as "amigas" to "amigos" with the addition of just one male to the group never made sense to her. These things made even less sense once she came out as bisexual. "It's one of the reasons why I have happily adopted the term 'Latinx,' because I want to be inclusive of the trans/nonbinary community. It comes down to treating people the way you want to be treated—and I think being respectful of people's gender identity and sexual orientations is extremely important."

Though her son is still too young to fully grasp the importance of using gender-neutral language, Gonzalez says it's very important to her. While he's still in the early stages of beginning to speak, she finds other ways to incorporate gender-neutrality when it comes to language and general household attitudes, including reading lots of LGBTQIA+ children's books.

"He's too young to understand right now, but we've been doing it since day one and that's been really important to me in how we approach gender neutrality in our household," says Gonzalez.

Parents: Alicia G and K, Washington, D.C.

"When my wife and I discussed having children, we were very clear that we wanted to raise our child in a home that allowed for the expansiveness of gender and sexuality," says Alicia, who works as an executive director of a social justice fund. "We never want our child to feel like they'd need to hide who they are with us, or even come out to us, because we want them to always know that it is OK to explore and consent to their gender and sexuality." Alicia says hearing the way gender expectations were imposed on her nonbinary and gender expansive friends and loved ones ("often through coercion and violence") also made her realized she didn't want to potentially harm her own child by overly gendering them.

"We know that they will tell us who they are when they are ready," she says.

While their child is still too young to be using much in the way of gender-neutral language, Alicia and her wife have started the process by using they/them pronouns for their baby. They also make sure to buy clothing and toys from all aisles of the stores and ask family to do the same. The reaction to their approach to gender-neutrality has been mixed, but mostly positive. "Our child's daycare and pediatrician have been so supportive, and all of the teachers use they/them pronouns with our baby. They read books with diverse families and in multiple languages," says Alicia. With others, however, there have been some challenges.

"We know that for some of our family members, this is new for so many reasons: language, erasure of queer folks in our own cultures—even though we have always been here, we have always existed— and the impacts of colonialism and enslavement on our ancestral wisdom," says Alicia. She says they do their best to model how to use gender-neutral language and lovingly ask others to follow their lead, but they also set boundaries when necessary.

"We understand that this may be a learning curve so we are patient with folks who want to be on this journey with us," she adds.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles