Dear people of Aotearoa and denizens of the Internet: it’s 2015.
Tablet computers are now a thing. So, too, is indoor plumbing.
With the passage of years continuing uninterrupted, isn’t it time we acknowledged that gender isn’t a binary? That not everyone identifies as exclusively “female” or “male?” Is that too much for us to ask?
It doesn’t have to be. In Swedish, the term “hen” can be used in place of “hon” (she) or “han” (he) – and is now a part of the national encyclopaedia. Though acceptance of the term has unfortunately been met with controversy, it is now here to stay.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for English, the world’s second-most widely spoken language. The mother of all things we say, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is considering adding the term “Mx” as an honorific form of address, joining the ranks of Ms, Miss, Mrs or Mr.
It’s about time.
LGBTQIAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and agender) acceptance has come a long way in the past few decades, but language forms the very core of how we perceive and interpret the world. When we hear the word “table” for example, a very specific image comes to mind of a flat surface with several legs raising it up from the ground. Likewise, the term “Ms” conjures a specific image of a person.
But not everyone fits that image, or feels they fit that image. Not everyone is a cis-female or cis-male, after all, or wishes to be categorised according to such. So, isn’t it fair people should be able to go by the honorific that they prefer? After all, most of us know it’s best to address someone by the pronoun they prefer (such as “zie” or “they” instead of “she” or “he”). Why should an honorific be any different? Why can’t someone be Mx Jane Smith?
The term is slowly gaining a foothold. In the United Kingdom, government agencies including the National Health Service, universities, and banks such as the Royal Bank of Scotland now offer it as an option. “Mx” can even be used on passports and driving licences. But is that enough?
It’s high time we in New Zealand, and the rest of the English-speaking world, got on board and recognised that gender – and thus, gender identity – is not simply a binary, but a wide spectrum with an equally wide variety of possibilities.
It’s great that Statistics New Zealand will now allow people to classify themselves as gender diverse. While it’s certainly a move that should be celebrated, it’s unfortunate that New Zealand is so far the only country in the world to recognise gender diversity in such a way.
People are just that – people. But wouldn’t it be great if people could be free to express themselves how they prefer, and not just in everyday speech, but in the lasting permanence of official documents?
Words have meaning. Words have power. They help us form the basis of both our identities and how we identify the world.
And we should be able to use words to define ourselves in ways that feel the most comfortable.