Womxn, Womyn, Wom*n—What to Do?

Updated: Mar 16

Gender Identity and the Battle for Language


Language is in flux right now because the socio-cultural "battle" over trans identity is in flux. (It's not really a battle. The fact that reactionary figures and legislatures are desperately running restrictive trans-Jim-Crow legislation up the flag pole demonstrates that trans persons are visible and beginning to assert our rightful place, when, just a few years ago, we were totally excluded from any acknowledgement. The best indication that a bully has lost his hold over you is his holding a rally with other bullies to whine that they can't bully anymore—i.e., denial is the most overlooked stage of grief.


I witness and affirm the motivation and deep history of struggle in the feminist and POC movements that led to terms like "womxn," "womyn," and "wom*n." For me, as an individual woman who struggled for 50+ years to pose as a boy, then man, much to my loss, grief, and self-estrangement, I fully use, embrace, and advocate the words, "woman/women" for myself (and I affirm and support those who use "womxn," "womyn," and "wom*n"). I am and have always been a woman. As Janet Mock notes, "I wasn't born a boy or girl; I was born a baby."


The best indication that a bully has lost his hold over you is his holding a rally with other bullies to whine that they can't bully anymore—i.e., denial is the most overlooked stage of grief.

The history of "womxn" and "womyn" and like terms has been compromised and co-opted from their first use (witness the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival). Language doesn't have to be an instrument of power-over or power-against. It should be a means of declaring the quality of the cosmos inside and outside ourselves. I think of the life-changing scene in the Wachowski sisters' The Matrix when the protagonist proclaims to his oppressor, Agent Smith, "My name is NEO!" Unfortunately, tyrants and tribes of all ilks have used it to oppress, marginalize, and eradicate those they deem as "unworthy" and "outcast." Simply put, name-calling.


Curriously, history shows that once derogatorily used terms are adopted as badges of pride by oppressed groups. The early followers of Jesus took the derisive term, "Christian" as their own, turning it back on their Roman-Empire oppressors. The same has been done in the LGBTQIA+ community with the formerly-insulting "queer." Thus, I regard "woman/women," despite their connotation of female human beings being secondary to and derivative of "men," to be a badge of pride, hope, love, and courage. I fought to be recognized as the woman I am. I understand and equally respect that other cis, trans, and non-binary folks hold alternative terms for female human beings as their identifiers and accordingly use those terms with pride.


Language doesn't have to be an instrument of power-over or power-against. It should be a means of declaring the quality of the cosmos inside and outside ourselves.

A simple rule is to call a person what they wanna be called. From childhood, we may remember that bullies (including teachers, parents, and other adults) called us names as a tool of power. It ain't hard (it's, in fact, loving, affirmative, and simply decent) to address people as what we ask you to call us. To do anything else is going out of your way to hurt someone. I'm Bethany. I'm she/her/hers. I am woman.


It ain't hard (it's, in fact, loving, affirmative, and simply decent) to address people as what we ask you to call us. To do anything else is going out of your way to hurt someone.

Last, and this is the writer in me, I find terms like "he/she," "womxn/womyn/wom*n" to be clunky in my own smithing of words. I use "they" as plural or singular and "woman/women," "man/men," "trans/enbie," and "folks/persons/humankind/people" to indicate female, male, and non-binary identities as they fit the meaning and experience I'm trying to convey in my writing. Others may disagree with me and find the need to use alternative terms as overriding the need for flow of language. That's fine with me. "You do you, Boo."


So long as you aren't trying to whack someone in the head with abusive words.


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