Wondering whether or not you should use the word womxn?
Well hi, hello, and welcome to Women’s History Month—a month where you can both learn about the incredible accomplishments of women throughout the world and also that your ex-boyfriend is apparently a “feminist.” (You know otherwise.)
Moving on—like you’ve since moved on—today’s topic is the word womxn. (Hey, weren’t you just wondering about that?)
You may see it pop up a lot this month, but not over here. While womxn may be helpful for some communities, it’s alienating for others—particularly trans and nonbinary people.
Tossed into company Instagram bios as an afterthought, inserted into online women’s group descriptions, and thrown slapdash onto marketing materials, womxn is not the one-size-fits-all welcome sign it’s hoping to be.
In fact, it can be the very opposite. Let’s unpack.
There are a number of reasons that the term womxn isn’t trans-inclusive, but first, some background on who’s penning this lil ol’ op-ed.
I’m Cassie (they/them), a nonbinary queer and formerly the lead writer of the Girlboss Daily newsletter. If you’re a subscriber already, you can thank me for all the Bachelor references and terrible puns…unless you don’t like those things, in which case my editor wrote them.
If you’re not a subscriber yet, why do you hate joy?
Gender-related terms you should know
To really understand the issue at hand, there are a few terms you should know beforehand, so here’s a handy glossary. (Why do I keep saying “hand?”)
Cisgender: A person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
The gender binary: A scientifically incorrect and outdated (IMO) means of classifying gender into two distinct forms: male and female.
Nonbinary: A person whose identity is outside the gender binary. For me, it means feeling my happiest when I’m not gendered at all.
There are so many more helpful terms, but I do have a word count.
The meaning of ‘womxn:’ a brief history
Womxn is an intersectional term intended to signal the inclusion of those who have traditionally been excluded from white feminist discourse: Black women, women of color, and trans women. More recently, the term has also been used to include nonbinary people.
With the removal of man or men at the end, womxn is empowering to some as it’s not defined in relation to men.
Womyn vs womxn
While they may both appear innocuous, each has a different meaning. Generally, womxn is used by people who consider themselves progressive, and are well-intentioned—if not sometimes misguided—in their inclusivity.
Womyn, on the other hand, has become an anti-trans term used by radical “feminists” who incorrectly believe that trans inclusivity invalidates their plight. Their view of gender (that gender = genitals at birth) is reductive and harmful.
Where ‘womxn’ is contentious
As previously mentioned, there are many valid and important reasons people may choose to use the word womxn to describe themselves. It’s when the term womxn is ascribed to trans women or nonbinary people without their consent that it becomes problematic.
Trans women are women. Full stop.
There is no special distinction that should be made, and making one is kind of transphobic, tbh. As Jennie Kermode, former chair of Trans Media Watch, stated, “We would generally just write women in the usual way because we feel it’s important for people to recognize that trans women are women. Trans women aren’t a special, separate category.”
Nonbinary people aren’t women (or men).
Speaking from personal experience, it can actually be pretty dysphoric to be referred to as a womxn. When you use this term, you’re still placing someone within the gender binary, which is antithetical to the nonbinary identity itself.
‘But I read an article that said “womxn” is inclusive’
When reading an article or post that posits itself as a definitive resource, it’s always important to check who wrote it.
Often the biggest proponents of the word womxn are cis women who have decided on behalf of trans and nonbinary folks that this word includes them. As with any community, the best way to ensure representation and accuracy is to ask actual members of that community what terms they use.
While I can’t speak for every nonbinary person, I can say that none of the nonbinary friends I informally surveyed would ever use the word womxn when referring to themselves. The word has a very big squick factor when applied to us.
How do I show my allyship?
Before you use womxn as an attempt to signal that you’re a trans-inclusive person or space, consider why it isn’t already obvious.
If you want to know they are welcome in your space, on your page, or to your product, then include them—not by distinguishing them, but by making a concerted effort to feature them without making a Big Deal™ about it.
Of course, always ask for consent first. Don’t just repost a trans or nonbinary person’s content simply to make your product look good. If you are serious about being progressive and supportive, do the work to unpack your own biases, then let your feed/life/media reflect that.
If we’re talking about companies and brands, mission statements are a start, but they can’t replace true change. Companies need to look at their actions with the same level of scrutiny as individuals.
A good first step? When you see issues that affect trans women—especially trans women of color, who experience a heartbreakingly high rate of violence—speak on them. Not because it looks good, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Here are some other unintentional transphobic phrases
There are entire threads dedicated to words and phrases that allies *think* are supportive but are actually transphobic in practice. Some examples:
Someone’s pronouns are their pronouns. They’re not optional.
“Identifies as” or “woman-identifying”
This makes gender seem like a cute little choice. It’s very much not.
- “Women and nonbinary people.” Grouping women and nonbinary people together can be dysphoric for those in the latter demographic. While it may not be your intention, the implication is that nonbinary people are, “women lite.” To me, it’s interpreted as, “women and people we think are secretly women, wink wink.” Not a good feeling.
- “No men allowed (*transmen welcome).” If cismen aren’t allowed in a space, transmen shouldn’t be, either. Otherwise you’re still making a distinction between the group and—you guessed it—that’s transphobic.
The bottom line? Before applying labels, always ask the community to whom you’re applying them first. And if you don’t know or follow anyone in that community, start to think about why that is and why you thought you were qualified to speak for them in the first place.
How to degender your space
If you’re a part of a space that’s gendered, you may just have to accept that despite stating, “Nonbinary people are welcome,” the space itself may be unwelcoming to nonbinary folks.
To that end, you will want to consider if your marketing actually needs all the gendering.
Instead of: “This bra is for women who want a relaxing fit.”
Try: “For anyone who needs a relaxing fit at the end of a long workday.”
Instead of: “Ladies, your period, amirite?”
Try: “People who endure menstruation, which can sometimes suck.”
Instead of: “Women who face sexism.”
Try: “Those who experience misogyny.”
At the end of the day, it isn’t transphobic to have a gendered space—from support groups and mentorship programs, to games nights and The Bachelor marathons. (I seriously only have one agenda, and it’s not the gay one.) It only becomes transphobic when you tokenize, other, or out any transpeople there.
If you do want your space to include nonbinary people, however, you likely have a lot of work ahead of you in terms of de-gendering your content. And if you’re a cisperson, you’re probably not the most qualified to do it.
Can I still use the term ‘womxn’ for myself?
Of course! If womxn is powerful and meaningful to you, go for it. Use it with abandon. It’s a perfect word for some. Just don’t apply it to others without their consent, and be mindful of how it comes across to those who are trans and nonbinary.
Now humxns, on the other hand, is something I can get behind.
First, put your pronouns in your bio and email signature. Next, get out there, and go follow some trans and nonbinary folks. I’m not going to post any links here because heartbreakingly, the world is still very unsafe for people living within this demographic, and I don’t want anyone harassed.
However, if you’re a trans or nonbinary person with an account you’d like to put forward as a resource, or you’re a D&I consultant for hire, I can update this post. Just email email@example.com with your account, and put “gender resource” as the subject line.
Although articles are typically started with a disclaimer, I want to end mine with one instead. I am by no means a gender expert; but I am an expert in my own experience, which is reflected in this piece. Thank you for taking the time to read, and thanks to Girlboss for giving me the space to write. Now back to my lane, which is The Bachelor.
About the Author
Cassie Barradas is a writer, comedian, and former middle school teacher. They adore their two cats, and a good slice of pizza.