Beyond the Binary: Question Twenty-Three
July 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
I can’t believe it’s our penultimate post – panel bios here.
What do you think/feel, personally/politically, about the title “Mx”? E.g. would you/do you use it yourself? Is it a good/complete resolution to the existence of gendered titles or what shortcomings does it have? Would you rather not have a title at all?
CN: I’m still holding out for ‘Dr’, and I do worry that that’s partly so I can avoid the whole question of titles. I absolutely think that we need a unisex title – the obvious problem being that, if the only people who use it are people who can’t/don’t want to fit into ‘Ms’ or ‘Mr’, then we’re left not so much with a gender-neutral title as with a title for gender-neutral people. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily, but if the point is to use an honorific that doesn’t denote gender then an honorific which denotes a gender specifically other than ‘just’ ‘man’ or ‘woman’ doesn’t really achieve that goal. If the doctoral studies all fall through I guess I might change my title to ‘Mx’, though explaining that in addition to explaining my name might well feel like bashing my head against a brick wall – particularly in classical music, which is conservative enough as a whole that even ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Miss’ can sometimes be difficult. Or lose my patience altogether, go the whole hog and just start calling myself ‘Baron von Lester’, as I’ve always threatened to do.
Jennie: I’m happy to use this myself but most of the time, wherever it’s possible, I opt not to have a title. To me, there is also a class dimension to titles. ‘Mr’ etc. label us as socially less esteemed than those with titles like ‘Sir’. That’s bullshit.
Hel: I like the existence of gender-neutral titles – in some ways it feels like the next step on from ‘Ms’. If your title shouldn’t reveal your marital status, why should it reveal your gender? I’m not sure how I feel about ‘Mx’ specifically – I don’t like the way it’s sometimes rendered as ‘Mix’ or ‘Mixter’, and generally I’m not really a fan of how it looks or sounds. I’ve also seen ‘Msc’ and ‘Misc’ used, which I think I prefer aesthetically, although obviously with the former there’s potential confusion with people who hold a Masters degree in the sciences, as well as an argument that it’s othering to group all people who use gender-neutral titles as ‘miscellaneous’.
I don’t usually use ‘Mx’ or ‘Misc’ myself – on official documents I’m still a ‘Ms’. This is primarily because I feel like going through all the bureaucratic wrangling it would take for me to change to ‘Mx’ is… not currently the best use of my time (which is not to judge people who do go about changing it, just to say that it is a low priority for me personally, compared to other things I am busy with). There’s also an extent to which I’m still vaguely hanging on for ‘Dr’ – although I’ve now decided to take some time out from academia, a PhD is still somewhere in my future plans. (I realise that this is, to some extent, capitulating to a hegemony – ‘Dr’ being a much more socially-accepted gender-neutral than ‘Mx’ – but honestly, I’m trying to wean myself off the idea that I need to be an activist all the time, in all areas of my life. Self-care and all that.)
GrrlAlex: Ideally I don’t see the need for titles. That said, I have used Mx but when you find that ACAS when dealing with my tribunal on discrimination over gender identity they couldn’t list Mx so reverted to Mr!!! I made my views clear to them so they apologised and went for Ms instead.
Nat: I liked Mx better when I first saw it being used around the turn of the millennium when it was described as a gender non-specific title that could be used for anyone, where the x was intended as a wildcard that could match any other title, much like the asterisk on ‘trans*’. At that time it had the suggested pronunciation of ‘mux’. It wasn’t until 2002 that I saw people claiming that it’s pronounced ‘mixture’ but could be shortened to ‘mix’ (with others on the mailing list expressing surprise and disagreement with this), and several years more until ‘mixter’ was mentioned.
In practical terms, I’ve found that in many accents ‘mix’ sounds too much like ‘miss’ when pronounced and ‘mixture’ is even more prone to sounding like ‘mister’, so the original ‘mux’ pronunciation may be more distinctive, although possibly less recognisable as a title (although it’s not that far from the way Ms often ends up pronounced ‘mus’ or ‘muz’).
Personally I strongly dislike the suggestion that my neutral/nonbinary gender is a ‘mixture’ or ‘mix’ of something as that isn’t how I experience gender, so I find it hard to think of Mx as being inclusive of me when it’s explained and pronounced in that way. I felt more welcomed and included when it was truly neutral and could apply to anyone. Ironically I think it currently feels far too gendered for me.
I also feel like having an unusual title is drawing attention to my gender when my preference is to avoid gender when it isn’t relevant (which is most of the time). As such I very much lean towards the use of no title and ask for this as my first preference when dealing with organisations (with a reasonable amount of success, most recently from Nationwide building society after the involvement of their IT department). Titles are supposed to be a form of honorific, conferring respect, and I think the way to respect me is to use my actual name and not misgender me with a title.
My own personal preferences aside, I do think there is a need for a neutral or nonbinary title, especially for those who have a strong feeling of gender that they’d wish to be respected in the same way anyone else’s is.
There is already precedent for a neologistic (newly coined) title popularised within the last century to make up for a deficiency of the English language. In the early to mid 20th century women were forced to choose between the titles ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ depending on their marital status. There was a campaign beginning at the turn of the 20th century to adopt the generic form ‘Ms’ that made the female title less specific, as the male form was. Informal usage grew in acceptance from the 1950s, but it was not until the 1970s that official government records first allowed the use of ‘Ms’.
Hopefully the 21st century Information Age era we live in will accelerate this process so it doesn’t take another 60 years for full acceptance(!), although technology can also be a hinderance. I know of two notable issues where computer systems not being programmed to accept or recognise Mx as a valid title have caused major problems when data was imported from sources where Mx is supported. In one case a DVLA driving licence card issued with Mx was breaking computer systems designed to read them automatically. In another Experian credit checks were reportedly treating Mx as a first name and producing additional credit records for people resulting in failed credit applications from otherwise unrelated companies. Last I heard this issue was being investigated, hopefully with some priority!
There is a strong need for computer systems to be updated to support a wider range of titles, and to allow for names to be stored without any title. My general preference, as always, is that gender should not be stored in computer records unless there is an extremely compelling reason for doing so, but an optional field to give a preferred form of address is perfectly justified.