Why ‘Womxn’ is a Harmful Term to Trans and Non-Binary Femmes

Trans model, writer and digital artist Alexandra Chandra (she/they) brings a daily dose of much-needed realness to the world of social media. She is an active voice of reason who shares vital pieces of information for the transgender and queer communities while educating readers about the true meaning of “womanhood”. For Trans Day of Visibility Alexandra wrote a piece exploring why the term “womxn” isn’t just as inclusive as some may think.

Every year during March I post about “Women’s History Month” as a woman of trans experience, but this year was different. I decided to team up with Blair Imani, a well-known influencer and educator on Instagram, to create a post about the limitations of the term “womxn.” 

The term “womxn” with an “x” started showing up in the early 1970’s in feminist circles but gained immense traction amongst intersectional feminists for its “inclusivity” back around 2010. The zeitgeist at that time included using terms like “womxn” to reject “men” and “smash the patriarchy.” This year, 2021, was, you guessed it, no different. There seemed to be the same performative reductive memes floating around on the internet about using the term “womxn” to refer to people who are neither women nor identify with womanhood. I scrolled through posts online mentioning “Happy International Womxn’s Day!!!!! <3 <3 <3” and I wanted to hurl myself at the sun:

Trans writer Alexandra Chandra explores why womxn is a harmful term to trans and non binary people.

Image source: twitter.com/sarahchadwickk

I get the gist of wanting to be inclusive by using an “x”, but let’s not forget that the term “womxn” is nothing short of inclusive when it’s constantly used by cisgender women as an umbrella term to ascribe trans and nonbinary people a label without our consent. Trans women aren’t “womxn”, we are women, and nonbinary folks are not women-lite either. We all deserve full access to womanhood instead of being lumped into a category made more inclusive by the same cisgender women who gatekeep us out of “womanhood” to begin with.

Womxn is not a synonym for “non-men,” it’s a synonym for historical transmisogyny. What I mean is that adding “x” to any word does not always make it more inclusive; context is key. In this case, adding “x” to the term “womxn” reveals a transphobic history of cisgender womens’ gatekeeping of womanhood from trans and nonbinary femmes, even though cis women predominately appropriate transfeminine culture and call it womanhood for themselves (sigh). 

Whether it’s makeup, fashion, or even language, cis women have a history of appropriating from trans women and transfeminine people while also seeing us as a threat to the very system we designed for them. An example of this is when cisgender folks casually say “yas queen” or “slay sis” or do not properly cite transfeminine folks for their stellar contouring skills that cis people themselves use and market. What’s even more ironic is that March begins with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (March 8th) and ends with Trans Day of Visibility. It’s almost too perfect to not recognize how closely connected and interwoven transmisogyny is inside cis women’s movement spaces (i.e., feminism). 

Cis women’s feminism has always waged a war on women, especially transgender women and transfeminine people. No matter how “intersectional” it is, cis women’s feminism can be summed up in the following statement: it’s about cis women inviting Black and brown transfeminine people to a table that Black and brown transfeminine people had originally built themselves. That’s what a term like “womxn” evokes, but in an even more sinister way. Not only does the term “womxn” serve as that metaphorical table cis women sit at and invite trans and nonbinary people to, a table that was again originally built by trans folks ourselves, but its a term with coercive power to lump trans and nonbinary people into a category without our consent. Hence whether it’s “womanhood” or “womxnhood” it always cis women at the table and transfeminine folks on the menu. 

The term “womxn” is also rooted in transphobic/terf-rhetoric (trans-exclusionary radical feminism) to refer to a category of women “without” men, and to create a whole new category outside of “womanhood” for folks who are “women-identifying,” to feel “included.” Firstly, as a trans woman, I’m not “woman-identifying,” I am a woman period. Secondly, the way inclusion functions is through its exclusionary force from something else. It’s not inclusion when cis women insist on using a term like “womxn” to essentially force transfeminine people, historically excluded from “womanhood” by cis women, into another box that essentially poses “no threat” for cis women and their womanhood.

NEWSFLASH: womanhood does not belong to any gender. Stop making cis women the default form of womanhood when womanhood itself is a construct that’s been universalized, consequently Europeanized, and effortlessly weaponized against women, especially Black trans women. Transfeminine people have allegedly posed a threat to cis women’s feminism (e.g. transphobic bathroom bills and transphobic bills that ban trans athletes from playing sports) and the creation of a term like “womxn” extends this very sentiment. It’s ironic though that cis women being transphobic will never “actually” make sense, because the parameters for femininity and womanhood are colonially constructed and upheld by white supremacy therefore no one, including cis women, is actually performing femininity well enough either. 

I want to go back to what I had mentioned earlier about collaborating on a post with Blair about the term “womxn.” What’s interesting is that Blair had to turn off the comments to our post because of the back and forth between women and other arbitrators of that term in the comments section. I noticed some trans and nonbinary folks finding comfort in the term “womxn,” but what I also found was a lot of trans folks agreeing how exclusionary that term actually is. 

So what do we do? We ask. We let people self-identify. Self-determination for everyone, including for cis-women, has always been a goal of trans liberation work. Thus, cis women have been a part of trans folks’ agenda, meanwhile, the opposite can be said to be true about trans folks for cis women. Not only have we not been a part of their agenda, but we’ve also been actively excluded from it, and levelled against it. Tables need to be turned and burned. Black and brown transfeminine people have historically provided the blueprint everyone else claims as their own but no one gives actual credit for. It’s time this changes. It’s imperative we cast our lot with Black trans women and ensure that transfeminine folk are protected, loved on, and allowed to rest and thrive.

Written by Alexandra Chandra @iamlexchandra

Feature image of Alexandra Chandra by William F Thacker

Alexandra Chandra

2 thoughts on “Why ‘Womxn’ is a Harmful Term to Trans and Non-Binary Femmes”

  1. I have seen this argument in support groups, especially nonbinary people saying “I’m not woman-lite” and I was hoping to see some insight into that. The issue with just saying “let people self-identify” instead of trying to find a term that is truely inclusive is that the people using those terms aren’t asking their audience one by one “does this term validate you?” When my understanding of the term “womxn” was simply that intersectional feminists were using it to be more inclusive, I thought cool that’s nice, and identified myself in there (despite being transmasculine nonbinary) just for feminism and issues that affected me as being born female. I’ve always identified with feminist agendas because how could I not? And now yet another term has been rejected by the trans community, so what should we use? As a business owner and social media presence, I need words that are safe to use, terms to communicate what I’m trying to say without offending or excluding people. Beyond me, general society needs vocabulary that is accesible, so they can include trans identities and talk about trans people without immediately getting yelled at for their efforts. I don’t want people to be afraid of offending me when they are genuinely trying, it makes it so much harder for everyone to coexist and encourages a devide between communities. I don’t have a solution but I’m looking.

    1. I am not a nonbinary woman, but as a non-binary person I can explain the term, “I’m not woman-lite.” As an intersex person who identifies as nonbinary and is closer to masc, the last thing I want is to be treated like I am a lesser version of a woman, especially since I am not a woman. Nonbinary people should not be assigned a gender category, or subcategory without their consent, and unfortunately, this is something that has to be done case by case. If you want to identify as womxn, that’s cool, but bear in mind that it was created in feminist circles to explicitly exclude masc folk and people with “penises” regardless of gender assigned at birth. As chimera who was a “born” female on paper, but does not identifies as such and has XY and XX chromosomes who navigated radfem circles, I avoid “,womxn” because I understand how harmful the implications are firsthand. Also, the term is ammo for conservatives with bogus arguments about how feminists and nonbinary folks want to erase women. This is also why terms like Latinx that were explicitly created in South American feminist circles, but are assumed to be gender neutral by US-born late adopters, tend to not well received neither by non-US nonbinary folks (who would use Latin or Latine instead) or cishet folks in the Latin American community. Sometimes words have too much baggage to not be a problem.

      My suggestions for accessible vocabulary that is truly inclusive is to use “person”, “people”, “folks,” and “gender and sex minorities” instead of specific gender labels. These terms are pretty neutral and should serve well in most instances. If in doubt about someone’s label, ask. As for being yelled for talking about trans folks, that’s just something folks need to get used to. That unfortunate fact is that a lot of trans folks (and transphobes for that matter) have endured horrific amounts of trauma and that rage and offense are coping mechanisms that will be unleashed when a threat is perceived. The best thing a person can do is to acknowledge that it’s okay to be uncomfortable and make mistakes. Let folks vent and say what they need to say. Once they finish ask questions that show your ability to listen. At that point, folks will either educate you, will tell you that they do not want to associate with you, or you will decide that you are not worth your time. This also applies to other persecuted groups. People are entitled to decide who they want or do not want to associate with. This is why these types of uncomfortable conversations are necessary.

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