UT-Austin students discuss how the term ‘womxn’ can cause harm

Carolyn Parmer

Efforts to be inclusive can sometimes leave people feeling more separated than ever. 

Advocates of the term “womxn” believe it is more inclusive of those who don’t identify with the cisgender definition of woman. But some students feel invalidated in their identity when the gender-neutral term is used.

“Some folks feel like if you’re using the x, it means, ‘You don’t really think of me as a woman,’” said Liz Elsen, director of the UT Gender and Sexuality Center. 

Miranda West, an arts and entertainment technologies freshman, is nonbinary and said the term “womxn” does more harm than good. 

“I know people who use it to try to be inclusive, but originally … (some) people who used it were trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” West said. 

Some individuals may feel more included using the term “womxn” to describe themselves. Elsen said possible reasons for using the term “womxn” instead of “women” are to remove the word “men” and to be more inclusive of trans women and nonbinary individuals — a term that includes people of many gender identities, including gender queer and agender. 

“People should be able to use whatever word works for them and whatever word makes them feel included,” Elsen said. “I think where it’s tricky is when folks, especially folks who don’t have those identities, start telling people how to define themselves.” 

In the summer of 2020, UT Women’s Resource Agency changed its name to Womxn’s Resource Agency based on research about the term “womxn.” Agency co-director Sameeha Rizvi said she now realizes the organization should have researched more thoroughly. 

“At the time … we thought it was a really great term,” said Rizvi, a public health and social work sophomore. “But we didn’t hear or read about the voices that voiced concerns against it.”

After listening to the opinions of trans women and nonbinary individuals, the agency is currently working to change back to its original name. 

“While our intentions were to be more inclusive with the term and open up this space and provide the resources that need to be provided for anyone who needs it, we realized that it wasn’t helpful,” Rizvi said. 

Recently, trans and nonbinary individuals have called out companies, such as Twitch, for using “womxn” in a supposed effort to be more inclusive. 

“Where it gets tricky is when people are trying to be inclusive and then they accidentally say or do something that alienates the people that they are trying to serve,” Elsen said.

As a nonbinary person, West said they use they/them pronouns because they don’t want others to perceive them as a woman. They said it’s important to listen to people who are directly affected by the use of the word “womxn.” 

“A lot of people want to be like, ‘It includes nonbinary people by adding the x,’ but I don’t want to be called ‘woman’ at all,” West said. 

Elsen and Rizvi said conversations about inclusive language are important, but playing an active role in education should be a priority. 

“People who use ‘womxn’ feel really progressive and inclusive when in reality … true progressiveness is really educating yourself about the issues you advocate for and also learning from your errors and taking accountability,” Rizvi said.