Mx

The other day, Mary Anne linked to an article that claimed that the new gender-neutral title “Mx” was being officially added to the OED. I'm not linking to that article because it turned out, alas, that it had based that claim on a Sunday Times article that only said the OED was considering adding it. So as far as I can tell, it's not in the OED yet.

But in comments on Mary Anne's post, a couple of people indicated that they didn't see a need for the new title, so I wrote up some thoughts about it, and I figured I might as well post those thoughts as a blog entry.

When we were first deciding on policies for the Strange Horizons fiction department, we decided not to use titles in addressing correspondence to submitters; instead, we decided to use their full names. One reason I was in favor of that policy was that I went to a college founded by Quakers, and the not-using-titles thing rubbed off on me. But another reason, probably the biggest one for me, was that picking an honorific meant making assumptions about the submitter's gender given no information other than their name. A significant percentage of submitters had names that weren't obviously gendered (and even commonly-gendered names are no guarantee), so using “Mr” or “Ms” had a significant chance of being wrong.

And although I do like the address-the-person-by-full-name approach, if “Mx” had been widely known and understood at the time, I might well have been interested in using that, as a form of nongendered respectful address.

Relatedly, a few organizations that I donate to have started to require that donors specify a title when they donate. I currently can't do that without specifying my gender (or lying about my doctoral status), and I don't feel that my gender is any business of theirs. If I could specify “Mx,” I would. Same with my favorite hotel, where despite my complaints they still won't let me reserve a room online without specifying my gender.

More generally: In our society, there are lots of times when people use titles to refer to other people. Under most of those circumstances, gender is completely irrelevant, and yet most of the time we can't use a title without tying gender to it.

So I wholeheartedly support the use of “Mx.”

In the 1970s, a lot of people railed against the awful new title “Ms.” They presumably felt it was perfectly reasonable to require a woman to specify her marital status if she wanted to be addressed respectfully. Today, we no longer feel the need to specify marital status in titles for women (we never did in titles for men), but we still seem to consider it ordinary and reasonable to require binary gender. I'm hoping that forty years from now, “Mx” will be as ordinary and unobjectionable as “Ms” is today.

(PS: I'm using the term “title” here as a synonym for “honorific”; I'm not thrilled with either term in this context, but they seem to be the standard terms.)