If your reaction to seeing Filipinx trending today is “Oh no, not again,” you’re far from alone because both sides of the fence are tired of the discourse surrounding the word.
The “inciting” post that a number of people are decrying for using the term “Filipinx” was published by San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) on July 22. What was supposed to be a celebratory post was met with vitriol rooted in a sense of language purism.
“The Filipinx Voices in Pop Culture was a fun and educational all Filipinx panel discussing Filipinx influences behind your favorite media!” posted SDCC with a photo of the panel consisting of Fil-Am creatives Mitch Narito, Earl Baylon, Law Sharma, and Jason Patrick Galit (JPG).
The comments section for the post on Twitter and Facebook are filled with angry accusations about how using Filipinx is “insulting,” “virtue-signaling,” “racist,” and worse than being called a slur. Can we please turn the exaggerations down a notch?
The Filipinx Voices in Pop Culture was a fun and educational all Filipinx panel discussing Filipinx influences behind your favorite media! 📸 Edward S. pic.twitter.com/OOgLFKp2pf
Luckily, JPG had a level-headed response to the backlash: “Thank you to @Comic_Con for supporting Filipinx creatives in pop culture! But don’t let the comments on the post get us divided! I didn’t want to leave any non-binary or gender-nonconforming Filipinx people out when I submitted this!” he tweeted.
Using a term preferred by a number of gender-nonconforming Filipinx isn’t equivalent to denying that the word Filipino is already gender-neutral. Policing harmless queer terms—like refusing to use a person’s preferred pronouns—is a futile exercise that disregards the fluidity of language and ultimately ends up making some queer folk feel invalidated. If Filipino diaspora and Filipinos who grew up in the Philippines sometimes differ in their approach to self-identity, that’s not a bad thing.
Just because some terms in Filipino are gender-neutral doesn’t mean the entire language is egalitarian. The Filipino language is also filled with binaries that make gender fluidity a harder concept to understand. Language and culture are intertwined, and creating a more inclusive society means language evolves, too.
Hella Pinay’s nonbinary editor-in-chief Stephanie Gancayco once told us in an interview on Filipinx and decolonization, “I do agree that Filipinx seems to signify that we’re talking about diasporic identity… so I feel like, maybe that is the signal of the diasporic disconnect. Wanting to have language that encompasses diasporic identities is totally OK and valid.”
In the same story, trans scholar and activist Dr. Jaya Jacobo refuted the claim that Filipinx are imposing the use of the term. “From the exchanges I’ve had with diasporic Filipinx, I never had the impression that they were disconnected from the Philippines. In the spirit of dialogue, perhaps we should also ask if we’re willing enough to learn from our diasporic kin, and engage in a conversation with them on this crisis of identity. I also don’t agree that they’re imposing the usage of Filipinx in the Philippines.”
Dr. Jacobo adds that we should be wary of how the Filipinx discourse pulls us away from embracing diversity. “If a Filipina or Filipino refuses the ‘x,’ or if a person in Bontoc or Zamboanga refuses ‘Filipina/o’ altogether, then so be it. One cannot legislate identity. We must remember nationalist discourses have a tendency to deface diversity, just to uphold republican values. ‘Filipina/o’ may not speak to Moro and/or indigenous identities who have historically resisted imperial and republican forms of governance from the peripheries. We should listen to them and learn from their stories of [suffering] and resistivity.”
The next time you see someone use Filipinx, remember that the term is born out of an effort to be more inclusive. Our response to it should be in the similar vein, instead of using it to keep people out of our communities.