Here’s What to Know About the Often-Misunderstood Term ‘Folx’

Maybe you’ve seen the word “folx” on Twitter and wrote it off as a typo or a new bit of texting shorthand that the kids are using these days. And while “folx” may seem like a handy abbreviation when you don’t feel like typing out the k and the s (I get it, you’re busy, we all need shortcuts sometimes), it’s actually a popular stand-in for the word “folks,” used by queer-identifying people to refer to groups of other queer-identifying people. Folx is the deliberate queerification of a word meant to differentiate queer spaces and groups from the non-queer.

In the first edition of her book Trans Sex: Clinical Approaches to Trans Sexualities and Erotic Embodiments, sex educator Lucie Fielding dedicated a paragraph to this mystifying term. “You might also notice that I employ the word ‘folx’ throughout the text,” she wrote. “Why not ‘folks’? They are pronounced the same way, and both folx and folks are gender-neutral ways to refer to groups of people. The letter ‘x’ is an orthographic symbol that has become synonymous with gender-inclusivity.”

The LGBTQ+ community has adopted the letter “x” as a tool to adhere gender neutrality onto otherwise gendered words. This is how you get terms like “womxn,” “Mx,” and “Latinx,” all of which have grown (and in some cases, waned) in popularity over the last several decades. But with the word “folks,” which, as Fielding points out, has no gender to begin with, the “x” is less a sign of neutrality and more an active stance. It’s a wink to the queer community, like a flag or a pin, to demonstrate that you’re a safe, accepting presence—either an ally or a queer person yourself.

Folx has layers. Get to know them below.

What does the “x” mean to the queer community?

The use of alternate spellings, especially the letter “x,” has a particular significance in radical, progressive spaces. It was popularized in the ’60s and ’70s by Black liberation activists and early feminists. Malcolm X famously adopted the letter in place of Little, the last name of a slave owner that his ancestors had been forced to bear. As the LGBTQ+ movement has grown, the “x” has found popularity yet again, this time in queer circles.

Sexuality educator Elise Schuster says the queer use of the letter “x” has long been associated with inclusivity. “It originates with the way we use ‘x’ in algebra to stand for the unknown or possibilities,” they say. “Although ‘folks’ is already a gender-inclusive phrase, adding ‘x’ to it, for some people, signals a more explicit inclusiveness of people in the LGBTQIA+ community.”

The queer lexicon is constantly shape-shifting—whether it’s the spelling of a word or a new word entirely, the vocabulary used by this community often doesn’t look the same from year to year or even day to day. And for some queer people, the use of the “x” and other alternative spellings have sometimes been controversial.

The term “womxn,” for example, is sometimes read as a reference to “womyn” with a “y,” “which ended up being a spelling that a lot of trans-exclusionary folks used” in the early waves of feminism, Fielding explains. While it was initially intended as pushback against defining womanhood in relation to men—“womyn” removes the words “man” and “men” from the spelling—it’s now lost most of its original meaning and is most closely associated with gender essentialists, or people who reject gender fluidity. Swapping the “y” for an “x” was initially meant to reclaim that alternative spelling, but Fielding says that many feel it still falls short.

“If you put an ‘x’ there, it’s meant to say we want to include all sorts of people who might fall under the umbrella of woman,” she says. “But trans women are women, so you don’t have to do anything like that.”

The term “Latinx” is another example of a language innovation that didn’t quite stick the landing. “‘Latinx’ is something that a lot of people use, but not necessarily folks who are actually in the community,” Fielding says. In practice, it’s been more of a term “applied from without,” says Fielding, because the new spelling isn’t even pronounceable in Spanish. More recently, there’s been the proposal for the spelling “Latine,” a gender-neutral term that actually works in the Spanish language and is more similar to “Latino” and “Latina.”

“We have all these strategies to try to be inclusive and they come from a really nice place,” Fielding says, “but what they end up doing is creating different problems.”

How popular is “folx” actually?

While Fielding says “folx” has been embraced in many queer spaces—including in her own book—she says it’s “quickly falling out of favor,” and adds that she doesn’t plan to use it in her book’s second edition.

“Folx” takes a word “that should already be gender-expansive, or expansive of a lot of expressions,” and almost overcomplicates it, she says.

“When you add the ‘x’ there, it ends up being more performative and virtue signaling than it does the actual work of being actively inclusive,” she says. “‘Folks’ is like ‘ya’ll,’ it’s everyone. It’s just fine on its own, it doesn’t need any cherry on top.”

Schuster agrees, adding that the use of the “x” does not in itself make someone an effective ally. “Using ‘x’ cannot be the only way of signaling queer acceptance,” they say. “So for instance, using ‘folx’ but not doing any other work or any other signaling about allyship won’t mean much to someone who is looking for those things.”

Should I use “folx” instead of “folks”?

While certain queer spaces may move away from using “folx,” Fielding says there’s nothing wrong with continuing to use it, just as there’s no real urgency to implement it either.

Schuster adds that a person’s view on the queer use of “x” is subjective, and everyone will have their own take. “Like many aspects of language in the queer community, our relationship to ‘x’ is changing and evolving,” they say. “Depending on who you ask, it will be as likely to [be] embraced as rejected, depending on how someone sees its relationship to themselves.”

While its station in queer language is always up to interpretation, the “x” remains symbolic of expansion, of evading classification, of plurality and room for improvisation. It’s a tiny little contradiction: both militant and inviting, with sharp edges and a spirit of openness. For some, it rings hollow. For others, it represents inclusion. Whether folks, folx, or y’all: However you slice it, we’re all just big human blobs doing our best to make everyone feel included, and ultimately, that’s what matters most.

Source: Read Full Article