This month is Women’s History Month, and Twitch decided to celebrate this by tweeting out a short video of different women streamers talking about the ways they cultivate their communities, the importance of diversity in the streaming and gaming industries, and the challenges they have faced. It was a chance to set the table for Twitch’s direction this month, and as a brief overview, it was pretty good. They had an impressive range of content creators featured, and the topics they discussed were important issues for female streamers on Twitch. But here’s the problem: they used the word ‘womxn’, and nobody liked that.
Since these conversations can get a little heated and confusing, we decided to put together a brief explanation on why Twitch opted to use ‘womxn’, and why it was such an unpopular choice. It’s worth noting that Twitch did eventually pull the clip and tweeted out an apology, confirming it would only use ‘women’ moving forward, but even with that, it feels like Women’s History Month on Twitch is off to a rocky start.
Typically, ‘womxn’ is used to include trans women in the category of women. I’m actually trans myself, and let me tell you, I hate it. Pretty much every trans person I know hates it. I’ve actually seen many of us joke that we’d rather just be called a slur, but the sentiment of that joke rings true for me. You either think trans women are women, or you don’t. If you do, great! But just call us women. You can say ‘cis women and trans women’ if you want to make your inclusivity clear, or you can use trans women or the trans flag in your statement of support. Interestingly, Twitch actually did have a trans woman streamer in their video – Bloody – but in her own thread on Women’s History Month, she spells it ‘Women’, as the rest of us do.
Oh, and if you don’t think trans women are women, at least say it with your whole chest. Own your transphobia. Don’t hide behind a little ‘x’ that means “well, you aren’t really women but I guess we’ll include you too.” Just tell us what you really mean.
As well as trans women, the other LGBT+ group ‘womxn’ is typically used for is non-binary people, but again, this is almost universally unpopular. Non-binary people are often tagged onto the end of women (with job openings looking for “women and non-binary people,” for example), and it can sometimes feel like they’re being treated as ‘women-lite’. Non-binary people aren’t women, nor men. They’re both in between and outside of this spectrum. They’re something different entirely, that’s kind of the point of being non-binary. I realise that some non-binary people still use ‘she/her’, may dress femme or pass as women, and I’m not saying non-binary people aren’t allowed to feel like they’re a part of Women’s History Month. It’s a complicated issue where individuals will decide for themselves which box they fit into. But to change ‘women’ to ‘womxn’ with the justification of also including non-binary people just feels insulting to the idea of being non-binary, is counter-intuitive, and diminishes their identity rather than defending it.
The only people I really see defending ‘womxn’ are allies who think they’re helping the LGBT+ community. If that’s you, then I get it. You’ve heard that this word is used to make LGBT+ people feel more included, and you want to pitch in. It’s admirable, but it’s misguided. Most of us really don’t like it at all. But while it’s understandable that individuals might have gotten the wrong end of the stick, I’m less inclined to be charitable towards Twitch, a billion dollar company with access to endless resources on the topic. Esports reporter Rod Breslau even tweeted that Twitch had workshopped the use of ‘womxn’ internally, had been told by many employees that it was a bad idea, and still decided to roll ahead with it. “We want to assure you that we have, and will continue to, work with the LGBTQIA+ community,” Twitch’s statement says, but until we get a trans tag for streamers, I’m not sure I believe them. Twitch had full opportunity to understand the conflict behind the word ‘womxn’, and ploughed on with it anyway.
Of course, the negative reaction from the LGBT+ community is only one side of the fallout too. Many people just reacted with genuine confusion, which left those of us in the know with a bit of a quandary. We could explain the reason behind Twitch using ‘womxn’, but in doing so, we’d have to say it was in order to support trans women and non-binary people, something none of us believes to be true. It’s not just the explanation behind the reason you have to give, but you also have to explain that Twitch is in the wrong here, all while making it clear that you don’t think they’re in the wrong because you’re a transphobe who would rather stick your fingers in your ears and pretend trans women don’t exist.
Because as you might expect, that group came out of the woodwork too. Typically, I don’t pay any mind to the trolls who recycle the same few jokes about attack helicopters and alphabet people, but I’d rather Twitch didn’t make things worse while pretending to be on my side. Terms like ‘womxn’ only fan the flames while ducking the real issues of better safeguarding for queer streamers, continuing to reinforce a more robust harassment policy, and the much requested introduction of a trans tag.
To make matters worse, while trans women never really liked ‘womxn’ in the first place, it has since been co-opted by transphobes anyway. There, the ‘x’ symbolises the ridiculous demands of the trans lobby, trying to erase women from existence. Again, we don’t even like the word, and we don’t have a secret underground cabal determined to wipe out cis women. It can also represent the X chromosome, or be replaced by the word ‘womben’. They’re a fun bunch, those transphobes. The point is, not only do trans women themselves reject ‘womxn’, transphobes have picked up on it, meaning Twitch’s use isn’t just outdated, it’s wilfully ignorant.
On top of all of this, it’s worth remembering that the ‘x’ was just one letter of Twitch’s tweet. It was supposed to start Women’s History Month, and that whole thing has been overshadowed by a niche argument over a minor issue everyone agrees on, an argument which has already been played out dozens of times and doesn’t need to be revived. Women’s History Month should include queer women, as well as women of colour, particularly Black women, disabled women, and all other women who have faced difficulties and challenges streaming on Twitch because of who they are. Unfortunately, even while Twitch curated a diverse lineup to kick the month off, it has shot itself in the foot with an easily avoidable issue. Let’s strike a big X through ‘womxn’ once and for all, yeah?
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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