Lavender Reform or Living Revolution | Opinion

  • This story is for OutFAU, our student publication covering Florida Atlantic University. To see more from OutFAU click here.

    Courtesy of Lisa Ramirez.

    There is a relatively new discussion of the application of queer linguistics, otherwise known as lavender linguistics, to Latino languages. Specifically, this discussion has revolved around Spanish.

    In this essay I am going to briefly explain the recent terminology and discourse, some of the history of both Spanish and Portuguese colonization, the application of lavender linguistics in different parts of the world, and why the current application of lavender linguistics does not serve its purpose of gender abolition and queer inclusion.

    If you are unfamiliar with the terms Latine/Latinx/Latino/Hispanic, here’s an explanation of these terms.

    • Hispanic people refer to people who are from the 21 Spanish speaking countries.
    • Latino/a people refer to people who are from Latin America including Portuguese speaking people but exclude those from Spanish speaking countries outside of Latin America.
    • Latine/ Latinx apply to the same individuals, however many use Latine/Latinx as a force of reform for gender non-comforming Latin American individuals.

    People acquainted with Spanish/Portuguese understand that these languages are gendered. The -o suffix means the noun used is masculine and the -a suffix means that the noun used is feminine. 

    But that is not entirely true.

    The -o suffix also functions as a gender neutral alternative. When referring to a group of people, Latinos is used if the group contains men, women, and individuals who do not conform to the gender binary. If the gender of the person is unknown, Latino is acceptable in the same way the singular they is in English. “Someone left their wallet, I hope they come back for it.”

    Using these changes works like painting a house made of blood white. Even in white washing the parts that are proof of colonization, misogyny, homophobia, and bigotry there will always be echoes of oppression that leak through because language is inextricably tied to colonization. 

    The -x/-e suffix works in this way. These suffixes might look like an attempt to work against the bigotry that inherently lies in these languages but it is an attempt that fails. While we scrub at Spanish walls and rip off the tiles of the Portuguese language, we change our living reminder of history. History spoken by children but made through wars. A prime example of this spoken history can be seen in Brazilian Portuguese and the amount of indigenous influence in its lexicon.  Below is a table of examples of words derived from indigenous people used in Brazilian Portuguese (see table 1). 









    Injury/ wound


    Table 1

    In the early 1600s, Portuguese conquistadors invaded. The origin for these words and many others in Brazilian Portuguese come from the (now extinct) indigenous language Tupi. This isn't limited to Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish also has a history of violence within its language (see table 2). 



    Native Origin









    Taíno Arawak




    Table 2 

    Spanish and Portuguese do not just have a history of the language used for conquest, they have also played a role as the language that was conquered. From the year 711 to nearly 800 years later, the Moors conquered most of the Iberian peninsula. As a result of this, many Spanish and Portuguese words have Arabic origins (see table 3).
















    almofada (Cushion)





    Table 3

    There are many more examples of Arabic influence over Portuguese and Spanish. Shared words, phonological changes, the generations after adopting these new words without the understanding of their morphology, these are some of the symptoms of colonization throughout history. 

    When we talk about the addition of the -x and recontextualization of the -e suffix, rarely does this subject come up. Aside from what historians can provide us, language is living history. In the way that we constantly use language, we remind ourselves of the past. In the case of these affixes, misogyny and homophobia is prevalent in Latin American culture. The term “macho” comes from both Spain and Portugal. 

    Eliminating the remnants of Spanish/ Portuguese history in Latin American speak would not only mean omitting this history but reshaping Latin American Spanish and Portuguese to abide by external influences without acknowledging the colonization and oppression that has shaped these languages.

    We need a new language; one that works with the needs of Latin American queer people. We could revise Spanish/ Portuguese to incorporate more to be more inclusive but a new language/argot/cant/slang is a tangible tool to reclaim our identity. 

    Knowledge is power and having a new language or multiple new languages gives people the ability to get that power back with their speech.

    There have been some valid criticisms of this idea, the first being that making a language is too hard and requires a lot of community effort. Revolutions do not occur out of ease, however. 

    Revolutions happen because enough effort is given. 

    Some accomplish through art but many do it through language. We can see this in the formation of new languages and pidgins. To summarize a portion of the section dealing with Caribbean colonization from David Crystal’s English as Universal Language, creoles and pidgins are proof of rebellion. “Creoles like Haitian Creole are a product of people taken from several different countries in Africa who were taken across the Atlantic Ocean and made a language to communicate with each other but not their slavers”. (Crystal) These creoles and pidgins like Haitian Creole evolved using the grammar of many different languages in West Africa but using the lexicon of their slavers (Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, etc). In this way and many others, language is also a tool for liberation and revolution. It allows people to work together in ways that simple adjustments to identification do not. 

    Another criticism in this discussion is: we live in a different time, we do not need to hide anymore. While it is true that we have had much more progress than before, not all of us have the privilege of speaking plainly. In the home of one of my closest friends we had to lower our voices or step out of his house to talk about this very subject. He could not talk about his lover in his home. He could not talk about being a boy. Times have changed, but not for all of us. 

    Some of us have had the privilege of honest conversations with our families and friends about homosexuality but many of us do not. Lavender linguistics, the linguistic innovations that have come about as a part of this struggle, are proof not only that we have always had to work around societal rejection, but that we have succeeded and survived. 

    Here are some examples of our developments through language. 

    • Polari, from the word parlare in Italian, is a cant from the 19th century used by performers, navy sailors, sex workers, and queer people in England. It uses many words from Italian, Romani, and Yiddish. Polari still influences queer and non queer pop culture to this day.
    • Swardspeak is a cant/argot which incorporates both English and Tagalog. It is used by many queer people in the Philippines. 
    • In an article called "Gay" Language and Indonesia: Registering Belonging posted in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Bahasa Binan is an Indonesian based language used by Indonesian queer people. It has been used to build community in the Indonesian queer community and has greatly influenced Indonesian pop culture. 
    • South African History Online describes Gayle as “an argot or pseudo-language that arose in the South African LGBTQI+ community somewhere in the mid-60s.” It uses Afrikaans and English and was used in South Africa. 
    • IsiNgqumo is another product of  queer South African liberation. It is used in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).  

    In the last example provided, IsiNgqumo, the writer (Stephanie Rudwick) of the research paper used argues, “While the secrecy function for the protection from sexual discrimination has been noted repeatedly in reference to gay codes, it is important to remember that they are also tools which unite and empower the identities of their speakers.”

    Secret languages are not just for keeping us in hiding but giving power back to the people who need them. Latine/Latinx works solely as a diverse form of identification and does not provide us with what we need. We need tools to protect us and build communities in the way that the examples above have, history as it was and revolution as it could be through language.

    Lisa Ramirez is a 23-year-old Colombian American and linguistics major. She lives in Boca Raton. 


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