Q: Alex, your recent share from Laverne Cox included the phrase “trans folx.” Is this a thing?
A: Good question! It is a thing. I’ve exclusively seen it from queer and trans people, usually people of color.
In 2014, Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders explained: “Folx might be a more regional California term, but we use it to indicate Q/T/gender-diverse community and to denote a politicized identity.”
So it’s basically a coded way of saying “folks like us”—that is, a within-community expression used by people who are radically non-conforming in terms of gender and/or sexuality and for whom their identities are deeply, radically political.
In May 2017, Reddit user truetrans offered this additional helpful take:
. . . People organizing and theorizing in queer, trans, and other people of color spaces use Folx instead of folks. The X is to designate gender nonconformity, gender neutrality, and/or gender nonbinary sentiments. It is a way to replace folks with a word that invokes mental imagery and association with queer/trans people.
The thought is that when we simply say “folks” people think of “men and women, gender conforming people.” When these communities use the word “folx” it signifies a recognition that in that community there are people outside of binary gender systems and heterosexual norms.
Many people have claimed that the purpose of folx is to be “more inclusive” or “more gender neutral” than folks. I believe this is an urban legend that likely originated as a back-fill sort of explanation from people who consciously or unconsciously associated the word folx with the word Latinx and tried to apply the same logic, even though it doesn’t make sense.
The word folks is not gendered or exclusive in any way. As far as I’m aware, folx was never meant to be about gender neutrality and it was never meant to replace or improve on the word folks. It was meant to be a coded way to communicate “folks like us” among people with radical politics who defy gender and sexual norms.
What’s your take on folx? Comment below! Want to ask a radical copyeditor something? Contact me! Was this post helpful to you? Consider making a donation!
Note: This post was updated on August 3, 2018, to add the quote from truetrans, and on April 15, 2021, to add the final two paragraphs.
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8 thoughts on “Ask a Radical Copyeditor: Folx”
The main explanation I’ve seen for folx is that it makes the word sort of explicitly gender neutral, because in many languages folks has masc/feminine variations and thus will be translated away from gender neutrality. Using “folx” prevents that. This is why you see it more often among queer/trans communities, since that’s where gender-aware folx congregate, but the usage shouldn’t be limited to us QTs!
This explanation mystifies me and I can’t help but wonder if it’s a back-fill sort of thing from people who are consciously or unconsciously associating “folx” with “Latinx” and are trying to apply the same logic here, even though it doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing gendered about the word “folks.” I suppose it does make it harder to translate the word “people” into Spanish or French in gendered ways, but it’s really hard for me to believe that this is the origin of “folx.”
This one always rubs me weird.
Latinx makes sense to me. Spanish is a gendered language, and the english loan words latino/latina are explicitly gendered, leaving problems in the face of mixed groups, generic descriptions, and known non-binary people.
Folkx doesn’t make functional sense to me at all. Like, “folks” is gender-neutral? Not like a lazy patriarchy sort of way, the way “guys” is (I’ll leave “dude” for another discussion), but is actually gender neutral? So you’d only want to use “folkx” for effect?
I don’t get it, and I don’t buy any explanations so far?
The word “folks” is not gendered. As far as I’m aware, the word “folx” was never meant to be about gender neutrality. As I note in the blog post, to the best of my understanding, folx came into being by queer/trans people of color as “a coded way of saying ‘folks like us’—that is, a within-community expression used by people who are radically non-conforming in terms of gender and/or sexuality and for whom their identities are deeply, radically political.” It was never meant to replace or “improve” on the word “folks.” Hope this helps.
I am with you on this one; taking a word that has no inherent gender and changing it—unless you mean to be exclusive to nonbinary people, which is NOT how I have seen it used, but which I could understand—does not make sense to me.
Never liked folx as a non binary person – it feels performative and unnecessary, and the implication that we aren’t included in “folks” is frankly a bit insulting to me. Maybe it makes more sense in the bay area where it seems to have originated, but where I am from it feels mystifying and somewhat elitist (since you’d have to be into queer theory to even hear of it).
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As a fellow non-binary person, I’ve also never used “folx.” For me it’s because the people who I saw originally using it were exclusively people of color, so it never felt right to me to use it. Like you, I’ve definitely seen people more recently using the term in a way that feels performative, which I very much dislike. The fact that many people have interpreted “folx” as a term of inclusion is unfortunate, because as far as I can tell it was never meant to be about inclusion. As I note in the blog post, it was meant to be a coded way of saying “folks like us.” There’s nothing exclusive about the word “folks.”
I dislike the “folx” spelling because it is confusing to people with dyslexia and similar disabilities, as well as people whose first language is not English. If we really want to be inclusive and accessible to all, let’s stick with the traditional spelling, “folks.”