This Gender-Neutral Diploma Is A Big Victory

Earlier this year, the Oxford English Dictionary considered the word "Mx." as an honorary for those who don't feel that Mr. or Ms. captures their identity. When Anindita Mukherjee graduated from NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad, India, they wanted to use this word on their diploma to acknowledge the fact that they don't identify as a man or woman — and as a result, the university issued its first-ever gender-neutral diploma. Is that the best, or is that the best?

While you might expect the process of using a new honorific on a diploma to be full of bureaucratic obstacles, likely with excuses from the administration about logistical difficulties, Mukherjee told BuzzFeed that “the beauty of the whole thing lay in the complete lack of any hurdles." And, if you think about it, there really is no excuse when we're just talking about one letter. They continued:

I made one request to the university administration, and the change was made. For me, this speaks to the immense power administrations have in making lives easier or more difficult for students. The fact that it is presumed I had to struggle points to how rarely we see them making life easier, and how common it is for meaningless hurdles to be created. This is the moment at which I doff my hat at NALSAR’s present administration.

Like Pinterest's recent addition of a custom gender option for its users, this use of Mx. is symbolic but still meaningful. When you use this word, "you’re either saying that you do not identify as either a man or a woman, or you’re saying that you think your gender is irrelevant in that context," Mukherjee told Buzzfeed, adding that words like Mx. can let us "speak of such realities with respect" as well as "open up spaces for conversations."

Such conversations are needed in India, where gender-nonconforming people, referred to as "hijra," often live in poverty and face discrimination. Another win for gender-nonconformity in India occurred last year, when a court ruling recognized transgender people as a third gender and gave them minority status, enabling them to get quotas for jobs and education and separate hospital wards and toilets (though finding safe toilets is a problem in certain parts of India regardless of gender).

Graduation is a time to acknowledge graduates' accomplishments, and I'd imagine acknowledgement under a name that doesn't feel like yours could put a damper on that whole experience. The absence of language to describe people with gender-nonconforming identities sends the message that they don't exist and allows others to continue ignoring their existence. With more options for their diplomas, more graduates will be able to walk across the stage proudly and feel included in the celebration, regardless of their gender identity.

Image: Giphy