Over the weekend, the New York Times published a story about Bluestockings, "a bookshop and activist center" in Manhattan's Lower East Side. The Times introduces staffer Senia Hardwick like this:
Mx. Hardwick, 27, who prefers not to be assigned a gender — and also insists on the gender-neutral Mx. in place of Ms. or Mr. — is a staff member at Bluestockings.
This is a departure for The Gray Lady.
As the Observer points out, the paper has used Mx. as a gender-neutral honorific in the past, but sparingly. "Mx." showed up in a June story about the decision of Barnard College, a women-only institution, to accept transgender women. In the story student Caleb LoSchiavo, who best identifies with the honorific Mx., is referred to as Mx. LoSchiavo throughout the story.
Back in January, a story was published in the New York Times Magazine about a Sasha Fleischman, a teen who identifies as genderqueer and is not comfortable being referred to with a male or female pronoun. This posed a linguistic problem for the reporter, Dashka Slater, and her editors. Slater included this parenthetical in the text:
Telling Sasha’s story also poses a linguistic challenge, because English doesn’t offer a ready-made way to talk about people who identify as neither male nor female. Sasha prefers “they,” “it” or the invented gender-neutral pronoun “xe.” The New York Times does not use these terms to refer to individuals.
But the introduction of Mx. does not mean that the paper will start using gender-neutral pronouns. Back in June, soon after the Barnard story was published, Sunday Styles writer Katherine Rosman wrote about "Mx." in the paper, and pointed out that the official style guide still doesn't include Mx. as an accepted word. Rosman wrote:
Linguistic experts say it is harder to change usage habits of words uttered frequently in speech, such as “she” and “he.” But a realignment in honorifics may be more quickly achieved because courtesy titles are less often spoken than written,
She added that at the time, New York Times' standards editor Philip B. Corbett said "I don’t think we’re likely to adopt Mx. in the near future… it remains too unfamiliar to most people, and it’s not clear when or if it will emerge as a widely adopted term.”
Maybe Mx. has become familiar enough for the Times' to reconsider.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.