Carrie Gillon: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, a podcast about linguistic discrimination!
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa.
Carrie Gillon: And I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: Hello!
Carrie Gillon: Hello!
Megan Figueroa: We are here!
Carrie Gillon: We made it through February which was a rough month for both of us.
Megan Figueroa: Yes, it was very rough. I think it’s been a rough month for a lot of people if I’ve been reading Twitter correctly.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, probably. It’s been a rough year so.
Megan Figueroa: It’s been rough. But I’m grateful I got my second dose of vaccine.
Carrie Gillon: You’re almost fully vaxxed up.
Megan Figueroa: Vaxxed up in a couple days. My dad got his yesterday and still waiting on my mom’s.
Carrie Gillon: Basically, nobody here has been vaccinated outside of the really high priority groups.
Megan Figueroa: I think about these intros where we talk about Corona Virus, they’re gonna be such a relic from the past in a couple of years, but it’s gonna be so interesting. It’s like a time capsule. I mean –
Carrie Gillon: Of us thinking about it.
Megan Figueroa: – this is our lives. Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Because about a year ago, I think, we were talking about, “Hey, there’s the first case in Arizona.” There’s no way that was actually true. That was probably the hundredth case, maybe more, because we didn’t know. It was circulating in December 2019, and nobody knew.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. It’ll be interesting to see all of the ways that we talk about this in the future and what sources we use to look back in time and see where we were at. It’s kind of nice to have a podcast in that way.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, no, it’s kinda like a diary.
Megan Figueroa: It is! “Dear Listeners” – [laughter] – “Thanks for spending your pandemic with us.”
Carrie Gillon: Speaking all about this, last time we were talking about wet markets, and one of our listeners, Dr. Gerald Roche, sent us this blog post about the term – not just “wet market” – but definitely about wet markets and how wording matters. It’s called, “The Cultural Construction of the ‘Bizarre’: Disentangling Sinophobic Language in Media and Science During the COVID-19 Epidemic.” We talked a lot about Sinophobia in our bonus episode that we just recorded, so if you’re interested in that, you can find that on patreon.com/vocalfriespod.
It talks about things like the “Wuhan Virus,” the “Chinese Virus,” and how those are obviously, certainly, a problematic framing of what really is SARS-CoV-2, but no one ever talks about that. We all just say, “COVID,” which is the disease, not the virus itself, but whatever. A lot of this blog post is really about the word, “wet market.” Obviously, some of what are called, “wet markets,” in the West do have problems with handling animals and whatever. I don’t wanna downplay that. But the wording, “wet market,” is still problematic.
I always thought it was kind of gross, but then I read some stuff from some Asian Americans who were saying, “Well, actually, it’s just the inverse of ‘dry market,’ or ‘dried goods store.’” And I was like, “Okay. So, ‘wet market’ isn’t that bad after all.” But it might still be kind of bad because it really does make you feel squicky, right? The word itself – “wet market,” right.
Megan Figueroa: Like, “moist,” for some people.
Carrie Gillon: Like, “moist”! Yeah. It is still an anti-Asian framing. It’s an interesting blog post, and I’ll put it in the links. The literal translation of the word in Chinese, which I will not attempt to pronounce, just means, “street market.” So, really, “street market,” would be, probably, a better translation and would be totally fine and wouldn’t bring up all these icky associations that we would have with “wet market.”
Megan Figueroa: They use that same word for markets we would associate with dry goods? Does it say?
Carrie Gillon: It seems like street markets, I think, can have food, but they could also have goods like electronics and things like that. It could be that the Western world is putting this distinction on this category between the foods and the non-foods that they’re not distinguishing themselves. Like, when I think of “street market,” I definitely think of everything – food and scarves and whatever. I don’t know if what we’re calling “wet markets” do lack all of that other stuff and we’re just highlighting the ick factor, or they’re not like that and we’re forcing a distinction that’s not there, if you know what I mean.
Megan Figueroa: Which we probably are. Because I’m thinking, I mean, “street market,” in other places – they’re everywhere. I’m thinking about Mexico. We have them in the US, too, but I feel like we somehow think that what we do is different.
Carrie Gillon: Well, if I think of the United States, I mostly think of farmer’s markets, which are similar but not quite as all-encompassing. It’s a narrower band of things that get sold.
Megan Figueroa: So, usually, like, handcrafts if you’re selling goods in that way.
Carrie Gillon: Handcrafts – so things like that – and then food.
Megan Figueroa: I guess I bring that up because I think a lot of times what Westerners do is make a – I dunno – point out differences in a way that – I don’t wanna say – I’ve been thinking about “difference” and “deficit” – but, you know, we have similar things or things that we do that might been seen as disgusting to other people. Why are we in a unique place to call something “disgusting” or whatever?
Carrie Gillon: This blog post makes the argument that this distinction might actually have its roots in the colonization of these places by the British Empire in the 19th Century. This distinction between wet markets and not wet markets – you know, you’re associating “wet” with the blood of freshly slaughtered animals and also unsanitary storage packaging practices, which is true. I don’t think I had really gotten that far along in my thinking about what it really meant, but I do think that it does evoke those things. I think just calling them “street markets” is probably what I will do from now on.
Megan Figueroa: As you learned last time when you mentioned this word to me – because we were talking about what words got entered into the new – or what Merriam-Webster just added to the dictionary. I had never heard of “wet market.” Even in my readings about Corona Virus and such, I had never come across it. I had no associations, so I didn’t even associate it with blood or anything like that. So, it wasn’t really that gross to me – or it’s not gross to me.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, I don’t think that it’s inherently gross. Just something being wet is not necessarily gross, but I do think that because we’re associating – you hadn’t yet because, yeah, you didn’t know that these things existed – but many Westerners are associating these markets with live animals, which are sold in some of them, that are freshly slaughtered right there in front of the customer. That is a thing that happens. But still, it brings up blood and all these things that we don’t like to think about very much. I hadn’t thought about the excretions at all. Even though the unsanitary way that some of them are, I dunno, put in cages right there on top of each other, that does happen, but that also happens in the US. Chicken farming is disgusting.
Megan Figueroa: We just don’t see it in the same way.
Carrie Gillon: We don’t see it. You’re not even allowed to film it anymore. There’s a law against it in the states. It is so disturbing that they had to put a law in place so that people couldn’t see how gross we treat our animals. Also, this is a temporary thing. They’re temporarily kind of gross.
Megan Figueroa: At the street markets, you mean.
Carrie Gillon: At the street markets. So, yeah, even though I don’t think “wet market” is inherently gross on its own, we do have these associations, and I think using the term does strengthen that association, so we should just stick to “street market” because it does encompass everything that can get sold and not just focusing on the animal products, which is just one part of what gets sold.
Megan Figueroa: It’s important because it’s not that we’re trying to superimpose a word over what they call their markets. They actually call them “street markets.”
Carrie Gillon: They call them the equivalent of “street market.”
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. So, that’s the important point, too, because we wouldn’t just want to start calling other people’s stuff something else. But we already did that. We were the ones that called it, “wet market,” or translated it that way or whatever. This is going back to something that’s more in line with what they call it.
Carrie Gillon: Closer to the original. A better translation of the original. Anyway, I would like to thank Gerald for pointing that out to me because I hadn’t considered it. And it’s true. The association is squicky. I did have that in my head at first, and the only way I got rid of it was the – “Oh, no, it’s just the opposite of ‘dried goods,’” and I was like, “Oh, okay, that’s fine. I can reframe it that way.” But I think this is an even better reframing. Let’s just call them “street markets.”
Megan Figueroa: And who doesn’t love a street market?
Carrie Gillon: Oh my god.
Megan Figueroa: I would love to go to a street market!
Carrie Gillon: Anyway, yeah, today’s episode, we talk about queer and trans translation and interpretation.
Megan Figueroa: With friend of the pod, Ártemis. So exciting.
Carrie Gillon: It’s a really interesting episode. I found it very interesting.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. Hope you do, too.
Megan Figueroa: I am so happy today because we have friend of the pod, Ártemis López, who is a highly trained and certified translator and interpreter, a linguistics PhD student, and a long-time member of both English- and Spanish-speaking queer, trans, and non-binary communities in the US and in Spain. They have been translating and interpreting for these communities since 2011. Artemis now specializes in medical and queer translation and interpretation. Thank you so much for being here, Ártemis!
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, thank you!
Ártemis López: Thank you so much for having me!
Megan Figueroa: I’m so excited. We were just talking, before we started, about our lives in isolation. So, you’re in Spain right now, right?
Ártemis López: Correct. I’m in Spain. I moved here about a year ago – a touch over a year ago. Times are very weird lately. I moved here in, like, November 2019 to do this PhD. Up until then, the 16 years before that, I was in D.C., which is occupied Piscataway land. I moved to Spain because I wanted to look at non-binary Spanish, which is what I’m doing my dissertation on.
I thought I really should go to a country that speaks Spanish in order to be researching this. There’s a lot of Spanish in the US, but I feel like it’s from a lot of different places, and there’s a lot of immigration and movement, so it made sense to go to one place that has sort of static Spanish happening. I actually happened to come over Universidade de Vigo, which is in Galicia, and they speak Galician here, which is also interesting, but I came here specifically for my advisor.
Megan Figueroa: What is the difference between translating and interpreting? Let’s just start there.
Ártemis López: All right. The short version is that translation is written and interpreting is spoken or signed. I can’t categorically say that there is no ASL translation. I know some people speak about translation as transcribing signed videos into English, for example. I don’t know, really, what the translation dynamic is there. But I do know that, in Spanish-English, if you get a text, and then you deliver a text, that is translation. If you are at a medical appointment, which is what I did a lot in D.C. – someday speaks, and you repeat it, and then somebody else speaks – that’s interpreting.
I guess the hazy part comes in when you have a document – you’re given a document – and then you translate it out loud. That can either be sight translation or it can be text interpretation. Interpreters do that work. There’s never one complete, straight answer. But the short answer is translation is written and interpreting is spoken or something. They’re different skills. Translation – I mean, you have the time to get a dictionary or a friend or really research down the line to see how this specific term was used over the years. And in interpretation, you can’t.
Carrie Gillon: In D.C., you must’ve encountered lots of different varieties of Spanish, right, versus, I mean, being in Spain, you probably still encounter some, but – actually, are you medically interpreting at all in Spain? Probably not, right.
Ártemis López: I’m not medically interpreting in Spain. First off, this year has been weird. Secondly, I’m not interpreting as much right now because interpreting is live, whereas translation, I can do it at night, or I can do it at any point. Interpreting would require me to – I dunno – skip seminars or put off work that I need to do for the PhD. The PhD comes first, then I’m also translating on the side rather than interpreting and then arranging my life around my interpreting schedule.
Carrie Gillon: You must’ve encountered a lot of different varieties of Spanish when you were in D.C. What was that like?
Ártemis López: I feel like the majority of Spanish spoken in D.C. is Salvadoran, just because of migration patterns, I guess. You actually know this, Megan. I went over to Tucson a couple years ago over the summer to do a training for court interpreters, and that was a very different Spanish that they were – not really teaching. They weren’t teaching us Spanish. But the Spanish that they were using was very different, and the words that they were telling us that we should be using for the English terms was very different because, I mean, in Tucson, most of the Spanish spoken is Mexican.
But, yeah, in D.C., it’s primarily Salvadoran, and that’s what I think of when I think of the Spanish that I speak in the United States. I think of this Spain and Salvadoran mix, and that’s not what people would know at all.
Megan Figueroa: Are you Spanish?
Ártemis López: I am Spanish, yep. I moved to the US when I was 13.
Megan Figueroa: Okay, okay. Just going off of Carrie’s question, since she brought up different varieties of Spanish, is it ever actually a problem? I’m just thinking it’s more lexical.
Ártemis López: I guess the issues that I could encounter is the fact that I use the “vosotros” form. That’s what I grew up with. That’s what makes sense to me. But I would try to use “ustedes” for two reasons, 1.) so that – I mean, people can absolutely understand it but so they wouldn’t focus as much on what I was saying. And also, out of respect. It feels like “vosotros” is a bit like “tú.” If you’re my patient, I should always call you “usted.”
Megan Figueroa: Just in case people don’t know, what’s the different between “tú” and “usted”?
Ártemis López: For me, right, in Spain, for example, we have a difference between “tú” and “usted,” which are second, third – wait. They’re second-person pronouns – second-person singular pronouns. And then “vosotros” and “ustedes,” which are second-person plural pronouns. This is very hard to say in English. Wow! I usually say this in Spanish. “Tú” and “vosotros,” “vosotras,” “vosotres,” would be more informal. And then, to me, the Spanish that I speak, “usted” and “ustedes” would be formal. But then there’s other Spanish-speaking countries that only have “usted” and “ustedes.” Some that have “tú” but only have “ustedes.” There’s Argentina, Uruguay – there’s actually a lot of places. I’ve been in Chile, in some places of Chile, they have “vos” for the singular. I think these are all understandable by everyone, it’s just not something that you can necessarily produce accurately yourself if you don’t use it because it’s an entirely different conjugation.
I would use “ustedes” instead of “vosotres” even though they would completely understand me, but I guess it made them more at ease and didn’t make them ask me about it, which would happen. That would be more than the lexical problems, which maybe it came up twice, and I said – then you interrupt it. The proper thing to say is to speak about yourself in the third person because you’re not saying what the doctor said, you’re saying – so the interpreter needs clarification. “What do you mean [this thing]?” But that was very rare.
The issue that happened the most would be people – my patients, because they were the ones who spoke Spanish – who would make small talk or interrupt me to say that I spoke Spanish really well. Not because they thought I wouldn’t but because there’s this weird reverence toward Spain Spanish. So, it was like, “You speak the correct Spanish, and I speak wrong.” I had this talk with a lot of patients, like, “You absolutely do not speak wrong.” Like, “Well, no, I should learn how to” – no! You’re great.
Megan Figueroa: Aww, that makes me so sad.
Ártemis López: Right?
Megan Figueroa: Oh. Because I’m not surprised that they feel that way. I’m surprised that it came up during some sort of medical visit. Well, I’ve asked my Dad, like, “How do you say this in Spanish?” He’s like, “Well, I’m probably wrong, but here it is.” I’m like, “You speak – ever since you came out of the womb you’ve been hearing Spanish. And in the third trimester. How could you be wrong!” What are people picking up on that they know that your Spanish is Spain Spanish?
Ártemis López: Definitely the accent because I have the /θ/ sound. If “vosotres” came out, they would also know it there. A word that I’m sure came up would be “beans,” which we say, “beans,” in English and we know very quickly, but there’s hundreds of words for “beans.” Even in Spain we have “habas,” “habichuelas,” “judías” – I dunno. There’s a lot of them. You have “frijoles” in Mexico. There’s a lot of them. That, I know, came up because I also did nutritionist appointments, so there they would definitely be able to pinpoint.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, how funny!
Carrie Gillon: That’s fascinating.
Megan Figueroa: I was like, “’Beans’ are just ‘frijoles.’ What are you talking about?” I could talk about beans all day. We should probably –
Carrie Gillon: Move on from the bean discourse.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, before I get into this too much. What does it mean to be “certified” as an interpreter or translator?
Ártemis López: Well, there are different processes. For translation, I believe there is only one certifying body in the US, and that is the American Translators Association. For that, you take an exam. It’s a written exam. It used to be all handwritten, but now there’s also a computer option. They give you a couple of different texts, and you need to translate them, and then somebody would grade them. Usually, it’s two people who grade it, and then if they agree, then that’s fine, and if they don’t agree, they bring in a third grader. There’s a score, and it’s pass/fail.
For the interpreting part, there’s two National US certifying bodies. They are CCHI, which is mine, which is the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters. And there’s CMI, which is something similar for medical interpreters rather than healthcare. Both of those exams are very, very similar. There’s a first part, which everybody of all languages can take. Even if you speak one that there’s no full exam for, you can go and take this part. It’s a multiple-choice question like, “What does a triage nurse do?” Just to make sure that you know medical stuff. For Spanish, obviously, there’s a more advanced exam. If you pass that, you go and take a second exam. That’s pre-recorded, and you have to interpret into the computer a couple of different scenes.
Megan Figueroa: We’ve talked about it before on the show. We have a crisis in the US, of course, always, but when it comes to medical and court interpretation because of all the migrants that are here now and have always been. But if they get access to interpretation, it might be with someone who’s not certified. Do you think that that’s a problem?
Ártemis López: Absolutely. I mean, one part is pretty much every immigrant child in the US has interpreted as a child. We have all done it because nobody else would. I’ve even interpreted, not as a child but as a teen, for Italian. I don’t speak Italian, but nobody else would help these people unless I do. That is a real thing that it happens. It should not happen. We should have the tools or people to understand each other without that happening. That’s the first part.
The second part is, for a lot of minoritized languages, there are no trained interpreters. Or there’s groups of interpreters that are starting to train other people even if they don’t speak the same language but give them the tools in order to interpret, which is also very important work – community interpreting, social language justice movements are also really important.
But for a language like Spanish, like Mandarin, like Arabic, which there are a lot of people that speak this language, we should definitely be going to certified interpreters and translators because a very small error can have consequences, and those huge consequences could be your insurance claim is denied because your name is misspelled. I mean, that’s also a clerical error, but if you express this name wrong, that can be an error there. I had this one patient who did not know that they had diabetes because their interpreters in the past had just said, “You eat a lot of sugar.”
Carrie Gillon: Oh, wow.
Ártemis López: That’s not what it is. But they just – I’m also really frustrated by this one because it’s “diabetes.”
Carrie Gillon: It’s so easy!
Ártemis López: Right. But their interpreters didn’t know, and they just said, “You eat too much sugar,” or “You have too much sugar,” and they just did not know they had diabetes, and this is treatable, and they need to be taking these steps. A child wouldn’t know that. A child has no reason to know what diabetes is, but an interpreter should.
Carrie Gillon: Absolutely.
Ártemis López: I don’t think that anyone chooses to do wrong in this situation at all because it’s the same thing that I said, I helped in Italian because literally nobody else would and there was no other solution. But I very probably messed up because I don’t know Italian.
Carrie Gillon: Absolutely. You must’ve.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely.
Ártemis López: Also, at this point, when you are a child, a teenager, and not a trained interpreter, you don’t really know some of these dynamics that need to happen. So, what I was saying about speaking about yourself in the third person. If the doctor asks something and then I immediately say, “Oh, what does this mean?” then they don’t know that it’s me, the interpreter, saying it, for example. I’m saying, “the doctor,” because this is what I kept doing, right. But if the doctor misgenders your patient, you need to misgender your patient, and that is very violent, and you can speak about it with the patient afterward, you can maybe, depending on the situation, interrupt and go like, “Hey, as the interpreter, this patient is male, female, non-binary, whatever.”
But you need to do it because, if you don’t do it, if you don’t let the patient know that their doctor is racist, is a misogynist, is whatever, then you’re putting that patient at risk. But we, as people, don’t want to do that, right. I don’t want to misgender anyone. On my own accord, I would not. It makes sense that if you’re not a trainer interpreter, you would opt not to do – you’re not doing harm – but not to pass on this harm that is happening.
Megan Figueroa: That’s a perfect transition to, can you tell us what it means to be a queer translator/interpreter? What is “queer translation and interpretation”?
Ártemis López: Queer translation and interpretation is a specialized sub-field of translation and interpretation in the same way that medical is or legal is. A lot of us have different specializations. Some of them go deeper and some of them don’t. I would absolutely not be able to tell you to translate something about tempering chocolate, right. I have no idea about how to temper chocolate. And that is okay. I feel like it’s not a bad thing to not be able to do trans and queer interpretation, but I feel like there’s some shame from people about that.
It’s definitely, definitely specialized because – so an example of an error that I see a lot is singular they, which a lot of people have discussed in the podcast before. I will tell you all just to listen to Kirby’s episode and come back here. So, singular they will frequently get mis-translated into Spanish as, like, plural, and then also in a binary way – frequently in the masculine.
For example, Asia Kate Dillon has a character in this show Billions, and they introduce themselves as – I don’t even remember the character name – but “My pronouns are they/them/theirs.” In the Spain version, this is dubbed as, “Mis palabras son ellos, de ellos, y a ellos,” something like that. So, “My words are ‘plural(men), of plural(men), and toward plural(men).’” There’s a huge misunderstanding here of what these pronouns are doing. They’re not words, and they’re also not plural. There’s a lot of errors here which, again, I don’t think were done with any malice. I don’t think anyone wanted to erase anything. They just did not understand that singular they is a pronoun. There’s also One Day at a Time. I’ve spoken about this show a couple of times.
Megan Figueroa: I was gonna ask you. “To Zir, With Love.”
Ártemis López: “To Zir, With Love.” Also, I should say, more fun things about translation and interpretation, this is also some more fun colonialist stuff. There’s frequently different versions of media translations. Usually, a show will get translated for dubbing and for subbing. Then it gets dubbing and subbing for Spain and then dubbing and subbing for the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, which means that usually we get four translations, which is good for me if I want to analyze translations, but it’s some weird dynamics there.
But “To Zir, With Love.” There’s two non-binary people in this specific episode. There’s a couple of different jokes, which are great jokes. This is a great show and a great episode for non-binary people to watch. It’s not jokes at the expense of non-binary people. These are jokes that hinge on your pronouns, or at least different pronouns. So, “he, she, they, and xe.”
This was translated into Spanish. The Spain dub is amazing. The Spain sub follows the dub for some reason. I guess that they just decided to follow it in this one episode. They opt to use two different neo-pronouns – sorry – two different neo-morphemes. “Neo-morphemes” is what I am calling this “-e” ending or /ɛ/, English E. Spanish /ɛ/ or the X or any other morpheme – thing that you could put in the place where a gender morpheme would go in Spanish. The translation uses two different neo-morphemes. They use E, like English E, Spanish /ɛ/, and Spanish E, so English I – the /i/.
Carrie Gillon: I am so sorry that English is so messed up.
Megan Figueroa: That was beautiful. English vowels.
Carrie Gillon: Goddamn, that great vowel shift. [Laughter]
Ártemis López: But, so, in Spanish it’s expressed in the same way, and then they preserve the joke. They have “él,” “ella,” “elle” – E, A, E – and that’s great. The Latin American versions – I don’t remember which is which – but both the dubbing and the subbing do it wrong. They call the person who uses “they,” they call them “plural(female)” because they’re reading this person as female because the actress is actually female. So, it’s “ellas” – they say, “las dos y ellas,” which is like, “the two of them,” which is even weirder.
Carrie Gillon: Wha-at? Interesting.
Megan Figueroa: Referring to this one character?
Ártemis López: Referring to this one character. This is the dubbing – because I memorized this part – it’s like, “Me llamo Syd. Las dos y ellas son mis pronombres.” Those are also not – I mean, I guess they’re pronouns, really, but those are not gender pronouns. And what do you mean “las dos”? Then for the other person, they just shove the neo-pronouns you see here into Spanish. It’s like – so “se va.” It’s like, “se” isn’t a pronoun. That’s not how pronouns work in Spanish. You can just say “va.” It makes no sense.
Again, I don’t assume malice, but they just did not understand what these pronouns were doing. You needed a translator who was specialized in queer terminology. It doesn’t need to be a queer translator, but it needs to be a translator who specialized in queer translation.
Megan Figueroa: Okay, that’s where you might come in then and be able to help with the translation of this. So, someone who specializes in queer translation and interpretation could help out in this scenario.
Ártemis López: Absolutely. I personally have not done – I’ll give a show translation for media – but I have several colleagues who have. I’m not really up to date on all the series that are being translated into Latin American Spanish because I’m in Spain now, and I am region locked into Span. But in Spain, things are going pretty well. I feel like people are becoming more and more aware. There’s been several different translations coming out in the past couple of years that incorporate this “elle” in it. I’m saying, “elle,” because it’s easier than saying, “E, I, A.” So, “elle” with –
So, for example, the new Star Trek has a non-binary character who is translated in the dub and in the sub as using “elle.” There’s this series on HBO that’s called We Are Here, which includes some – it has some drag queens – but also some non-binary drag queens. Both subtitles and the overlapped voices use “elle,” which is also really great. There’s more awareness happening, at least in Spain.
Megan Figueroa: Thinking about the point you brought up earlier, in medical translation, you don’t want to misgender someone, right. So, this is not something where you’d have to be a queer translator or interpreter. This is something that you would want all translators and interpreters to know about, right?
Ártemis López: Absolutely. Because that’s what the original message says. I hear a lot of, “Well, that’s not proper Spanish.” We’re used to this stuff, right. “That’s not correct. That’s not in the dictionary. I can’t use it.” I mean, first of all, there’s a lot of things that aren’t in the dictionary that you are using. Secondly, that is what the original is saying. When the original uses singular they for a person, specifically in the context of like, these people who we know are non-binary, you cannot misgender them in the translation. That’s not what it’s saying. I think it’s very harmful and it’s very hurtful when you see a work that there’s been all this effort into it, there’s an entire team that’s made sure to include a non-binary character, and then it’s just completely erased in the translation.
Megan Figueroa: Are you someone who does types of workshops that might help other interpreters when it comes to these kind of queer issues and how to not misgender?
Ártemis López: Yeah. I do both. I do consultation, sensitivity reading. I mean, I would be open to individual translation, even though I’ve never done it. But I don’t need to. I can just help you with your individual translation. But I can review all of this work to make sure that it is correct. I’ve done this for a couple of literary works as well. Then I do also do classes – or “workshops,” I guess, not “classes.” It’s always been one-offs. But I’ve done workshops several times about this as well. I mean, I want to help. I want people to use this language – or not “this language” – to speak about us correctly and in a culturally accurate way. You don’t need to make it up. Non-binary people are already speaking, you just need to know how we’re doing it.
Carrie Gillon: Absolutely.
Megan Figueroa: You mentioned sensitivity reader. Can you just tell us what that is real quick before we move on?
Ártemis López: Sensitivity reading is essentially – it’s like editing. It’s like proofreading. Except you’re not really looking for commas, you’re looking for issues with how you treat a subject. I specifically do trans and queer sensitivity reading. There’s disability sensitivity readers. And one of the examples that I’ll give you from one of the works that I’ve done is there was a translation of a trans character who binds their chest. The translator was an amazing translator, and the editor was also great. Everybody was great. But they completely missed what “bound” meant. They translated this as like, “They felt that their chest was tied down” or “chained down.” I don’t remember what they said.
Then as I read this, I was reading the translation first, and then I was going to go back to the English. And just reading the translation, like, “Their chest is chained down” just makes absolutely no sense. Let me look back to – oh, of course. Okay. So, their chest is “bound.” Here’s what “bound” means. This is what a binder does. This is my proposed translation to fix this. You can take it or leave it. I’m not the translator but here’s what this piece of cultural information means that they have entirely missed because they’re just not a part of it.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. That’s so, so important. You do that, like, people could reach out to you if they’re writing something – a novel or whatever – or an essay or something and have you do this kind of sensitivity reading if they have a trans or queer character?
Ártemis López: Yes, absolutely.
Carrie Gillon: I actually have never heard these terms before, and I think it’s really interesting. What is the difference between “indirect non-binary language” and “direct non-binary language”?
Ártemis López: I needed terms like these to do my research, and they just didn’t exist, so I made them up. When I say “non-binary language,” I don’t necessarily mean only non-binary people. I mean ways that are not only male or only female in language. This could mean how you speak about a group of people, like a mixed group of people of different genders, or it could mean how you speak about a non-binary person, how you speak about an unspecified reader – all of these different ways that are just skipping generally the generic masculine that people use a lot.
Megan Figueroa: Is it how, like, I dropped “you guys” and picked up “ya’ll”?
Ártemis López: I would definitely include that in my research of non-binary language, yes. Again, you can use “ya’ll” for a group of men and women or even for a group of men and I would still count this as non-binary language because it is outside of the binary male/female. I further divided this into two different things – into direct and indirect.
Indirect – it’s finding a way within traditional Spanish, within what the dictionary says, to not gender somebody. I’m speaking about Spanish, but this also exists in English. It exists in all languages, right. It’s finding a way that follows the traditional rules to not gender somebody. Instead of saying, “he” or “she” or even saying, “they,” saying, “the patient.” This would also avoid singular they even though singular they is perfectly grammatical but not gendering them at all. Versus direct non-binary language which would include neo-pronouns and, in Spanish, all the “e” or “x” terminations. It is not traditional. It is grammatical because we’ll say it is grammatical. But it is a way of speaking and writing and signing that some people don’t like as much.
Indirect is sort of safer. And direct makes this explicit. Indirect can be used to exert violence as well. I think this is – I say that it’s “indirect non-binary language, and of course it’s non-binary, so it’s inclusive.” It’s not. As I said, “non-binary” just means outside of the dichotomy. The example that I speak about a lot is Danica Roem, who is an elected represented in Virginia – or was? I actually just realized that I didn’t check the last election, but I believe she still is. She’s a trans woman, and when she was elected, up until she was elected, whenever they had their meetings of representatives in Virginia, they would say, “The gentleman from So-and-So, and the gentlewoman from So-and-So.” When she was elected, the GOP had a real quick meeting to say that instead of “gentleman” and “gentlewoman,” they were going to say, “the delegate from.” Why did they do this? Because they didn’t want to gender a transwoman correctly.
Megan Figueroa: Right. I mean, in case listeners don’t know, I mean, obviously, they should have said, “gentlewoman.”
Ártemis López: Correct.
Megan Figueroa: So, this is why it’s violent.
Carrie Gillon: Or the should’ve changed it to “delegate” a long time ago because I think actually that’s a little bit better – I think it’s actually better for everybody. However, the reason that they did it was bad.
Ártemis López: Right. So, I mean, Danica Roem is a frigging class act, and she said that this is good, and it means that non-binary people in the future will be included. She is amazing. But she is a woman, and the reason why they changed this right then was a transphobic reason. So, indirect can absolutely be used to exert violence in the same way that direct could be if they had opted to speak about Danica Roem with singular they, that would also be violent because that is not her pronoun. That is not her grammatical gender.
Megan Figueroa: You’ve mentioned it throughout our chat already, but can you tell us what non-binary Spanish is sounding and looking like these days?
Ártemis López: Let me start with the looking like. As we might know – I’m not going to assume that everybody knows – generally, in Spanish, an A – the gender morpheme A – would mean that somebody’s female or that a subject is female. Actually, a subject because in Spanish everything has a gender. My table has a gender, and it is female because “es una mesa.” I didn’t choose this gender. It just linguistically is a table, and it is female. So, A would mean “female.” And then O or a null morpheme and sometimes an E, depending, means “masculine.” “Señor” doesn’t really end in a morpheme, but we know that it’s contraposed with “Señora,” so of course, it’s masculine.
As I said, sometimes an /ɛ/ and /i/ – I’m just gonna say these in Spanish – sometimes an /ɛ/, right. So, “señores” is masculine as well. This happens sometimes. But also, sometimes an /ɛ/ will be neutral in traditional Spanish. For example, “estudiante,” like, “a student” – “estudiante.” It’s neutral because it has always been so. This “estudiante” itself, it does not have a gender morpheme, but it would still have a grammatical gender in that if you add an article, if you add an adjective, it would have to match with it. If this is a male student, it would be “un estudiante.” If it’s female, it would be “una.”
This /ɛ/ that is sometimes neutral is also used as one of the neo-morphemes. The neo-morpheme that is most in use, definitely, in Spain, and I feel like in most Spanish-speaking countries – this is one of the primary ones. The other primary one would be X, which we know from “Latinx.” I see that a lot in the US. I see it mostly in writing. A lot of people, including myself, will actually pronounce it /ɛ/. So, whenever I encounter any non-vowel in the place of a gender morpheme, I actually pronounce it /ɛ/. “Latinx” is my exception because “Latinx” is a word in its own right. If it says, “unx estudiante,” I would say, “une estudiante.”
But the other two vowels, like I and U, are also used by the – but this is a minority. There’s other characters that are being used. But generally, the E and the X are being used instead of the traditional gender morphemes.
Megan Figueroa: I’ll write X a lot. I’ll say, “Latinx,” and I mean, I don’t often speak Spanish, but I would, too, then use /ɛ/ if I saw – I think that’s a thing, too, where I’m like, “Okay, I always write the X,” but I’ve started adding the E because listening to folks. And also, I’m like, oh, yeah, I mean, if I were to speak Spanish, I would actually use that /ɛ/ instead. It’s really interesting that that’s appearing that way. I think that there’re a lot of people that do that probably. I don’t think it’s an isolated incident.
Ártemis López: The pronouncing it as /ɛ/? Yeah, I’ve seen it a lot of different places.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. When you have the X. Having the X in writing perhaps and then saying /ɛ/.
Ártemis López: I usually recommend that if you want to use the X – I mean, obviously, use whatever you want. I’m not going to tell anyone what to use. I personally always use /ɛ/ because the X is not accessible for screen readers. Screen readers aren’t magic, right. Screen readers don’t know what a word actually means. They don’t know how to pronounce a word. They just know these letters sound this way.
So, when they found an E an I and U – one of the three vowels – they know how to pronounce it. But when they find an X, they studder. They don’t – like, “amige,” would be like, “ami-/ks/” or something. The screen readers don’t know. They’re just programs. So, I use the /ɛ/ all the time. It’s not an accessibility issue when you use the X, say, in a poster that you print out – or it’s a different kind of accessibility issue, right. Blind people still don’t have access to this – most of what we’re bringing up. But generally, if it’s text that a computer will read, I always use /ɛ/ with the very exception of “Latinx.”
Megan Figueroa: That is really, really good to know. I really appreciate it. I know you’ve told me before, and I’m just remembering why I added the E. I’m wondering, would screen readers have a problem with someone putting X and then slash-E. It would, right?
Carrie Gillon: It would.
Ártemis López: It probably would. There is a free screen reader program – hold on. Let me check what it’s called because I have it. It’s N-V-D-A. It’s free. You can and should donate actually because this is obviously the cite for blind people. But you can download it and use it to see how accessible something is, which can definitely include your tweets or your website. I’ve actually been working on the accessibility on my website the past couple of months. It’s also been really useful.
Megan Figueroa: By the way, fantastic. I noted that last – I was like, “This is a fantastically accessible website.” I’m going to do that to my website, too. Thank you.
Ártemis López: I have a media post in drafts about what I’ve been doing because I’ve been learning a lot. This information is definitely out there, but it’s not bad to compile it. Things like contrast as well. I changed the colors of my website a lot because before it sort of worked but the contrast, according to the tools that check, the contrast was terrible. So, I changed that. There’s a lot of different things that I’ve been learning about.
Carrie Gillon: What can all of us say to people who say that queer or non-binary language or whatever is changing too quickly, and so what’s even the point of trying to keep up?
Ártemis López: I don’t think it’s changing too quickly at all. The earliest usage that I’ve been able to find of /ɛ/ is from 1976. I mean, it was definitely not mainstream then. It was also not mainstream when I was a kid. But when I was a kid, I was using it. I didn’t find the 76 until very recently. The /ɛ/ makes instinctive sense. I coined it. A lot of different people have coined it in many different places over the years. The difference here is that, now, it is mainstream. And now it’s showing up our Netflix queue. And now newspapers are talking about it.
But it’s not changing quickly at all. I feel it’s also pretty stable, particularly in Spanish, just because it’s really just switching out a morpheme for another one. You’re fine. It’s very quick and easy. What is changing sort of quickly – not necessarily all that quickly but, okay, it is changing – are the specific terms. A couple of weeks ago I was actually talking about how, when I was a kid, I said that I was “androgenous,” and I said that I was “genderqueer” because these were the two words that existed, that were accessible. And now, I say, “I’m non-binary,” and I don’t really say – I’m definitely not “androgenous,” by my description, I mean. I don’t use “genderqueer.” I don’t mind the word, but that’s not what I use.
But those were the words that existed, and now they have changed. It is true that some words are changing. This isn’t new, but it is true, that we do not use “transexual” at all. We use “trans.” We use “transgender.” There is some lexical change.
Megan Figueroa: I just wonder if people who are privileged and not have had to think about these things just think it’s moving fast because it’s moving fast for them. Like, suddenly, it’s introduced to them, they’re like, “Ugh, now I have to keep up?” That’s one of the biggest things I see. And you’re just being an asshole. It’s as simple as that.
Ártemis López: There’s an outrageous amount of articles, both academic articles and newspaper articles, blog posts, an outrageous amount of them that say that the /ɛ/ was coined in 2015 by some woman in the US. And now there’s a new group of them that are saying it was coined in 2018 in Argentina in the abortion protests. That’s not true. Again, I was using it in high school. Not everybody who needed it knew that it existed or coined it themselves. But a lot of people who needed it for ourselves have been using it for literal decades. And they just didn’t know.
I think that it’s that people are now learning these words, and they’re hearing them for the first time – words and grammatical structures and whatever else – and it’s fast to them, but it’s been around.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, ultimately, the message is, “Don’t be an asshole and use people’s pronouns.” Or “Don’t be an asshole,” period. “Use people’s pronouns,” period.
Ártemis López: Ambiguity. [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: I know, right? I wanted to make sure that was not ambiguous. Although everyone who listens to this knows how I feel about it, but it’s really important.
Ártemis López: I do have a tip for people who want to use more direct non-binary language or indirect also in Spanish, in English, in whichever language, which is call your pet – decide that your pet is non-binary now and just speak to your pet. Speak about your pet. Your pet doesn’t care. Your pet doesn’t actually have a gender. I’m really sorry to have to break this to you. Pets do not care about human genders. And your pet is not going to be offended if you misgender them at all. If you don’t have a pet, call your plant something. Decide that you’re going to speak about something in your life and just do it. Because it really is about practice.
Megan Figueroa: I love that so much. I love that. What can privileged people do when – is there helpful things that we can do when we see people saying, like, “‘They’ is – I can’t do that because it’s ungrammatical,” or “‘Latinx’ is ruining the Spanish language”?
Ártemis López: I don’t know. This is a hard question because, honestly, nowadays, my strategy on Twitter is to block everyone.
Carrie Gillon: Me too. I mean, that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time.
Ártemis López: I come on here to talk to my friends, and I don’t come on here to fight with strangers. The people who straight up are mocking it or saying that it’s terrible or saying ridiculous things like there’s – I don’t know if there’s that much of a point with engaging with them, which sucks, and we should be able to talk about these things. But particularly on a forum such as Twitter, they’re not going to listen. They’re going to just retweet you and make fun of you. That’s not going to really be productive. If it’s somebody in your environment. Like, if it’s – I was going to say, “somebody in your neighborhood,” but we are all pretty COVID right now.
Megan Figueroa: What if it’s your racist tio? Your racist uncle?
Ártemis López: If it’s your racist tio, then yeah, um, I mean, then you can talk about – one of the things is, it really doesn’t matter what binary people feel about non-binary language because there’s non-binary people who exist and, I mean, this is who we are, and we need to express ourselves in some way. This comes up a lot in Spanish because grammatical gender everywhere. It doesn’t come up as much in English because you can avoid it easier.
But, yeah, so point one is it doesn’t matter as much. You just need to speak about us as we ask you to, and that’s that. But, yeah, speaking about the fact that there’s people who exist who are non-binary, and it’s okay to speak about them in some way and respect them. I think one of the things that I’ve been saying lately is that it’s okay if you don’t want to use “elle” or “ellx” or whatever all that time. You don’t need to. I am not asking you to suddenly speak – like, use “todes” and only speak about people in a neutral way. I am not. I’m asking you to speak about non-binary people with non-binary language.
In the same way that in Spanish – particularly in feminist circles – there’s a tendency to use a generic feminine rather than a generic masculine. Even if there’s – right, in Spanish, if there’s a hundred women and one man, then you need to speak in the masculine because you traditionally speak in a generic masculine. So, shifting that and saying, “Okay, this is a feminist space. And there’s three women and one man. And we’re going to speak in the feminine.” Or even there’s one woman and three men. Or even there’s all men but this is a feminist space. So, we’re going to speak in the feminine. There’s this generic feminine. You don’t need to use this generic feminine to speak about women in the feminine because they are women and that’s their gender. In the same way, you don’t need to use non-binary language all the time. You just need to use it when you speak about us.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Punto.
Ártemis López: I think that there’s definitely, I don’t know, a defense mechanism, too. There’s this change. We’ve already said that there’s this change that I didn’t know. So, to me, it’s a completely new thing. Everybody’s using it. I don’t know how to use it. Everyone’s calling me a transphobe, and I don’t like it. I mean, that sucks. I understand that frustration. There’s definitely a frustration there of like, “I don’t understand this.”
It would be great if everybody could learn how to use this immediately, and they were okay with it immediately, in the same way that it would be great if nobody was racist ever again. You need to take a step and then take more. Depending on the person and depending on the context, you might be able to give them more steps to follow. But it could be just to say, “When you speak about this one person, you do this,” or whatever. Take this one step. And then maybe you can more. But right now, let’s address this direct harm that you’re exerting on a person.
Megan Figueroa: There’s a difference between being okay with it and a difference between having to practice and sometimes messing up – we’re all human and we’re gonna make mistakes.
Ártemis López: You can also look at it as a challenge. It is a little bit like learning a new accent or like learning – I say it’s a lot like if I had to start using the “voseo” right now. I don’t know how to use the “voseo.” I can make it up, but I don’t know how to use it properly. There is some learning and rewiring that needs to happen. Take it as a challenge, like, “Hey, I’m going to learn a new accent. I’m going to learn a new thing. I’m going to learn how to use this even though I don’t know anyone, even though I’m not going to use it ever outside the house. I’m gonna call my pet this and see how it goes.”
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely.
Ártemis López: I wanted to plug one person and that is Kris Knisley – Dr. Kris Knisley – who is my tag team person right now on Twitter because they research non-binary French. They also look into trans and queer pedagogies and how to actually include queer and trans people beyond this one day when you discuss gender in class – so how to include it always.
Megan Figueroa: Well, Carrie, what do we do?
Carrie Gillon: We always tell our listeners – don’t be an asshole!
Megan Figueroa: Don’t be an asshole!
Ártemis López: Don’t be an asshole!
Megan Figueroa: Yay! Thank you so much.
Carrie Gillon: Thank you.
Ártemis López: Thank you.
Carrie Gillon: This month we would like to thank our newest patrons on patreon.com – Ruby Lewis.
Megan Figueroa: Yay!
Carrie Gillon: Jesse Albatrosov. I hope I said that right. I probably fucked up the stress. Al-ba-tro-sov. Oh, anyway. Thank you, Jesse. And Cynthia Gaytan.
Megan Figueroa: Yay! Thank you so much.
Carrie Gillon: Thank you.
Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon, for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @VocalFriesPod. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And our website is vocalfriespod.com.