Last week, Goldsmiths (University of London) added the option of 'Mx' as a title or honorific when making an enquiry, applying for a course or registering as a student.
I thought it was a good move, and suggested we do the same at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. It took a couple of days for the Academic Registrar's Office to check the technicalities and put it into practice. Now it's done. An applicant or student can select Mx as their gender neutral title.
Goldsmiths weren't the first of course. Brighton & Hove City Council have introduced it as an option on their forms. Not everyone thinks it's a good idea, as pointed out by the CEO of Christian Concern in that BBC News piece. Some contributors on Mumsnet who were talking about this last May felt Mx is insulting. I can't quite see that myself in that it would usually be that case that one selects one's own title.
There was a brief concern at Central that systems external to us would make the addition of Mx tricky, but the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) don't collect information relating to the titles people choose and they told us we were free to include this gender neutral option if we wanted to.
Why use gendered honorifics at all? Why does anyone care if a student is Mrs or Miss - does anyone actually need to know the marital status of the (female) student, or need to project some kind of idea of what being a 'Ms' as opposed to a 'Miss' involves? Maybe she's divorced. Maybe she's a feminist, rejecting the options of Miss or Mrs. If these things are of any importance whatsoever, why do men just have the one option of Mr?
Why, in this context, does a student registering for an MA or BA course, need to include Mr, Miss, Mrs, Ms or Mx at all? Convention? Quirky tradition? Very important data gathering? Or to maintain structures of normality? If we want to use data to monitor student numbers in relation to efforts to increase engagement in Higher Education among particular groups, we tell HESA how our students identify their gender, for example. Nobody asks us what titles they choose.
Assuming for now that we carry on collecting titles for some valid reason, those who can use Dr or Prof can avoid being gendered-by-title. One of the only times I use my 'Dr' title is when someone annoying asks me whether I'm a Mrs or a Miss. Sometimes I say
"Pardon? I'm neither a Mrs nor a Miss and why do you need to know that anyway?"
If I feel obliged to be a little more polite to the person taking my details, who presumably didn't invent the form/ question, I say "It's Dr."
Some people just don't feel that Mrs, Miss or Mr work for them. In October 2011 the UK Deed Poll Service added Mx as an option for people who do not identify themselves as either male or female and, therefore, feel a gender specific title such as Mr or Miss is inappropriate and unsuitable for them. Or indeed for anyone, regardless of how they identify in terms of gender, to opt for a non-gendered title. They say:
"when a significant number of people request record holders show their title as Mx a tipping point will be reached causing record holders to reprogram their systems to accommodate Mx as a title" (https://secure.deedpoll.org.uk)
For anyone wondering how to say Mx, make it up as you see fit. Or try 'mux' or 'mix'.
For people who would prefer to opt for a non-gendered honorific, and one without career/ qualification connotations Mx appears to be gaining ground. Feedback from students at Central over the last few days suggests that some people at least, welcome the option for broader choice that doesn't force the gender binary onto us yet again. I'm glad have been able to contribute to a possible tipping point.