Solution Not Punishment’s Media Style Guide for Reporters Covering Trans, Gender Non-Conforming and/or Non-Binary People and our Issues
In light of recent media missteps in interviews with and writings about trans, gender non-conforming and/or non-binary people, we encourage you to follow this Guide as you cover important issues that involve these communities.
Language is important! To respect all the ways people may identify, it is a best practice to use the adjective trans, gender non-conforming and/or non-binary when referring to individuals. Like many groups, the Solutions Not Punishment Coalition uses the terms trans and gender non-conforming to be as inclusive and expansive as possible, and we do not use the term transgender. Trans is NOT a shortcut for transgender! We also do our best to honor and include the experiences of intersex people.
Non-binary is one of many terms for who are neither men nor women. Some may change names, use gender-neutral pronouns (e.g. singular they/them, ze/hir), take hormones and/or undergo surgeries, while others do not.
Obtain consent before publishing, maintain confidentiality, and do not “out” trans people. If we provide information in confidence, don’t reveal it without clear consent. Be exceptionally clear about when what we say is “on the record” vs. “off the record.” ‘Outing’ a trans, gender non-conforming and/or non-binary person is never OK. Several high-profile trans individuals have reported their own suicidal feelings, and have described the constant bullying, harassment, and hate mail they endured after being ‘outed’. See: Grantland “Dr. V” story.
Always use a trans, gender non-conforming and/or non-binary person’s chosen name and chosen pronoun. It is best practice NOT to include a person’s former name, former pronoun, and/or “pre-transition” photographs in the story unless the person instructed you otherwise. Trans people face many barriers to getting court ordered name changes, and the chosen name should be used regardless of whether there is an order.
If possible, ask which pronoun they would like you to use. A person should always be referred to by the pronoun they would like you to use, regardless of whether that person has taken hormones or had some form of surgery. If it is not possible to ask which pronoun the person prefers, you should use the person’s chosen name and/or explain in the story that the person’s chosen pronouns are not known.
When describing trans, gender non-conforming and/or non-binary people, please use the correct term or terms to describe their gender identity. For example, a woman who was assigned male at birth is a trans woman, and a man who was assigned female at birth is a trans man. Either ask, or use words like sister and girlfriend for trans women, and brother or boyfriend for trans men. For gender non-conforming and/or non-binary individuals, ask which terms the person would prefer for you to use (if any). Use the term along with an explanation of what it means to that person. If it is not possible to ask, use gender-neutral terms (e.g., sibling).
It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a trans, gender non-forming and/or non-binary person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity.
PROBLEMATIC AND DEFAMATORY TERMS
Problematic: “transgenders,” “a transgender,” “transgendered,” “transgendereds”
Preferred: “trans people” “transgender people,” “a trans person,” “a transgender person”
Trans or transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun, verb, or participle. Do not say, “Tony is a trans,” or “Many transgenders marched in the street.” Instead say, “Tony is a trans man,” or “Many trans people marched in the street.”
Problematic: “sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative”
Preferred: “gender-affirming health care,” “hormones and/or surgeries,” “medical transition”
Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms like pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery to have their gender respected. We are who we say we are- before, during, after, or without surgery(ies). It’s true that we deserve meaningful access to gender-affirming health care without discrimination. However, please avoid overemphasizing surgery in an exploitative or sensationalizing way when discussing trans people. Surgery/surgical status is often completely irrelevant to the story.
Problematic: “biologically male/female,” “genetically male/female,” “born a man/woman”
Preferred: “assigned male at birth,” “assigned female at birth,” “designated male at birth,” “designated female at birth”
Problematic phrases like those above harmfully over-simplify a very complex subject. A person’s sex is determined by a number of factors- not simply genetics- and some of these factors may change during a trans, gender non-conforming, and/or non-binary person’s lifetime. In addition, people are born babies – they are not “born a man” or “born a woman.”
Defamatory: “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing” or “masquerading”
Gender identity is an integral part of most peoples’ identity. Do not characterize trans people as “deceptive,” as “fooling” other people, or as “pretending” to be, “posing” or “masquerading” as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are defamatory and insulting.
Defamatory: “she-male,” “he-she,” “it,” “trannie,” “tranny,” “shim”
These words only serve to dehumanize trans people and generally should not be used. Words on this list should be used ONLY if a trans, gender non-conforming, or non-binary person asks you to use the term (1) to refer to their own identity or (2) to name the slurs or offensive language that another person used to harass them.
ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES TO FOLLOW
Use the names, pronouns, and pictures that we provide. If you are honestly confused, ask politely what our preferences are, and then honor our answers. Avoid using “mug shots” provided by law enforcement.
Private parts are private. Never assume it is okay to ask about a person’s genitals.
There is insufficient media coverage of the issues facing trans, gender non-conforming, and/or non-binary communities – such as criminalization, abuse while incarcerated, intimate partner violence, homelessness, isolation, and health disparities including HIV/AIDS. Our communities, organizers, and leaders are doing inspiring work to resist and transform these conditions. Instead of another story about trans celebrities or “when did you know,” consider writing about our issues, and the trans people and groups doing this important work.
This guide was assembled by the Solutions Not Punishment Coalition
Footnote: Some information in this guide has been quoted, paraphrased and adapted from GLAAD and AP Style Guide.