NLGJA Stylebook: “Transgender”

NLGJA’s Stylebook Supplement on LGBT Terminology is intended to complement the prose stylebooks of individual publications, as well as the Associated Press stylebook, the leading stylebook in U.S. newsrooms.

It reflects the association’s mission of inclusive coverage of LGBT people and includes entries on words and phrases that have become common. The Stylebook Supplement was translated into Spanish in 2005.

Periodically, we’ll be spotlighting some of the major entries.

Here’s our “transgender” entry:

transgender: An umbrella term that refers to people whose biological and gender identity or expression may not be the same. This can but does not necessarily include preoperative, postoperative or nonoperative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex individuals. When writing about a transgender person, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with the way the individual lives publicly. When possible, ask which term the subject prefers.

We look forward to your comments!

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5 Responses

  1. I believe anyone who invests much of their credibility in “transgender” will regret that decision in the coming years. The writer should start by asking him or herself how meaningful a term can actually be when it includes so many obviously different types of people. These are the sorts of terms that eventually become shorthand for stigmatizing and shoving people into the “weirdo” bin, regardless of the intent at the outset.

    Also, where do you get your definition? Who decided who gets shoved into the “transgender” category? Who wrote this and propogated this idea in the first place? Are you aware that a recent effort by “transgender” supporters has begun to label all gays and lesbians as de facto transgender because they transgress “gender boundaries”? Consider the source before you deploy this term, please.

    Some of the people who are listed in that description feel targeted by this effort to control the language, and in fact view it as a slur. It is a dehumanizing label that reduces a human being to nothing more than their (“deviant”) sex practices.

    Please think twice before uncritically accepting and propagating this extremely divisive and controversial word. Political correctness is no excuse for becoming part of the problem.

  2. I realize that this is politically sensitive, but for an organization of journalists who live by words this definition seems either intentionally vague or surprisingly poorly worded.

    … whose biological (what? identity? chromosomes? do you mean biology rather than biological? what about their biology?) and gender identity or (gender? sexual? other?) expression may not be the same (same as what? each other? some perceived standard? what standard?).

    This can but does not necessarily include (anyone? what makes one be or not be included?)

  3. Many people who identify as “Transsexual” don’t like being included in the catch-all term “Transgendered”.

    Many people who are Intersexed don’t like being included in the term “Transgendered” either.

    I suggest that you ask them which term they’d prefer.

    If in doubt, refer to Intersexed people as Intersexed, those undergoing a recognised medical treatment regime for transsexuality as “Transsexual”, and those who have completed such treatment – “transition” – including surgery – as just plain men or women, of their target gender. “With a transsexual medical history” is an appropriate phrase. As is “with an Intersexed medical history” for those Intersexed people who have “transitioned” by hormones and surgery to become more conventional in anatomy.

    The problem is that there’s a tension between using a common term to facilitate communication, and people being press-ganged by outsiders into a label that doesn’t fit. It’s a similar problem to that of African-Americans, Native Americans, and even Hispanics and Asians as being classed as “coloured” by White people. The language is evolving, so to avoid offence, please ask.

    Thanks for making good-faith efforts in this area.

    Rule 1 : use Transsexual, Intersexed, or Transgendered as adjectives.
    Rule 2 : use Man or Woman meaning the target gender or gender of presentation.
    Rule 3: use “he” or she” in accordance with presentation at the time. (unless requested otherwise)

    “A transgendered man was found dead in his apartment. He is believed to be Mark John, born Mary Jane, of Gilligan’s Island”.

    “An Intersexed woman has won the Women’s Open Farnarkling Competition”

    “Sue Donim lectures at the School of Inconsequential studies. A woman with a transsexual medical history, she transitioned in 2002. Before then, as Sam Donim, he won the Nobel Prize for Bloviating”.

    I’m not saying no-one will find that inoffensove; some people prefer “a transgender” rather than “a transgendered man” or “transgendered woman”. But I think it will cause minimal offense, and at least demonstrate that you’re doing your best.

  4. You’ve written: “When writing about a transgender person, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with the way the individual lives publicly.”

    I would add that subesquently mentioning their previous name would nullify this policy suggestion. If you refer to me as Donna, don’t then report “formerly known as….” or some such language. Journalists don’t typically include a married woman’s maiden name (if she has taken the surname of her spouse) in every story that is written.

  5. Let’s all take a breath.

    Words are slippery things. Labels for groups of people are even more so. How can we expect unanimity and mathematical precision in the language when it doesn’t exist in the reality the words attempt to describe?

    The best writers can do is do their informed best to be accurate and respectful.

    I refer to myself as a transgender woman. I am a woman who has crossed the gender boundaries society and my body tried to create. I don’t use transsexual much, because it calls attention to the issue of sex. For me, at least, my transition is about gender, not sex. Trust this lesbian-identified transgender woman, no one transitions to get laid.

    Reality is complicated. The NLGJA suggestion above says “preoperative, postoperative or nonoperative.” To which operation are they referring? My facial feminization surgeries were the most important in my transition. The boobs have been a big help too. Below-the-belt surgery will have to wait for my credit card balances to recover. Still, amazingly natural looking and functioning lady parts are an option for me. Building a penis is much more difficult, and the results are somewhere between sad and scary. Consequently, most trans guys choose not to have phaloplasty. That says to me that the “op” descriptors, pre, post, and non, aren’t particularly useful tools.

    But sometime flawed tools are still useful. “Transgender” is a useful umbrella term. Sure, not everyone will fit comfortably under that umbrella. And some who are invited would prefer not to share that umbrella, thank you very much. Still, it does keep the rain off quite a few of us.

    Aria has a point about the tendency of labels to dehumanize if we let them define a person by a single characteristic. I’m no more “a transgender” than President Obama is “a tall.” He’s a tall person.

    On the other hand, shouldn’t people and groups have the right to name themselves? Last year, our school’s LGBT group decided to name themselves the Fellowship of Affiliated Gay Students. When they marched in the Pride parade under they acronym, even the Ls, Bs and Ts thought it was worth it just to watch the straight folks squirm.

    Respect and journalistic integrity will go a long way. Some examples:

    There’s really no excuse for getting the pronouns wrong. Just ask. Journalists are supposed to be good at that.

    If the story is about me as a community college speech teacher, just call me Professor Katie Holton. My gender is irrelevant.

    If the story is about something I did five years ago, it would probably serve the story to let the reader know I did it under a different name. Otherwise, how would they Google me?

    In a story in our school newspaper about my transition, they had to use my old name, so the reader would know which professor was transitioning. I’ve run out of friends and relatives and still have twenty copies left, if anyone wants one.

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