This is a short guide for people who work in media (journalists, reporters, writers, etc.) to use when covering stories about transgender people and transgender issues.
Language & Terminology
Transgender is an adjective.
The first thing to remember is that “transgender” is an adjective and should always be followed by a noun. The shortened version “trans” is also appropriate.
The word “transgender” is usually followed by the words: “man”, “woman” or “person” for adults, or “boy”, “girl” or “child” for children.
Use the correct pronouns and gendered terms.
By asking a person what their pronouns are, along with what gendered terms they use, you can make sure that you don’t accidentally misgender somebody. (Misgendering is what it is called when a transgender person is referred to as a gender they are not.)
A good way of doing this is by adding the question “what pronouns do you use” when asking a person what their name is. For example: “Can you spell your name for me, and indicate what gendered pronouns you use?”
It is especially important to use the pronouns the person has indicated. Some journalists have reported having a hard time convincing their editors to use a singular, gender-neutral “they/them” pronoun, even when requested by the interviewee.
Here are some resources to use:
- AP Stylebook: the AP Stylebook added the singular they to their 2017 Stylebook. (Read about that here: https://www.poynter.org/news/ap-style-change-singular-they-acceptable-limited-cases)
- Chicago Manual of Style: the Chicago Manual of Style also added “they/them” singular pronoun to their acceptable uses. (Read more here: https://libraries.indiana.edu/chicago-manual-style-singular-pronoun-they)
A lot of words are generally only appropriate when a trans person has requested they be used.
Terms like “transsexual”, “MtF”, or “FtM” and rarely used to describe an entire community. These words are often used by individual transgender people, but should never be assumed to be words that apply to an entire community.
It is important to use the word “cisgender”.
The term “cisgender” refers to people who continue to identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. This word comes from the Latin pre-fix “cis-” which means “on the same side”. (“Trans-” in Latin means “across.)
It’s important to use the term cisgender, rather than a term like “non-trans” because it normalizes language and does not reduce trans people as The Other.
Transgender people do not “identify with” a gender, they are that gender.
People often use the phrase “she identifies as a woman” or “he identifies as a man” when discussing trans people and their genders. It is important to remember that transgender people, just like cisgender people, are the gender that they are. It is not simply an “identify as”.
In an article about the Prime Minister, for example, you would never state: “Justin Trudeau, who identifies as a man, is Prime Minister of Canada.”
When reporting on trans people, you should discuss their gender as an invariable part of who they are, just as you would a cisgender person.
A transgender man is a man, and a transgender woman is a woman. When you use the phrase “identifies as”, a reader infers that this person is not actually a woman, but simply identifies as such.
Make sure you make your request for an interview clear.
When you’re requesting an interview with a trans person, make sure that they know why you are requesting an interview.
For example, when you connect with TransSask Support Services to request an interview, we assume that you are asking for a statement from an organization on a certain topic. It would be inappropriate, in this context, to assume that someone from TransSask would be open to answering personal questions.
When you reach out to a trans person for an interview, make sure you check ahead of time what sorts of questions they would be comfortable answering. For example, “Are you comfortable answering personal questions during the interview?”
Stay away from invasive questions about genitals or surgeries.
It may be tempting to ask people to share personal stories about their bodies and experiences with the medical system — after all, this is a lot of the stories that readers seem to be after.
That being said, these types of questions perpetuate the way in which trans people are often reduced to their bodies, rather than their lived experiences.
When hoping to hear about a trans person’s story, invite them to tell you about their experience, and they’ll share what they feel comfortable with.
Understand how difficult answering these questions might be.
When you’re asking questions to transgender people, even if the trans person is an expert in their field (such as a medical doctor, a sociologist, a social worker, etc.), it’s important to understand that certain questions, especially those about trauma or violence, might be emotionally difficult for people to answer.
Be cognizant of this, and try to get a good idea of whether or not this person will be open to answering those questions before asking them. For example, “Would you be able to answer questions about topics that are potentially emotionally upsetting?”
Transphobia is not an “opinion”, “perspective”, or a “side”.
Some journalists may choose to report on what they call “both sides of the story” by talking with trans people and those who oppose their existence. It is important to recognize that hatred, discrimination and violent rhetoric is not “the opposing side”.
If you make the decision to discuss the opinions of transphobic commentators, make sure that you inform any trans person who is involved in the story prior to publishing or including them in your publication. The reason for this is that trans people who are named in articles with transphobic or anti-trans individuals are often hurled with online violence, threats and harassment for opposing anti-trans bigotry. A person needs to be able to choose whether or not they want to be faced with that sort of violence. Without informing a trans person of this perspective being included, you could be putting them in danger.