This week's news about the status of transgender members of the military makes this a good time to review some of the language that should and should not be used when we're reporting.
For instance, we don't say someone is changing or has changed gender. As NLGJA – The Association of LGBTQ Journalists puts it, gender is "an individual's emotional and psychological sense of having a gender; feeling like a man, woman, both or neither (gender nonconformity). Does not necessarily align with an individual's sex at birth."
Just as we respect people's wishes about how they identify themselves, their names and the pronouns they use, we respect that their gender and the sex they were assigned at birth may not be the same. They may be going through a transition (don't refer to it as a "sex change"), but they are not changing their gender or the fact that they may be fluid.
We can't prevent public officials or our guests from mixing the words "gender" and "sex." But we can be careful about our usage.
Other things to note:
- Do ask what pronouns a transgender person uses and then explain that we're respecting that person's choice. The clearest subsequent references, of course, may simply be the person's name.
- "Choice Is Not The Word To Use."
- Someone is "transgender," not "transgendered."
- You may have noticed in recent months that we've been OK with adding "Q" to "LGBT." It's clear that LGBTQ is increasingly accepted, but do be aware that "queer" is still a word that many find offensive.
- NLGJA's stylebook is here. We don't necessarily agree with everything in it, but it has good guidance.
- Our previous "Memmos" on this subject are here.