Aug 25, 2013

[Technicolor Musings] On Writing About Transgender People



The recent news about Chelsea Manning clearly affirming her identity as a transgender person is an interesting one that has resulted in a lot of different media outfits fumbling over how to address her. To be fair, the T in LGBT is probably one of the more misunderstood sections of the rainbow spectrum.

Thankfully, the internet is your friend. But since you're already here, I'll save you the additional web-search and just discuss a few salient points for you to remember when it comes to transgender people.

You can thank me later.

First, when we talk about transgender people, this ties to a person's gender identity. For straight people, this is a non-issue since men are men and women are women. However there are those individuals who come to the realization that their gender identity does not align with their biological bits. And these are what we have come to term as transgender people. They do not simply "choose" to change sex from one to the other, but the legitimately feel that they are trapped in the wrong body.

Second, transgender as a term is an adjective and not a noun. This a person can be said to be transgender or can be called a transgender male or female. But on the flipside, you don't say someone "is transgendered" (it's not a verb) nor claim "there are many transgenders" (it's not a noun). So just say "he is transgender" or "he is a transgender man" and so on. This assumes you understand how to use adjectives, of course.

Most important to remember is the question of pronoun usage. It is not proper writing etiquette to rely on the person's sex of birth or biological sex when writing about transgender people. Instead you should follow the gender identity that the person in question states he or she identifies with. Thus in Chelsea's case, we need to refer to her as "she" from this point on given her transgender identity has been clearly expressed, and rather publicly too.

On a side note, one cannot assume that a transgender person is immediately a transsexual - or someone who intends to or has already completed sex reassignment surgery. Transgender is probably the safer or at least the more widely-accepted term. Gender identity is a naturally delicate matter.

For more information, the GLAAD page on transgender people is a rich source of information for sure. They also have a separate media reference guide that acts as our AP Style guide for writing on this subject.

Hope you learned something new today!
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