updated 04-11-2015

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How to Discuss Trans People and Issues

Style Guides

ASSOCIATED PRESS (2006)Transgender: Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.
NEW YORK TIMES (2005)Transgender (adj.): is an overall term for people whose current identity differs from their sex at birth, whether or not they have changed their biological characteristics. Cite a person’s transgender status only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.

Basic Definitions*

Massachusetts Legal Definition: In the Massachusetts statewide law An Act Relative to Gender Identity, formally known as An Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights, gender identity is defined as:

  • “Gender identity” shall mean a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity; provided however, gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.

Sex:  The classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are typically assigned a sex based on the shape of their genitals.

Gender:  The classification of elements of appearance and/or behavior, according to expectations for persons of one sex or the other, as either “masculine” or “feminine”. People in our society generally expect people birth-assigned male to act masculine, and those birth-assigned female to act feminine. These expectations are frequently enforced, without authority and sometimes violently, upon those who do not conform to them.

Sexual orientation: An individual’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to another person. Transgender people can be heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Gender Identity: One’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl). Most people don’t experience a difference between their sex and their gender identity. For transgender people, however, the sex they were born as and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.

Gender Expression: How a person expresses their gender identity, or the cues people use to identify another person’s gender. This can include clothing, mannerisms, makeup, behavior, speech patterns, and more. There are some in society whose gender expression does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes of what men or women should look or act.

Gender Stereotypes: A culturally defined code of socially acceptable behavior, dress, and/or appearance for men and women based on gender stereotypes. Men and boys are expected to exhibit masculine gender presentation, behaviors, and social roles at all times, while women and girls are expected to exhibit feminine gender at all times.

Gender dysphoria refers to discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics) (Fisk, 1974; Knudson, De Cuypere, & Bockting, 2010b). Gender dysphoria can in large part be alleviated through treatment. (Murad et al., 2010) Avoid using the term Gender Identity Disorder (GID) or refer to being transgender as a mental illness or a fetish

Standards of Care is the 2011 WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care, which is clinical guidance set of standards for health professionals to assist transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people with safe and effective pathways to achieving lasting personal comfort with their gendered selves, in order to maximize their overall health, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment.

Transgender or Trans: A term that refers to people who live as the opposite sex from what they were born as. Transgender people grow up feeling like they were born in the wrong body – that the gender they feel inside doesn’t match their gender on the outside. At some point, transgender people decide they must live their lives in the gender they have always known themselves to be, and often transition to living as that gender. Avoid using the term “Transgendered”

Transsexual:  An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities, referring to a person who changes, or wishes to change, their assigned sex. Transsexual is not an umbrella term, and many transgender people do not identify as transsexual.

Cross-Dressing:  The occasional wearing of clothes traditionally associated with people of the other gender. “Cross-dresser” should NOT be used to describe someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other gender, or who intends to do so in the future. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity, nor is it indicative of sexual orientation.  Avoid using Transvestite: An older term originating in med/psych communities, now considered pejorative, referring to a person who practices cross-dressing.

Transition: Gender transition is the process by which a transgender or transsexual person begins to live in accordance with their gender identity. This typically includes a social transition (changing the way they dress and style their hair, and changing their first name) to be reflective of the gender they are transitioning to. This process may also include medical transition, which can be hormone replacement therapy and/or some form of gender reassignment surgery, but the reality is that many transgender people live and present in accordance with their gender identity without medical transition, hormones, and/or some form of gender re-assignment surgery. Transgender youth or adults do not have to disclose that they are transgender to employers, property owners, school officials, or other institutions in much the same way that all others enjoy a right to privacy with regards medical history, marital status, or religious beliefs.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT):  The taking of cross gendered hormones, typically estrogen for transgender women or testosterone for transgender men, in order to alter the secondary sex characteristics of a person’s body.  For a transgender person, HRT may or may not be used to aid in the transition process. For many transsexual persons, HRT is an essential therapy.

Gender Affirmation Surgery/ Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS) / Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS):  A variety of medical procedures to change the sexual anatomy and/or secondary sex characteristics of a person. GRS/SRS, when elected, is only one small part of transition (see Transition above). Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS. Despite improvements in technique, SRS remains a procedure, which comes with substantial risk and is not an appropriate requirement for social acceptance. Avoid using the terms “sex change,” “the sex change,” or “the surgery”

Avoid using “Bathroom Bill:” A derogatory term for transgender non-discrimination legislation coined by opponents of such legislation that should be avoided. Using this phrase to describe non-discrimination bills is effectively disseminating propaganda. It is an unfair characterization that biases the reader’s/viewer’s/listener’s understanding of transgender people and the legal protections non-discrimination legislation would enact. If you are searching for a neutral characterization of transgender non-discrimination legislation, we recommend using the bill number or calling it a non-discrimination bill for transgender people.

Identifying a Transgender Person

  • Use the name the transgender person uses for them self. Some transgender people cannot afford a legal name change and they should be afforded the same respect for their chosen name as anyone else who lives by a name other than their birth name.
  • If someone is/was male-to-female (MTF) they are a transgender woman and uses female pronouns;
  • If someone is/was female-to-male (FTM) they are a transgender man and uses male pronouns;
  • Use the pronoun that a transgender person uses for them self, which is often the pronoun consistent with their gender identity/expression, or ask transgender person which pronoun they would like you to use. A person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not they have taken hormones or had surgery, should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender;
  • If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun he or she prefers, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression. For example, if a person wears a dress and uses the name “Susan,” feminine pronouns are appropriate;
  • It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity;
  • Avoid disclosing past names, birth gender, or other personal information if it is not relevant to the story.

Statistics and Reports on the Issues and Experiences Transgender People Face


* Some of these definitions were adapted from GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide.