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The Trans/Gender Identity Media Advocacy


Regarding trans/gender-non-conforming people, much language is routinely misused, sometimes causing widespread misunderstanding that can lead to discrimination, harassment, and violence. In working with trans/gender-non-conforming subjects, it is imperative to use a trans/ gender-variant persons preferred name and pronoun regardless of their gender expression. Assumptions about a persons name and pronoun are hugely problematic and can lead to compromised safety for the person in question.

Terms and denitions:

Sex The (often arbitrary) classication of peoples gender in the medical industry as related to a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, and genitals. Sex most often relates to medical denitions of reproduction. Gender The behavioral, cultural or psychological traits associated with expressions and presentations that relate to societal norms of femininity and masculinity. Self-determined Gender The idea that a person can determine for themselves what gender expression, gender presentation, and pronouns theyd like to use irregardless of medical denitions of gender. Gender expression The external manifestation of a persons gender identity. Transgender (adj.) An imprecise, evolving term used to describe people who identify with having a gender as different from the one they were assigned by the medical system. Transgender is a term that applies to all those who use it for themselves, regardless of gender expression or presentation.Use of transgender as a noun or verb are both incorrect eg: transgenders, transgendered, transgendering. Preferred uses for the term are transgender people, or a transgender person versus transgenders.

Transsexual Transsexual is a term that originated in the medical and psychological diagnostic communities and inherently confuses the idea of sex as separate from gender. Many transgender people choose to use transsexual, for themselves an act of reclamation, others prefer it for a variety of reasons. Regardless, it is best to ask what term an individual prefers and note that transsexual is not a preferred term by many members of the transgender community

Genderqueer Genderqueer is an imprecise, ever-evolving term that is used most often to describe people who are queering the idea of gender itself. People with a genderqueer identity have a wide range of gender presentations and expressions and pronoun choices may vary. It is best to ask what pronouns a genderqueer person prefers. Intersex A medical term covering a range of recognized conditions, which create an ambiguity around the genitalia of an individual. Chromosomal differences, or hormonal action, may have prompted the development of physical characteristics which are not clearly any specic gender, and/or prompted an understanding within the person that they are truly of neither gender. When describing a person who has a condition of this sort it is particularly vital to ask them how they would wish to be described /gendered. Many intersex people do not identify as transgender but it is common for intersex people to be the targets of transphobic prejudice. The term intersexual should be avoided because it leads to confusion between physical sex and sexuality.

Gender Variant Gender variant is a widely used term to describe the expression of individuals whos gender identity and expression varies from standard norms of what is perceived to be simply male and female. Gender variance is also used correctly as a verb. The term gender-non-conforming is sometimes used interchangeably. Non-binary A person with a non-binary identity expresses their gender as outside a traditional binary form of presentation as man and woman. People with a non-binary identity often employ the use of non-binary pronouns eg: ze and per, v, e, and they and them. Ask what pronouns a non-binary person prefers. Transvestite Considered a derogatory term (in the United States) to describe a person who occasionally presents themselves as a gender other than that which they were assigned by the medical industry. See cross dressing. Cross Dressing ( To occasionally present as a gender other than that which was assigned by the medical industry, without the desire to live as a gender-variant person all of the time. This term should not be used to describe transgender people. Drag Queen/King A person who presents themselves as a gender other than the one in which they life for much of the time, usually for performance reasons. Otherwise known as female or male impersonation. AP Style

The associated press stipulates that reporters should always 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, AP Style Book, 42nd Edition, 2007. While the stipulation that transgender people have to have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex is problematic on several levels, the assertion is that reporters should ask what the name and pronoun preference is for all trans/gendervariant subjects. In all likelihood, the question what pronoun and name do you prefer? will be answered gladly, it is not offensive to ask that question. It is offensive to ask about genital, hormonal status, former name or pronouns, and a variety of other questions that are sensationalized, insensitive, and probing.


Trans people remain one of the most misunderstood and ridiculed groups in society. Responses to their very existence can range from snide amusement to rage and even physical assault. In some, the challenge to the seeming certainty of gender can produce a reaction of visceral, unthinking hate. The role of the media in shaping societys attitudes in many areas is well documented and recent research conducted by Trans Media Watch (How Transgender People Experience the Media, April 2010 >) has provided clear evidence of the effect that the media portrayal of trans people has on their lives.

In this study of 256 trans people between November 2009 and February 2010:

70% felt that media portrayals of transgender people were either negative or very negative, and 78% that these portrayals were either inaccurate or highly inaccurate. And in a damning comment on the level of disconnection trans people feel 95% responded that they felt the media did not care what transgender people feel about this question. 67% said that seeing negative items in the media made them feel angry. Over half said it made them feel unhappy, 35% that they felt excluded and 20% even felt frightened. Said one: Negative experiences can be so very damaging. What troubles me is how common it is to see almost throwaway references to trans people that are so cruel and damaging no one would consider saying it about anyone else or group And what is even scarier is how common place and accepted it is. There are weeks when I will see several examples, especially in sitcoms or discussion programmes or lms that will simply reference how freaky, disgusting or hilarious trans people can be. Sitcoms especially

seem to have picked this group recently and more and more I see cheap bad jokes made at the expense of trans people.

Worse, the effect of media ridicule and the ritualised humiliation of trans people was clear: 21% of respondents had received verbal abuse which they believed was associated with the representations of trans people in the media, on at least one occasion. 20% reported having received negative reactions at work which they could trace to an item in the media, and shockingly 12% reported negative reactions from service providers. One trans woman referenced being called a female transvestite by a doctor, like something from a British sitcom. 36% reported that media representations of trans people had precipitated negative reactions amongst their family and friends. Comments included

An article by Julie Bindel about how damaging gender reassignment surgery was led my family to say that I was mentally ill and ruining my life and needed help. I lost my family parents and siblings because of the way this is portrayed by the media. My mothers perceptions of trans people derived almost exclusively from what shed seen portrayed on television she referenced various programmes in an attempt to paint trans people as pathetic, unconvincing and inherently narcissistic. She rejected all suggestion that transsexual people could ever be in any way normal. She has now refused contact for several years.

The seriousness of this issue cannot be overstated.

Trans people continue to be doorstepped by the media or indefensibly outed by journalists who sometimes seek only to write a piece that will appeal to prejudice. And invasive, unfair treatment of this sort only makes their lives worse. 35% of trans people reported at least one suicide attempt linked to their gender identity (PfC/MMU). In short, bring together a group of transpeople and ask for their own experiences of discrimination and harassment and you will be faced with a cascade. Stories of being laughed at in the street, being called names, being refused service in shops, restaurants or even hospitals, being spat on, and being lmed on mobile phones by strangers will appear. And it wont be long before you are likely also to hear the stories of assault by strangers, being attacked by mobs whilst at home, having property vandalised.

If you choose to write to appeal to base prejudice, for the sake of creating cheap, accessible copy, you are making a direct contribution to the fear and bigotry with which

many trans people, who wish only to continue with their lives quietly and discreetly, have to live.


Here are several tools that can be employed in producing sensitive, accurate accounts of trans and gender-variant individuals in the media. -Ask for preferred names and pronouns of all gender-variant subjects before the interview. -Use preferred names and pronouns throughout the interview, in private, in your reportage, and always. We have found that most people who have difculty with preferred pronouns are typically using pronouns other than those preferred when the trans person is not within earshot. -Enter into interviews as a listener, leave any assumptions you might have about trans/ gender-non-conforming people out of your reportage. -If you make a mistake, regarding pronouns or otherwise, during the interview, it's OK! But be kind, conscientious, and correct yourself. -Educate yourself! Explore this media guide, read the writings of trans/gender-variant artists and writers and familiarize yourself with the trans community, from the perspective of the trans community.

MEDIA GUIDE: APPROACHES TO AVOID Inappropriate use of inverted commas

This can be highly undermining (eg You could tell she was a guy, Caroline came into the room) as it implies from the outset that the subjects understanding of their own identity is wrong (or even deluded).

Reference to demeaning portrayals of other trans people Gratuitous focus on the appearance of a trans person

Reference to demeaning portrayals of trans people elsewhere in the media which present them as a laughing stock or as mentally ill (typical of these has been Little Britains Im a laydee, Emily. Such comedic shorthand is frequently used by journalists).

Gratuitous focus on the appearance of a trans or gender-variant person which embarrasses them and is likely to hinder their attempts to be accepted in the gender in which they aim to live (You can always tell themlook at their big hands!). This is part of a process known as othering the deliberate marginalisation of certain groups by constant, irrelevant, reference to aspects of their lives, customs or in this case their bodies which are unusual and different versus the norm. The effect (and sometimes

the aim, as in 1930s Germany) is to create alienation, distrust and isolation and this makes the victims vulnerable.

Othering is a phenomenon well known by other groups in society as well. Gratuitous use of an individuals trans status

Gratuitous use of an individuals trans status when it has no bearing whatsoever on the issue or story. Sadly, there are many instances in the US media of journalists seeking to enliven a story by adding entirely unnecessary observations about a persons gender history (Transsexual is convicted of shoplifting, Crossdresser wins lottery, Transvestite is murdered.). In the majority of cases, the individuals gender history will have no connection with the subject matter, and the addition of this material serves only to publically humiliate, disclosing private information which could put the trans person in serious physical danger, or gratuitously hurt those who are attempting to support them.


Deliberate, or unthinking, use of the wrong pronoun makes a very clear statement that you, writer, interviewer, program maker do not respect or believe in your subjects experience. At best, this is implicit editorialisation. At worst, you will completely undermine the credibility and authenticity of your subject and hold them up to ridicule.

Defending bigotry as humour

Racist comedians used to defend their material by attempting to turn on the person or group they had insulted to claim they had no sense of humour or couldnt take a joke. Justifying such comedy in this way is no longer acceptable partly because it fuelled a climate of bigotry and prejudice in society, giving racists comfort, tacit support and language with which to marginalise black or Asian people. Trans people have as good a sense of humour as anyone, but become very disheartened by incessant, thoughtless humiliation in the name of comedy.

Respondents to Trans Media Watchs recent survey How Transgender People Experience the Media reported that they frequently received verbal abuse, often aggressive or sexual in nature, in relation to comedy about trans people in the media. Indeed, many experienced feelings of fear and distress when encountering such items (see Why does any of this matter?).

Prior Names

It is rare for an article about a transgender person not to reveal their previous name. This conveys the false impression that transgender people are happy to have their previous names made public. A transgender person takes a new name to reect their public change of gender. They discard the old name in the process and the deed poll on

change of name is quite emphatic about this. Under no circumstance is the old name retained.

Why should you avoid revealing a transgender persons former name?

You may place the transgender person at risk or harrassment. You may place yourself at risk of prosecution. It may be very difcult for you to undo your actions. When a Gender Recognition Cericate (GRC) is awarded, it becomes a criminal offence to reveal the owners transgender history. At present the ne is 5000. It is the individual who reveals the name, not the organisation for which they work, who will face charges. There are no exemptions for journalism as there are with the Data Protection Act. Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act was created with an expectation of privacy in mind.

It is important for a transgender person to be able to wipe the slate clean, to live a life free from persecution. Provided they have no outstanding debts, their credit history will be erased. They will be entitled to a new passport and driving licence. There is even a fresh birth certicate to help them through life. All of this is to no avail if their previous and current name are linked on a website. When this happens, such a person has no choice but to change their name again if they want the privacy to which they are entitled.

Whilst the legal position is not cut-and-dried, it is heavily weighted in favour of the transgender person. Even colleagues discussing a post-transitional person may be in breach of this law. Even before the award of a GRC, charges of harassment may be applied if the person is reported about on separate occasions using their previous name. Any article remaining on the internet following the award of a GRC may expose its author and editor to risk of prosecution.

The award of a GRC is never publicly announced, of course. There have been no highprole prosecutions under Section 22 but that situation is unlikely to last. It is best to respect the terms of the persons deed poll and refer to them by their chosen name only.