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San Diego Union-Tribune Just Can't Get The Terminology Right

Here in my hometown of San Diego, the newspaper — the San Diego Union Tribune — just couldn’t get transgender terminology right.

Imagine being gay or lesbian, and constantly being referred to as homosexuals by one’s local paper.  When religious right organizations use the term “homosexual,” they are using the term as an intentional pathologisation of the LGB experience — they’re trying to harken back to the time before the early seventies when the American Psychological Association took homosexual off their list of medical conditions.

The Associated Press Stylebook states, under the entry for gay:

Used to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women.  Preferred over homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity.

Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent to a story, and avoid references to “sexual preference” or to a gay or alternative “lifestyle.”

Most reputable papers of size don’t get gay or homosexual wrong in their usage these days.

The San Diego Union-Tribune got a transgender term wrong today (September 23, 2007).  In their article You’re in control ; Fear not, commitment phobes: Fall TV comes to you in 4 neat little packages, Union-Tribune Television Critic Karla Peterson wrote:

As ABC discovered last year with “Brothers & Sisters,” there is plenty of room in our TV lives for the lives of the rich and dysfunctional. This season, the networks hope viewers have an appetite for more decadent drama, including the appearance of not one, but two transvestite playmates (on “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Big Shots”).

No, the term should have been transsexual or transgender — the characters are transsexuals, not transvestites.

So what’s the big deal?  What’s the difference?

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association Stylebook Supplement states, under the term transgender:

An umbrella term that refers to people whose biological and gender identity or expression may not be the same. This can include preoperative, postoperative or nonoperative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex individuals. If an individual prefers to be called transsexual, etc., use that term. When writing about a transgender person, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with the way the individual lives publicly.

…under the term transsexual:

An individual who identifies himself or herself as a member of the opposite sex and who acquires the physical characteristics of the opposite sex. Individual can be of any sexual orientation. To determine accurate use of names or personal pronouns, use the name and sex of the individual at the time of the action.

…and under the term transvestite:

The term has developed a negative connotation and is now seen as crude and old-fashioned, akin to “colored.”

Yup, not only is transvestite the wrong word, it’s considered by many transfolk in the U.S. to be pretty offensive.

Of all places, E! Online got the term for the Carmelita character on Dirty, Sexy Money correct:

William Baldwin and Candis CayneCould Candis Cayne become the first transsexual Emmy winner?

Come Sept. 26, she’ll definitely have a shot at it. Cayne pops up in the new ABC prime-time drama Dirty Sexy Money playing Carmelita, the secret transsexual lover of a U.S. senator, played by William Baldwin.

…Cayne, who was born Brendan McDaniel, grew up in Hawaii. Even before she decided to transition from a man to a woman about 10 years ago, she was a local celeb in New York’s gay community for her drag act.

(By the way — a transgender character being played by a transgender person.  Wonderful!)

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Autumn Sandeen

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