Reemphasizing The Appropriate Ways For Mainstream Media To Reference Trans People
As we’re reading about how Victoria Carmen White was treated in death by officers of the law and mainstream media, it’s appropriate to remind our blenders what the media stylebooks state about reporting on transgender people, transsexuals, and those who identify as both transgender and transsexual.
From the Associated Press Styleguide (2006):
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.
And the New York Times (2005):
Transgender 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.”
Transition: Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step process; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following personal, legal and medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more forms of surgery.
Sex Reassignment: Refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition . Preferred term to ‘sex change operation.’ Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of SRS in the transition process.
Problematic: ‘sex change,’ ‘pre-operative,’ ‘post-operative’
Preferred: ‘transition’ Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.
Most of us are aware that reporters get information from police spokespeople, and often police spokespeople use terminology that doesn’t conform to journalism stylebooks — the “industry standards” for journalists. This doesn’t relieve reporters of the duty of checking the facts of what they’re told by the police; this doesn’t relieve reporters of the need to familiarize themselves with journalism standards regarding people in minority groups that a particular journalist may or may not be familiar with.
If the Maplewood Patch — as well as every other news organization in the country — doesn’t have a “transgender” section in their styleguide, they should consider adding one now. Transgender people, transsexuals, and people who identify as both transgender and transsexual — we’re all becoming more visible in broader western society. Recognized journalism standards regarding trans people and transgender community should be adopted by all journalism outlets across the United States.
To not adopt the journalism’s “industry standards” for reporting on trans people is to ensure that disrespect for violent crime victims like Victoria will continue to occur far too often well into the future.