One Equal World

Transgender People and the Media: Why How We Say What We’re Saying Matters

Posted on: November 21, 2013


Let’s stop invalidating transgender people’s identities.
Image: Shutterstock

Have you ever noticed how the media tends to misconstrue or incorrectly report about transgender men and women? How pronouns are inconsistently implemented, genders confused, and preferred names ignored? It isn’t difficult to talk about transgender people, yet somehow the media is constantly invalidating their identities.

As transgender advocate and author Janet Mock points out, “You can still completely be dehumanizing using the right words,” when writing about or discussing people with non-normative gender identities. A current example of this is Chelsea Manning, who the media repeatedly and cruelly mis-gendered. Lauren Klinger, a contributor for Poynter recently published 9 ways journalists can do justice to transgender people’s stories, an article about the power of language and journalistic intent. In the spirit of November being a month where transgender issues are emphasized, here are some tips from Klinger on how to effectively, respectfully write about trans individuals:

  1. “Stop writing the same story.” Many journalists only focus on the transitional experiences of transgender men and women, instead of on other issues.
  2. “Pursue the ordinary.” In addition to the first tip, by pursuing ordinary facets of life for transgender people, it validates their place in society and normalizes those identities. Only focusing on extremely emotional or negative stories misrepresents the transgender community at large.
  3. “Stop asking for before and after photos.” An incredibly self-explanatory piece of advice, this ties in with the “before and after” trope that journalists constantly employ when discussing transgender people.
  4. “When you’re told someone’s name, use it.” Period. End of story. Reporters and journalists repeatedly disrespect and invalidate transgender men and women by using names they don’t use or identify with.
  5. “Stop asking about someone’s medical transition process.” This is a highly personal form of questioning that will most likely make the person you’re interviewing incredibly uncomfortable.
  6. “Stop using outdated or dehumanizing language.” If you aren’t sure what language is appropriate and respectful, educate yourself.
  7. “Learn from your mistakes.” We all make mistakes sometimes; if you’ve disrespected a person that you’ve interviewed or written about, take the time to learn from that mistake and grow from it.
  8. “If you’re unsure about which pronoun to use, ask the person you’re writing about.” Chelsea Manning and countless others have been repeatedly written about and discussed using the wrong pronouns. If you aren’t sure, ask; if you’re uncomfortable asking, use gender-neutral pronouns.
  9. “Remember that transgender women are women, transgender men and men, and everyone is human.” Finally, always consider how your words will impact the person you are speaking to or writing about. Gay, lesbian, heterosexual, transgender, cisgender, or otherwise – they are a human being, and should be treated as such.

Check out GLAAD’s transgender resources for more information about appropriate, respectful language.


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