Transgender people identify as a gender that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender woman was assigned to be male at birth; a transgender man was assigned to be female at birth.
In general, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with how the individual lives publicly. When unsure and if possible, ask what the subject prefers.
Only reference transgender status if the person has self-identified as such and it is germane to the story. In instances when it is unclear and impossible to ask what name or pronoun a subject prefers, cite the source of the information (e.g., the police).
Here are a few additional tips, as well as some information from our stylebook that may be helpful in covering transgender individuals:
- Referring to “transgender woman” or “transgender man” is acceptable on first reference. Subsequent references should refer to a transgender woman as a “woman” or a transgender man as a “man.”
- When quoting sources, use the name and pronoun(s) that an individual uses. It’s not about a driver’s license, birth certificate or military ID.
- Unless it’s germane to the story, birth names and gender aren’t relevant when covering individuals without prior name recognition.
- Medical history is personal. If a person wants to talk about private medical history, hormones or surgery, it is OK to report it — provided it’s germane to the story. But gender identity doesn’t depend on surgery or hormones, nor are these necessarily public topics.
- Avoid playing into stereotypes. Not all trans people are seeking to become the archetype of the gender to which they are transitioning. At the same time, lots of people who don’t change gender aren’t necessarily the physical epitome of what one thinks of as a man or woman. Avoid subjective assessments of how someone presents him- or herself.
- Sex assigned at birth, gender and sexual orientation are three different, but related aspects of every individual. The military segregates by gender (male and female), therefore someone’s sex assigned at birth and surgery history is not relevant to the standards they must adhere to according to their gender identity.
Be especially sensitive when covering transgender individuals who have been victims of crime, as to not re-victimize them. When covering violence against transgender individuals, be careful of sensationalizing the crime; avoid describing the victim’s clothing, manner or genital characteristics. Avoid giving the impression that the victim is being deceptive about his or her identity. If police suspect the crime was motivated by anti-transgender bias, state that.
Be particularly sensitive when covering transgender women of color, who are disproportionately affected by anti-transgender hate crimes. If police characterize a victim as “a man in a dress,” make an effort to determine if the victim identified as transgender. If it cannot be determined, be sure to cite who provided information about the victim in your story. If possible, provide context for the reader, who may be unfamiliar with issues faced by transgender people, such as those surrounding legal name changes and lack of anti-discrimination protections.