By Helen White
As the transgender community comes more into the public eye, journalists are trying to correctly gender its members without a professional guide to pronouns.
Caitlyn Jenner, Chelsea Manning, Laverne Cox, and other transgender public figures have faced misgendering, or use of incorrect pronouns, when being reported on through various news outlets. Even after explicitly stating which pronouns she prefers, Chelsea Manning’s previous name and masculine pronouns are still used in many prestigious publications.
Activists are calling for a reform of the process the media uses to report on trans people. Journalists, however, are struggling to comply, with many resources for professional journalists having nothing to say on gendering people in the news.
GLAAD is an organization devoted to helping LGBT people overcome “barriers on the path to full equality.” They have released a guide to reporting on transgender victims of crime, which covers use of the word “transgender,” pronouns, names, and more.
While this guide gives journalists and reporters some guidelines on writing about the transgender community, professionally accredited sources like the AP Stylebook do not extensively discuss how to address these situations.
There is a brief instruction to “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.” In situations where a transgender person may not be out to significant people in their life, such as parents or co-workers, journalists are to “use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”
This instruction bears expansion, as the complexities of transgender lives may lie between these two sides. Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager who committed suicide in December of 2014, made it clear in her suicide note that she was a “girl trapped in a boy’s body,” but was only out online, and not to her family.
It is for cases such as these, as well as more well-known members of the trans community, and for transgender people everywhere, that journalists must find a way to be consistently respectful of everyone’s pronouns.