Appropriate Language to Use for Transgender People

When reporting news story on transgender people, the language used may become a challenge for journalists. For example, what pronoun should journalists use? The industry was confused at the beginning. However, most of the news outlet respect the preference of the subject and change the language used quickly now.

In the MEDIA STYLE GUIDE from Trans Media Watch, it provided lots of suggestion to journalists when covering transgender topics. It suggested journalists avoid using language that widely considered to be offensive like sex swap, shemale and so on. Also, journalists should avoid mentioning the medical histories of trans people. Take particular care in dealing with subjects involving trans children is also important for journalists when covering the story on transgender people. The guide also suggested the language surrounding trans issues should not be complicated and focused on intimate medical detail.

Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning is an example illustrating how should journalists handle story covering transgender people. Chelsea Manning announced to the world that she would name as Chelsea and changed to a female. The New York Times quickly changed the feminine pronoun to describe her. Susan Wessling (2013), the deputy editor explained that The NYT respected the preferences of the subject wanted to provide clarity for readers. Stuart Hughes (2013), BBC World Affairs producer also quote the BBC News style guide to explained BBC decision to use feminine pronoun too. He said that ‘Transsexual people who have completed surgery to become a member of the opposite sex should be referred to as the gender they have become. Pre-operative transsexual people should be described as they wish. If their wishes are not known, and it is not possible to find out, take an informed view based on knowledge of the individual’s lifestyle.’

In conclusion, journalists should respect the transgender person and refer to the gender he or she wants.



Spayd 2013, The Soldier Formerly Known as Bradley Manning, The New York Times.

MEDIA STYLE GUIDE 2010-15, Trans Media Watch.

Hughes 2013, Reporting transgender issues, BBC Academy.


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