Journalism is the cornerstone to spreading transgender equality

Journalists take on a huge responsibility when it comes to how we address complicated issues and ones that are ever-evolving without the language to keep up.

With transgender policies appearing in more and more schools and workplaces to protect the safety and privacy of trans individuals, journalists are expected to report on these issues in a sensitive and accurate manner, but sometimes we lack the terminology and understanding to do so effectively.

In 2015, the AP Stylebook doesn’t really give a clear-cut answer for when to use transgender as opposed to transsexual.

Gender studies tells us that transgender is the preferred term for individuals who present as the opposite sex, but have not undergone gender reassignment surgery, whereas transsexual would refer to an individual who has had either top (mastectomy) or bottom (gender reassignment) surgery.

AP is clear that when interviewing a person who identifies as trans, the story should reflect the individual’s preferred gender pronoun and if that preference isn’t made clear to the reporter, it’s probably better to ask a source than to get it wrong.

However, it would not be appropriate or even relevant to ask a source whether or not they have had gender reassignment surgery, so journalists are still left with some murkiness when it comes to deciding which term is best to use.

If we go on a case-by-case basis (as we should), more complicated issues could come up. Some individuals prefer “they” or “their” pronouns or strictly the use of their name and no gender pronouns whatsoever. Those situations can get tricky when going through the ranks of reporter to copy editor to other editors to reader. The obvious solution would be to make a note regarding the preference of the source, so as not to confuse the copy editor or the reader, but it would be nice to get to a point where that is unnecessary.

The AP Stylebook Online says under the entry for courtesy titles, “In cases where a person’s gender is not clear from the first name or from the story’s context, indicate the gender by using he or she in subsequent reference.”

So presumably, we are not the point yet where we can write stories leaving ambiguous gender of a source, but that day is probably fast approaching.

It is our tendency as human beings to want to classify everyone into neat binaries, but we as a society are beginning to acknowledge that gender is more fluid than male or female, and journalism is going to have to change to reflect that as well.

Gender neutral terms are starting to make their way into news stories in some select ways, but they are no where near widespread enough to use without clarification and journalists have to worry about clarity and reader understanding when composing a story.

In a way it is the job of journalists to get those terms into widespread usage. We are responsible for making sure sources are being identified in a way that is accurate and informs the larger public. We get to be part of the change.