Jenner vanity fair
Vanity Fair magazine features Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of the July 2015 edition.

The news of the week this week was Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce Jenner) gracing the cover of Vanity Fair Magazine. This sparked quite the debate in the country – and especially on Facebook – about whether she is a man, woman, hero, brave person, role model, or something worse. Some on Facebook saw fit to denigrate Caitlyn’s journey as compared to the heroic soldiers of war – as if she or anyone else in the LGBT community was trying to put her in that category. (Can’t there be more than one type of “hero”, people?)  However, the best article of the week on the topic was the educational piece put out by GLAAD (a gay and lesbian advocacy organization) – Tip Sheet: Transgender Terminology and Tips for Covering Caitlyn Jenner.

The GLAAD article is a very important step in educating the public about correct terminology. Some people won’t care enough about the human interest to use the correct terminology. After all, we do live in Texas here and there are some uninspired Texans who will insist that Caitlyn should be called “he” because he was born a man. (Well, some Texas may even be more crass than that, but we don’t have to jump in that mud pit, do we?) I even heard one so-called Christian gentleman here in Dallas, Texas comment that calling Caitlyn “she” somehow insulted ME as a woman. Just preposterous!

So here are GLAAD’s “do’s” and “don’ts” to create respectful, accurate stories about Caitlyn Jenner transgender people:

DO describe people who transition as transgender, and use transgender as an adjective. Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender woman. DON’T use transgender as a noun. For example, don’t say: “Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender.” DON’T use “transgendered.” Transgender never needs an extraneous “-ed” at the end. DON’T use “transsexual” or “transvestite.”

DO refer to her as Caitlyn Jenner. DON’T refer to her by her former name. She has changed it, and should be accorded the same respect received by anyone who has changed their name. Since Caitlyn Jenner was known to the public by her prior name, it may be necessary initially to say “Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner…” However, once the public has learned Jenner’s new name, do not continually refer to it in stories.

DO use female pronouns (she, her, hers) when referring to Caitlyn Jenner.

DO avoid male pronouns and Caitlyn’s prior name, even when referring to events in her past. For example, “Prior to her transition, Caitlyn Jenner won the gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the Summer Olympics held in Montreal in 1976.”

DO refer to Caitlyn Jenner’s female identity as her gender identity, not her sexual orientation. Gender identity is one’s own internal, deeply held sense of being male or female. Sexual orientation is who one is attracted to. They are not the same thing and should not be conflated or confused.

AVOID the phrase “born a man” when referring to Jenner. If it is necessary to describe for your audience what it means to be transgender, consider: “While Caitlyn Jenner was designated male on her birth certificate, as a young child she knew that she was a girl.”

DON’T speculate about medical procedures transgender people may or may not choose to undertake as part of their transition. This is private medical information, and a transgender identity is not dependent on medical procedures. Overemphasizing the medical aspects of a person’s transition objectifies transgender people, and prevents the public from seeing the transgender person as a whole person.

DON’T imply that someone who comes out as transgender (regardless of their age) was lying or being deceptive because he or she chose to keep that information private. Transgender people face extremely high rates of family rejection, employment and housing discrimination, and physical violence. Every transgender person has to prepare to face the possible consequences of coming out and living as their authentic selves. That caution does not mean that they were deceptive or lying. It simply means they felt it necessary to keep their authentic self private until they were safely able to disclose it to others.

DON’T indulge in superficial critiques of a transgender person’s femininity or masculinity. Commenting on how well a transgender person conforms to conventional standards of femininity or masculinity is reductive and insulting.

Caitlyn Jenner is the highest profile person to bring transgender issues to the forefront of the American attention span. GLAAD’s article does a good job of educating the uninformed in proper terminology. Ignorance promotes intolerance, where education promotes tolerance. Thank you GLAAD for helping the American public and media learn about these issues and, in doing, become more tolerant.

Read additional educational information on transgender issues at GLAAD’s website here.

Read the Vanity Fair article on Caitlyn Jenner here.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.