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.