An information resource for and about
trans* people in the Province of Alberta
Trans* people are very diverse and complex, and will sometimes seem contradictory of each other -- although it becomes easier to understand and predict when one realizes some of the underlying principles, including that there are two overlapping characteristics at play.
The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) provides a stylebook pertaining to LGBT subjects, which is referenced by the Associated Press.
It is recommended that journalists use the person’s chosen name, consistent with how they live. Even if a legal name change hasn’t been obtained yet, an old name should be avoided unless there is some important relevance, such as when referencing a noteworthy event in the person’s history, which would have been reported under the previous name. Names should not be enclosed in quotation marks, which is considered mocking. While journalists and editors are trained to focus on legal names, these old names and old pronouns are often weaponized as a way to invalidate trans* people. They’re used to undermine them, to disrespect them, to imply that the person they understand themselves to be is somehow deceptive or delusionary. While this may not be one’s intent as a journalist, editor or speaker, this can often be the end consequence of publishing a previous name.
It is also recommended to use the pronoun that person specifies, or the one most consistent with how they live if they have not specified a pronoun. As stated above, old pronouns can be weaponized in the same way as old names. When referencing a person’s history, old pronouns are sometimes called for (especially if the individual in question uses them to refer to those periods of time). But when possible, gender neutral terms like “child” or pronouns like “they” can help avoid confusing readers, while still telling an historically accurate story.
Terminology is sometimes hotly contested. It is best to use the terms that the individuals in question use for themselves. I'll explore some terms below, but keep in mind that the language is still new, and definitions still sometimes vary per the individual who is doing the defining.
Although this website does not use the term "transgender," it is recognized as a popular mainstream term. It should be noted that transgender -- like trans* -- is an adjective, not a noun. Someone can be a transgender person, but not "a transgender."
Opponents who deny the existence of trans* people and/or try to denigrate them often use “mock quotes” to invalidate and ridicule. It is not good practice to do the same, as it will be interpreted as having the same intent.
Many trans* people live in “stealth,” which is to say that very few (if any) people are aware that they are trans*, or have a trans* history. Disclosure without their consent can result in job loss, broken relationships or even violence toward them.
A person’s biological configuration / surgical status is their own business and should be considered medical information, which is either disclosed or not, at a person’s option. Unless one is looking specifically for people who’ve undergone a medical procedure in order to openly talk about that medical procedure, it is not appropriate to ask a person about the state of or condition of their genitals.
As with any civil rights movement, as time passes, it will become increasingly controversial to seek out the views of people or groups who feel that trans* people simply should be denied human rights, who portray them as sexual predators, or who refer to grotesque caricatures (i.e. “hairy-legged man in a dress”), for the sake of a fair and balanced article. We’re not there yet, of course, and this still often happens with media. However, it is worth considering other, varied voices in the discussion, such as those of trans-affirming / LGBT-affirming organizations and churches, when seeking to present a multi-faceted story.
Finally, media has a long history of using trans status as a lurid, sensationalistic hook for a story, without regard for the person at the centre of that sensationalism. It is wonderful that this is changing. But be aware that because of this history, individuals are sometimes triggered by talking to media, and can misinterpret exchanges.