Transgender Coverage Topical Guide
Journalists on all beats must be able to write about and interview transgender people using accurate, sensitive, unbiased language.
Gender terminology is vast and constantly evolving; a style guide can't cover everything. Let your sources guide you on how they want to be identified, and then use your judgment to be both sensitive and accurate.
Avoid false balance — giving a platform to unqualified claims or sources in the guise of balancing a story by including all views. For instance, don't quote people speaking about biology or athletic regulations unless they have the proper background. If you do need to use the quotes, fact-check them within the story. Ensure that organizations offering data or other factual information in a story are using sound methodology grounded in valid science.
Gender refers to internal and social identity and often corresponds with but is not synonymous with sex. Experts from organizations including the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association say gender is a spectrum, not a binary structure consisting of only males and females.
Sex refers to biological characteristics, such as chromosomes, hormones and reproductive anatomy.
Since not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender — as in the cases of nonbinary and intersex people — avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders.
An overview of some key topics in understanding transgender people and how to cover them, followed by a granular list of terminology:
Terminology and red flags
At its most basic, transgender is an adjective describing a person whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth. For example, a person may be declared a boy at birth based on physical observation but may grow up feeling intrinsically like a girl, and later exhibit gender expressions such as preferring clothing or hairstyles typically associated with girls. See full transgender entry below.
Some nonbinary people consider themselves transgender because while they may not identify as strictly male or female, their identity does not correspond to their assigned sex.
Use the term sex assigned at birth instead of biological sex, birth gender, was identified at birth as, born a girl and the like.
The word identify is frequently used to describe how someone views themself and can be useful when writing about issues of identity. But often phrasing like is a woman is more to the point than identifies as a woman.
Avoid terms like biological sex, along with biological male and biological female, which opponents of transgender rights sometimes use to refer to transgender women and transgender men, respectively. They are also redundant because sex is inherently biological.
Generally avoid the often false terms groom or groomer, which some people use to stoke fears about LGBTQ+ people's interactions with children, or education about LGBTQ+ people, comparing their actions to those of child molesters.
If necessary to directly quote someone using the term, add that context. For example: "He is a groomer, pure and simple," Smith said, using a term that falsely links LGBTQ+ people's interactions with children to the actions of child molesters. (If child abuse actually is what is being alleged or proven, include those details.)
Do not use the term transgendered or use transgender/s as a noun.
Do not use the term transgenderism, which frames transgender identity as an ideology.
Gender transitions and gender-affirming care
Transgender medical treatment for youths is increasingly under attack in many states and has been subject to restrictions or outright bans. But it has been available in the United States for more than a decade and is endorsed by major medical associations.
Opponents of youth transgender medical treatment say there's no solid proof of purported benefits, cite widely discredited research and say children shouldn't make life-altering decisions they might regret.
Treatment typically begins with an evaluation for gender dysphoria, or the distress caused when gender identity doesn’t match a person’s assigned sex. If children meet guidelines and are showing signs of puberty, they can begin taking puberty blockers — fully reversible prescription medication that pauses sexual maturation, typically given in injections or skin implants.
If the gender dysphoria persists and they meet other criteria, teens can begin hormone treatments that prompt sexual development, including changes in appearance.
Guidelines from leading authorities on gender-affirming medical care say surgery generally should be reserved for adults, with exceptions for older teens who meet certain criteria.
All these treatments have potential side effects, and doctors are encouraged to discuss them with patients.
Avoid the word mutilation, a politicized and subjective term often used to mischaracterize surgery.
Research suggests that transgender youth and adults are prone to stress, depression and suicidal thoughts, and the evidence is mixed on whether treatment with hormones or surgery resolves those issues.
Even ahead of contemplating medical treatment, experts agree, allowing children to express their gender in a way that matches their identity is beneficial, such as letting children assigned male at birth wear clothing or hairstyles usually associated with girls, if that is their wish.
Do not equate a gender transition with becoming a man, becoming a woman or the outdated terminology sex change.
If you aren't already clear about which pronoun a person uses, it's OK and often advisable to ask them. Use your judgment on whether asking sources for their pronouns could complicate your relationship or distress someone.
Don't refer in interviews or stories to preferred or chosen pronouns. Instead, the pronouns they use, whose pronouns are, who uses the pronouns, etc.
While many transgender people use he/him and she/her pronouns, others — including nonbinary, agender or gender-fluid people — use they/them as a gender-neutral singular personal pronoun.
As much as possible, AP also uses they/them/their as a way of accurately describing and representing a person who uses those pronouns for themself. For more guidelines and perspectives, see the full pronouns entry.
The practice, widely considered insensitive, offensive or damaging, of referring to transgender people who have changed their name by the name they used before their transition. The term has long been used by many transgender people.
The terms deadname and deadnaming are best used in direct quotations, when known as a person's preference, or in broad references, and may require explanation in a story. Phrasing like birth name, legal name or previous name is also acceptable if accurate.
Use a person's previous name or pre-transition image only if required to understand the news or if requested by the person.
The issue of deadnaming often arises when public figures announce a gender transition. In these and other cases, generally use the deadname only once and not in the opening paragraph, with future coverage using only the new name.
Deadnaming a transgender person, even posthumously in obituaries or other coverage, is often considered disrespectful to the deceased, their survivors and any transgender people.
In the AP, use of a transgender person's previous name must be approved by managers.
When naming suspects or victims in stories about crimes or accidents, be cognizant that authorities or family members may be ignorant of or be disregarding the person's wishes; when possible, take into account information given by the person or by current friends or others who may have better information about how the person lived and identified.
If you do misname or misgender someone, correct it like any other factual error and use the correct name, gender and pronouns thereafter.
Covering transgender people in sports
Recent moves by athletic associations, legislatures and school districts seek to restrict the ability of transgender athletes, and in particular transgender women, to compete in a way that aligns with their gender. A recent White House proposal would forbid U.S. schools and colleges from enacting outright bans, but teams could create some limits in certain cases.
Proponents and opponents of such restrictions each point to a limited number of studies to support their viewpoints. Supporters of restrictions also assert that the participation of transgender women encroaches on the space that the federal law known as Title IX carved out for cisgender women and girls. Transgender athletes' backers argue, among other things, that sweeping restrictions overblow the prevalence of the issue.
Don't refer to male or female hormones. All people have the same hormones; only their levels vary. If discussion of hormones is needed, name the specific hormone(s).
Don't use phrasing that misgenders people or implies doubt, such as former men's swimmer or currently competes as a woman. Instead, formerly competed with men, current member of the women's team, etc.
Be clear on the intent of proposals or restrictions. Avoid constructions like transgender bans that imply trans people, not their participation in an activity, are the thing being banned. If transgender women are banned from playing on women's teams, say that. Be aware that laws affecting trans athletes may not only affect trans women, so be sure reporting reflects the specific legislative language used.
If transgender players of any gender are banned from playing on teams in line with their gender, say that.
Additional guidance on gender, sex and sexual orientation terminology:
transgender Describes people whose gender does not match the one usually associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Identify people as transgender only when relevant, and use the name by which they live publicly. Unless it is central to the story, avoid mention of a person's gender transition or gender-affirmation surgery in news coverage, which can be intrusive and insensitive.
Avoid references to a transgender person being born a boy or girl, or phrasing like birth gender. Sex assigned at birth is the accurate terminology. The shorthand trans is acceptable on second reference and in headlines.
A person who is assigned female at birth and transitions to align with their identity as a boy or man is a transgender boy or transgender man, and a person who is assigned male at birth and transitions to align with their identity as a girl or woman is a transgender girl or woman. Avoid the one-word compounds transman and transwoman. Instead, when relevant, say transgender man or transgender woman. In subsequent references, trans man or trans woman are acceptable.
Do not use the outdated term transsexual unless a source specifically asks to be identified as such.
Avoid derogatory terms such as tranny. Follow guidelines for obscenities, profanities, vulgarities as appropriate.
Refer to a transgender person's previous name, also called a deadname, only in the rare instance it is relevant to the story. See more details above.
cisgender Describes people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth; that is, not transgender. Explain if necessary. Do not use terms like normal to describe people who are not transgender. Not synonymous with heterosexual, which refers to sexual orientation.
drag performer, drag queen, drag king Entertainers who dress and act as a different gender. Drag queens act as women; drag kings act as men. Male impersonator and female impersonator are also acceptable. Defer to the performer's wishes on pronouns. Not synonymous with cross-dresser or transgender.
gender A social construct encompassing a person's behaviors, intrinsic identity and appearance. Gender often corresponds with but is not synonymous with sex. A person's sex and gender are usually assigned at birth by parents or attendants and can turn out to be inaccurate. Experts say gender is a spectrum, not a binary structure consisting of only men and women, that can vary among societies and can change over time.
gender-affirming care Refers to a swath of mental and medical treatments (such as counseling, hormones or surgery) that help bring a person's gender expression (such as voice, appearance or anatomy) in line with their gender identity. It can be but is not necessarily part of a gender transition. Such care is not limited to transgender people; it can also serve cisgender, nonbinary or intersex people.
If surgery is involved, gender-affirming or gender-affirmation surgery. Do not use abbreviations such as GAS, GCS or SRS unless in quotations, and introduce the full term before the quote. Do not use the outdated term sex change, and avoid describing someone as pre-op or post-op.
Gender-affirming care is the phrasing used by leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Other common phrasing, such as gender-confirming care and gender-confirmation or sex-reassignment surgery, are acceptable in quotations and in proper names. Phrasing like transgender health care and gender-transition surgery is acceptable when the context is confined to transgender people or a gender transition, respectively, but gender-affirming care is best in broader references or when the scope or context is unclear.
Refer to a person's gender-affirming care, including surgery, only when relevant. See transition, gender transition, gender expression, gender identity.
gender dysphoria Use this term, not gender identity disorder, for the distress felt when someone's gender expression does not match their gender identity. It is also a medical diagnosis often required for people to undergo gender-affirmation procedures.
gender expression How people outwardly convey their gender, intentionally or not, such as through fashion choices, mannerisms or pronouns. Gender stereotypes can lead others to incorrectly perceive someone's gender or sexual orientation.
gender-fluid, gender-fluidity Refers to a gender identity or expression that changes over time. Include the hyphen.
gender identity A person's sense of feeling male, female, neither or some combination of both. Often just gender will suffice: She spent a lot of time explaining her gender may work just as well as She spent a lot of time explaining her gender identity. Examples of gender identities include man or boy; woman or girl; nonbinary; bigender; agender; gender-fluid; genderqueer; and combinations of identities, such as nonbinary woman.
gender-nonconforming (adj.) Acceptable in broad references to describe people whose identities or expressions do not follow gender norms. May include but is not synonymous with transgender. Avoid dated terminology such as gender-bending or tomboy.
genderqueer (adj.) An identity describing people whose gender expression does not follow norms; use only if the person or group identifies as such. Related to but not synonymous with nonbinary and gender-nonconforming.
intersex (adj.) Describes people born with genitalia, reproductive organs, chromosomes and/or hormone levels that don't fit typical definitions for males or females. Identify specific people as intersex only if they use the term themselves. Do not conflate with nonbinary or transgender. Do not use as a noun.
When relevant, describe the person's specific condition, along with a brief explanation: Statler has Klinefelter syndrome, in which males have an extra X chromosome. The term difference(s) in sex development is acceptable in quotes and medical contexts; limited use of the abbreviation DSD is acceptable in subsequent references. Avoid the outdated term hermaphrodite.
nonbinary (adj.) Describes people who don't identify as strictly men or women; can include agender (having no gender), gender-fluid (an identity that fluctuates) or a combination of male and female. Not synonymous with transgender, though some nonbinary people are also transgender.
openly, out The term openly can imply that to identify as transgender is inherently shameful, so use it only when relevant: Xiong is the group's first openly transgender president (which would allow for the possibility that previous presidents were transgender but not open about it).
Do not use terms like avowed or admitted.
Don't assume that because news figures address their gender transition publicly, it qualifies as coming out; public figures may consider themselves out even if they haven't previously addressed their identity publicly.
Outing or outed is usually used when someone's identity is revealed against their knowledge or will.
pregnant women, pregnant people Pregnant women or women seeking abortions is acceptable phrasing. Phrasing like pregnant people or people seeking abortions is increasingly used in medical contexts and is also acceptable to include people who have those experiences but do not identify as women, such as some transgender men and some nonbinary people. Use judgment and decide what is most appropriate in a given story. Neutral alternatives like abortion patients are also acceptable, but do not use overly clinical language like people with uteruses or birthing people.
puberty Male or female puberty or puberty typical of males or females is acceptable in reference to transgender people who did not take hormone-altering medication during puberty.
sex Refers to biological and physiological characteristics, including but not limited to chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs. A person's sex is usually assigned at birth by parents or attendants, sometimes inaccurately. Sex often corresponds with but is not synonymous with gender, which is a social construct.
trans-exclusionary radical feminist Avoid the vague and politicized terms trans-exclusionary radical feminist or its acronym, TERF, and gender-critical to describe cisgender women or others who object to the inclusion of transgender women in women's spaces. Instead, be specific about a person's or group's objections, and paraphrase quotations that use the terms unless needed for a compelling reason.
transition (n., v.), gender transition The legal, medical or social processes some transgender or nonbinary people undergo to match their gender identity. Examples can include a formal or informal change to names or pronouns, makeup and hairstyles, hormone therapy, or gender-affirmation surgery. Mention or describe it only when relevant. Detransition is acceptable as a verb to describe the reversing of a gender transition.
transsexual Some people who have undergone gender-affirming procedures refer to themselves as transsexual; use the term only if a person requests it, and explain that the person uses the term.
sexual identity People's awareness of themselves in a sexual sense. It incorporates a person's sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
SOGI Increasingly popular shorthand for the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity. Avoid using the acronym unless necessary, as in a quote or name of an organization, and explain the term if used.
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