Everyone is talking about just how amazing Caitlin Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, looks on the cover of Vanity Fair and the inside spread, but are they using the right pronouns, expressions, phrases, and words?
Some are, but some are not, which is why GLAAD, formerly known as the “Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation,” put out a tip sheet for media on how to talk about Caitlin. This super-helpful resource can also help surgeons who, thanks to the bravery of Catlin and many others, may now be treating more of these transgender individuals. The tip sheet is all about Caitlin, but it could just as easily refer to any and all transgender men and women.
Here’s what you need to know:
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.