Download: Writing About Trans People and Issues from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)

Writing About Transgender Veterans and Issues

COVERING TRANSGENDER PEOPLE GENERALLY

Download GLAAD’s media reference guide for reporters covering transgender issues, which includes information on  respectful and disrespectful language: http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender.

Names and Pronouns
Use the name and pronoun the subject prefers. See:

The Associated Press Style Book (2011 Edition):
Reporters should “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”

New York Times Style Book (2005) says:
“Cite a person’s transgender status only when it is pertinence is clear to the reader. Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.”

And always be mindful of gender neutral language when greeting others. A printable card to encourage and empower everyone to be mindful of language from QMunity, BC’s Queer Resource Centre: http://qmunity.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Gener-Inclusivity-Sheet_PDF-web.pdf

TAVA Tips for Journalists on writing about Transgender Veterans and Service Members

There are roughly 134,000 transgender veterans and 15,500 actively serving transgender military members, according to the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. Essential information on veterans in general can be found at http://www.veteransdata.info.

Transgender people are over represented in the military, says a recent study by Blosnich et al. Dr. Blosnich states that GID [gender dysphoria] prevalence in the VHA is higher (22.9/100 000 persons) than are previous estimates of gender dysphoria in the general US population (4.3/100 000 persons) and that the rate of suicide-related events among gender dysphoria-diagnosed VHA veterans was more than 20 times higher than were rates for the general VHA population.

WHAT IS A TRANSGENDER VETERAN

A transgender veteran is a patriotic volunteer who has served in America’s armed forces, putting themselves in harm’s way because of a committed belief that it is their individual duty to defend freedom; who also happens to identify themselves as a member of the sex opposite from which they were identified with at birth.

Transgender Americans are more as likely to volunteer to serve in our American armed forces as any other group of Americans . They do not make this life changing and challenging choice easily, giving up their freedom and risking sacrificing their lives. They do not do this to prove anything to anyone, not to themselves, not to their families or anyone else; they do it because they want to serve their country.

Serving in America’s armed forces has been a choice since 1972. It is not an obligation, as such, it is voluntary; but for many who volunteer it is a personal moral obligation that they feel more strongly even than their gender, racial, religious, ethnic or other personal identity. It is our identity as a patriotic American, plain and simple.

Being transgender is not a choice, any more than being black or white or Chinese or anything else. One does not ‘choose’ to become a member of the world’s most misunderstood and discriminated against minority on Earth. It is simply who you are.

TRANSGENDER LABELS, IDENTIFYING TERMINOLOGY, POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE

A Transgender Woman is not a person who was “born a male, who chose to become a woman.” A Transgender Woman is a person who was born a female, in a male body with male genitalia. A recent dramatization of this concept portrayed an older transgender woman telling her female partner that she was now going to be female full time. The partner asked something like, “So, you’re going to dress as a woman full time now?” The transwoman responded in the following vein, “I’ve been dressing as a man all my life, now I’m going to dress as who I am.”

The same applies in reverse regarding Transgender Men.

Transgender Veterans, in nearly all cases, served in our American armed forces in the gender which they were assigned at birth. During their service, in uniform, in training, in combat, in all situations, they had to suffer suppressing who they were, at the risk of extreme discrimination, dishonorable discharge, or potentially fatal violence against them for who they are. Following completion of their patriotic service, many finally found their way to fulfilling who they are by transitioning.

Respecting the identity of patriotic veterans: If as an individual and as an American Journalist, you strive to be respectful of people’s identity as minorities, and as veterans, then doing the same for transgender veterans should be no more difficult. Its quite simple. If a transgender veteran identifies as a woman, she is referred to as ‘she.’ If he identifies as a man, he’s referred to as ‘he.’ They are not “formerly members of the opposite sex.” If you need to qualify and clarify in your writing, be sure to ask yourself if that is relevant to the story; be sure to avoid stereotyping and disrespectful misstatements. So, if absolutely necessary to the clarity of your story, you could say something like, “She served in the armed forces in the male gender assigned to her at birth, but was able to transition to her actual gender after her service.”

What is important in writing about a transgender veteran: It’s pretty easy to hack out a sensationalist piece about a soldier who served as a male and then changed gender, delving into private details about medical procedures and psychological stress, attracting reader attention with gripping anxiety inducing gross descriptions of sex reassignment surgery and such. It is far more challenging and interesting to craft a story about the heroic decision to serve as a patriotic member of our armed forces, listing combat experiences, leadership roles, medals and awards, the challenges faced, and that soldier’s success in doing all that. What is important is ‘who this person is and what they have accomplished,’ rather than what’s between their legs. What is important is identifying the person with the name they prefer, rather than a salacious reference to the name they do not prefer. If you are writing about a hero, why disparage who he or she is? Respect for the individual and for service to our nation is the guiding principal in what you should include in your story about a transgender veteran.