Reporting on the transgender community

NBCU Academy 101

Jo Yurcaba is a reporter for NBC Out, NBC News Digital’s LGBTQ+ vertical, and a member of the Transgender Journalists Association. They explain the basics of reporting on the transgender community.

A transgender person is someone whose lived gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a woman who was assigned male at birth is a transgender woman, and a man who was assigned female at birth is a trans man. 

Those who identify as neither exclusively male nor exclusively female are nonbinary. If you think of “transgender” as an umbrella term for someone who doesn’t identify with their birth sex, nonbinary fits under that. Nonbinary is generally an umbrella term for identities like genderqueer, genderfluid and agender.

Gender nonconforming refers to someone whose outward presentation, gender expression or behavior don’t fit traditional expectations of someone assigned their gender.

Transgender, or trans, is used as an adjective, not a noun, so avoiding referring to someone as “a transgender” or multiple people as “transgenders.” The term “transsexual” should also be avoided, unless someone specifically identifies that way.

When relevant, you can note in a news story that someone was “assigned male or female at birth” or was “raised as a boy or a girl.” Don’t refer to a trans woman as a “biological male” or a trans man as a “biological female.” 

When relevant, use the terms gender-affirming care or transition-related care. Avoid the outdated term “sex change operation.” NBC Out generally avoids the terms “sex-reassignment surgery” and “genital surgery” unless they are in a direct quote.

Gender dysphoria is the psychological distress that results from a mismatch between one’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity, and it’s preferred over “gender identity disorder,” which is outdated.

When writing a story about the trans community or trans rights, always interview trans people. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for interviewing trans sources:

  • For the most part, you should avoid focusing on a trans person’s body or appearance. If you’re working on a story about a gender-nonconforming model who’s breaking barriers in the fashion industry, including details about their appearance may be appropriate. If you’re interviewing a legal expert who happens to be trans, there’s no reason their body, appearance or transition should be mentioned.
  • Avoid questions about a trans person’s medical transition or surgeries unless that information is volunteered or necessary to the story.
  • If your story has nothing to do with trans issues at all, and the person you’re interviewing just happens to be trans, their gender identity should be off limits.

If a transgender person has changed their name, their pre-transition name or birth name is oftentimes referred to as their deadname, and the practice of using that name without their consent is typically referred to as deadnaming. This should be avoided by journalists in nearly all circumstances. 

One potential exception to this is when a very famous person comes out as transgender. For example, when actor Elliot Page came out as trans, he worked with LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD to put out guidance for journalists that stated it may be “necessary initially” to use his previous name, since he was so well known by it. NBC Out used his previous name in its first article about his transition and then never used it again. 

Pre-transition photos of a trans person should also be avoided in nearly all circumstances, unless they consent to these images being shown and it is relevant to the story. For example, NBC News coverage of the coming out of WWE wrestler Gabbi Tuft included her pre-transition photo and deadname, because Gabbi specifically wanted her past to be part of her coming out story. NBC News made Gabbi’s wishes clear to readers and noted that most trans people do not opt to highlight their pre-transition past.

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