How to talk about Caitlyn Jenner: a guide to speaking and writing about transgender people


Caitlyn Jenner, the woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner, just revealed herself on the cover of Vanity Fair. This transgender woman's coming-out is a major moment in pop culture history. Everyone's gonna be talking about her today. Here's a guide from GLAAD on how not to be an asshole about it.

The classification of people as male or female. At birth infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. (This is what is written on the birth certificate.) However, a person's sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.

Gender Identity
One's internal, deeply held sense of one's gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices. Unlike gender expression (see below) gender identity is not visible to others.

Gender Expression
External manifestations of gender, expressed through one's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine and feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression align with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.

Sexual Orientation
Describes an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would identify as a straight woman.


Transgender (adj.)
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms - including transgender. Some of those terms are defined below. Use the descriptive term preferred by the individual. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures.

Transsexual (adj.)
An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some people who have permanently changed - or seek to change - their bodies through medical interventions (including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries). Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers. If preferred, use as an adjective: transsexual woman or transsexual man.

Used as shorthand to mean transgender or transsexual - or sometimes to be inclusive of a wide variety of identities under the transgender umbrella. Because its meaning is not precise or widely understood, be careful when using it with audiences who may not understand what it means. Avoid unless used in a direct quote or in cases where you can clearly explain the term's meaning in the context of your story.

Transgender man
People who were assigned female at birth but identify and live as a man may use this term to describe themselves. They may shorten it to trans man. (Note: trans man, not "transman.") Some may also use FTM, an abbreviation for female-to-male. Some may prefer to simply be called men, without any modifier. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.

Transgender woman
People who were assigned male at birth but identify and live as a woman may use this term to describe themselves. They may shorten to trans woman. (Note: trans woman, not "transwoman.") Some may also use MTF, an abbreviation for male-to-female. Some may prefer to simply be called women, without any modifier. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.

While anyone may wear clothes associated with a different sex, the term cross-dresser is typically used to refer to heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup, and accessories culturally associated with women. This activity is a form of gender expression, and not done for entertainment purposes. Cross-dressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. Replaces the term "transvestite."

PLEASE NOTE: Transgender women are not cross-dressers or drag queens. Drag queens are men, typically gay men, who dress like women for the purpose of entertainment. Be aware of the differences between transgender women, cross-dressers, and drag queens. Use the term preferred by the individual. Do not use the word "transvestite" at all, unless someone specifically self-identifies that way.

Altering one's birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following personal, medical, and legal steps: telling one's family, friends, and co-workers; using a different name and new pronouns; dressing differently; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more types of surgery. The exact steps involved in transition vary from person to person. Avoid the phrase "sex change."

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS)
Refers to doctor-supervised surgical interventions, and is only one small part of transition (see transition above). Avoid the phrase "sex change operation." Do not refer to someone as being "pre-op" or "post-op." Not all transgender people choose to, or can afford to, undergo medical surgeries. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of surgeries in the transition process.

Gender Identity Disorder (GID)
outdated, see Gender Dysphoria

Gender Dysphoria
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) which replaced the outdated entry "Gender Identity Disorder" with Gender Dysphoria, and changed the criteria for diagnosis. The necessity of a psychiatric diagnosis remains controversial, as both psychiatric and medical authorities recommend individualized medical treatment through hormones and/or surgeries to treat gender dysphoria. Some transgender advocates believe the inclusion of Gender Dysphoria in the DSM is necessary in order to advocate for health insurance that covers the medically necessary treatment recommended for transgender people.


You may hear the following terms when doing research on transgender issues or speaking to an interview subject. As they are not commonly known outside the LGBT community, they will require context and definition if used in mainstream media. Their inclusion here is for informational purposes.

A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. "Cis-" is a Latin prefix meaning "on the same side as," and is therefore an antonym of "trans-." A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say non-transgender people.

Gender Non-Conforming
A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming. Many people have gender expressions that are not entirely conventional -- that fact alone does not make them transgender. Many transgender men and women have gender expressions that are conventionally masculine or feminine. Simply being transgender does not make someone gender non-conforming. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as gender non-conforming.

A term used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as genderqueer.


Always use a transgender person's chosen name.
Many transgender people are able to obtain a legal name change from a court. However, some transgender people cannot afford a legal name change or are not yet old enough to change their name legally. They should be afforded the same respect for their chosen name as anyone else who lives by a name other than their birth name (e.g., celebrities).

Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like you to use.
A person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not that person has taken hormones or had some form of surgery, should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender.

If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun is preferred, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person's appearance and gender expression.
For example, if a person wears a dress and uses the name Susan, feminine pronouns are usually appropriate.

It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person's chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person's gender identity.

The Associated Press Stylebook provides guidelines for journalists reporting on transgender people and issues.
According to the AP Stylebook, 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." (see AP & New York Times Style)

When describing transgender people, please use the correct term or terms to describe their gender identity.
For example, a person who was assigned male at birth and transitions to living as a woman is a transgender woman, whereas a person who was assigned female at birth and transitions to living as a man is a transgender man. If someone prefers a different term, use it along with an explanation of what that term means to them.

Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition.
Ideally a story will not use pronouns associated with a person's birth sex when referring to the person's life prior to transition. Try to write transgender people's stories from the present day, instead of narrating them from some point in the past, thus avoiding confusion and potentially disrespectful use of incorrect pronouns.


Problematic Terms

Problematic: "transgenders," "a transgender"
Preferred: transgender people, a transgender person

Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, "Tony is a transgender," or "The parade included many transgenders." Instead say, "Tony is a transgender man," or "The parade included many transgender people."

Problematic: "transgendered"
Preferred: transgender

The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous "-ed" tacked onto the end. An "-ed" suffix adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. It also brings transgender into alignment with lesbian, gay, and bisexual. You would not say that Elton John is "gayed" or Ellen DeGeneres is "lesbianed," therefore you would not say Chaz Bono is "transgendered."

Problematic: "transgenderism"
Preferred: none

This is not a term commonly used by transgender people. This is a term used by anti-transgender activists to dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to "a condition." Refer to being transgender instead, or refer to the transgender community. You can also refer to the movement for transgender equality.

Problematic: "sex change," "pre-operative," "post-operative"
Preferred: transition

Referring to a "sex-change operation," or using terms such as "pre-operative" or "post-operative," inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.

Problematic: "biologically male," "biologically female," "genetically male," "genetically female," "born a man," "born a woman"
Preferred: assigned male at birth, assigned female at birth or designated male at birth, designated female at birth

Problematic phrases like those above are reductive and overly-simplify a very complex subject. As mentioned above, a person's sex is determined by a number of factors - not simply genetics - and one's biology does not "trump" one's gender identity. Finally, people are born babies - they are not "born a man" or "born a woman."

Defamatory Terms

Defamatory: "deceptive," "fooling," "pretending," "posing," "trap," or "masquerading"
Gender identity is an integral part of a person's identity. Do not characterize transgender people as "deceptive," as "fooling" or "trapping" others, or as "pretending" to be, "posing" or "masquerading" as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are defamatory and insulting.

Defamatory: "tranny," "she-male," "he/she," "it," "shim"
These words dehumanize transgender people and should not be used in mainstream media. The criteria for using these derogatory terms should be the same as those applied to vulgar epithets used to target other groups: they should not be used except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted. So that such words are not given credibility in the media, it is preferred that reporters say, "The person used a derogatory word for a transgender person." Please note that while some transgender people may use "tranny" to describe themselves, others find it profoundly offensive.

Defamatory: "bathroom bill"
A term created and used by far-right extremists to oppose non-discrimination laws that protect transgender people. The term is geared to incite fear and panic at the thought of encountering transgender people in public restrooms. Simply refer to the non-discrimination law/ordinance instead.

MORE: For additional resources on how to fairly and accurately report on transgender people, please see "In Focus: Covering the Transgender Community" and visit

In the mid-1970s, Jenner was a fixture on America's breakfast tables, as an athlete spokesperson for the cereal brand Wheaties.

In the mid-1970s long before her public gender transition, Jenner was a fixture on America's breakfast tables as an athlete spokesperson for the cereal brand Wheaties.

Notable Replies

  1. Gay's and Lesbian's Against Defamation think they can tell who can and can not be trans?
    Of course they want trans/gender to mean the same as transexual.
    Because if the actual definition of transgender: "people who challenge 'traditional' assumptions about gender" is used i.e the original definition that was specifically designed to be inclusive and not exclusive of drag queens, drag kings, crossderessers, transvestites, butch women, femme mean, androygnes, gender fuck and gender queer - it might include some of them and that would never do. We fought hard to include our diversity because trans people are diverse, because its impossible to say that person is really a transexual and that person isn't. I remember when being a tranny dyke was a contradiction in terms. I was told over and over again by Lesbians and gays that people only had sex changes because they wanted to be heterosexual, that if a transexual woman saw her slef as a lesbian then she was really a transvestite. We fought hard for trans/gender inclusion in LGBT precisely to get away from all this better than thou bull**** So GLAAD can take their definitions and shove them!

    Of course all insecure transexuals love the idea that the T in LGBT is just about them. When you have just lost CIS privilege and are casting around for any sense of power/privilege, feeling better about being a 'real' man or woman than the 'fake' transvestites, drag queens, cross dressers, drag kings etc makes one feel so much better. Of course they will dump the trans identity the moment they can pass and regain cis privilege. How do I know - because I been watching it happen for thirty years.
    Oh and btw I am dyke - I call myself a dyke to reclaim the word from all the haters, which is why I am also a tranny - because I wont let that word be used by haters either.
    Oh and I am proud of who I am and all the battles I have fought, often having to fight exclusive gays and lesbians like the people at GLAAD who think they can tell others - who and what they are!
    How would GLAAAD like if i defined lesbian as women who only have had sex with women and gay as men who only ever had sex with men, and if they have ever had sex with the another sex then they were bisexual!
    I would rightly be told that I was being offensive and how dare I think I can define what someone else's sexuality is.
    So how come a bunch of cis lesbian and gays get to tell trans people who we are and who is included with our community
    can i suggest boingboing does a bit more research next time rather than going for the easy sloppy journalism route

  2. "Oh wow. Did you see this Vanity Fair pic of Jenner?"
    "Yep. I did."
    "How badly did that make you want to throw up?"
    "Funny, I was actually just reading this article about how to discuss transgender roles without sounding like an asshole."
    "Here, I'll send you the link."

  3. I thought it was a good post with lots of good detail.

    Counter to the headline, I would say rather than being a dictate of how you should talk, it is rather an education of how people prefer to be identified. Since a good chunk of people do want to be respectful of transgender folks, the easiest way to do that is to learn about the concepts so you can apply them in conversation correctly. While most people will gloss over a slight gaff in what word you choose, choosing the right terms most of the time shows that you have taken the time to know what you're talking about.

  4. FFS, who is demanding that people read this article before asking questions?

    If someone posts a question on Serverfault about how to enable HTTPS in Apache, wouldn't a reasonable answer outline the basic process, then provide links to the documentation? Few people would demand that people read the complete Apache documentation before asking a question. Though I'm sure many would say it would be a good idea to read it. Does anyone ever suggest it's somehow offensive that Apache has extensive documentation?

    This is documentation. It's handy to have around. No one forced you to read it.

  5. The point about the inclusive nature of transgender was precisely because NO ONE can tell SOME ONE ELSE if they are Transgender or not. I have no idea if someone is or is not transgender , but if they say they are that's good enough for me. It's like my saying I'm red sox fan, I might not meet someone's criteria for being a fan - but I don't care - I have been a fan since I was a Kid and one of my fervent hopes is that with Virtual Reality I can sit out in the bleachers and watch the game at Fenway.I am proud to be a sox fan, Just like I'm proud to be a tranny and a dyke, and if you want to come out as dyke then you go girl and if your a tranny as well hey its about taking back the words from the haters and abusers. And if you don't like the words I use, that's fine to.

    Can i just say to all the people out there who get the words wrong and feel bad about doing so - your forgiven! Just try to get it right next time. What i actually want is your support and respect,.what I want is for you to help my siblings. Even more than that I want people to stop assuming that just because a transexual wo/man has surgery that will fix everything - because it wont - it wont take away the years upon years of trauma, I wish Caitlin well, and I sure she feels free now, but she still has a long way to go to heal herself of the trauma of what she went through and what she had to do to survive till now.So if you meet a guy in tears it isn't because he acting like a girl, it might be because of all the years he was forced to live as a girl
    But what I want, what I really, really want! Is for gender to consigned to history. Its such a stupid constant - what does telling you I'm a women tell you? I told you I'm a red sox fan and that should tell you a huge bunch more. I can tell you I'm a metal-head, a SF fan, a nerd all those things say as much about me as saying I am a woman. OK yes I fancy women and I like female bodies but I personally like those bodies to be strong, muscled, powerful and energetic are the things I love in female bodies. But if gender went away, then yes negotiating if I actually want to share with you becomes more difficult - but if the dwarves in Terry Pratchet can manage it - so can we.

    I hope this clears things up. I don't hate cis people - to do that would be to hate people i dearly love - my family. I don't see a problem with someone going from closet cis to trans to closeted cis. Hell I recommend that as soon as you can pass, you should take a chance to take a break and heal, just be who you really are. My only problem with other transexuals is when they go around defining who can and can not be in 'my gang'.who is and is not part of the in crowd. Just as I can't stand the GLAAD deciding what and who is transgender I know they mean well, but by not be inclusive - by being exclusive they hurt a lot our community to support a few which may also include themselves!

    Oh thanks for taking the time to read this and get involved in the thread - now that's really appreciated by me!
    big hugs

Continue the discussion

69 more replies