Trans Terminology 201
Talking about members of the transgender community with sensitivity and accuracy.
By Karen Yin • March 15, 2016
Coverage of transgender people has been on the rise, leading to an influx of grassroots terminology in mainstream media. The inclusion of trans people in narratives has necessitated immense shifts in language: By adopting terms which originated within the trans community, writers and editors are able to accurately communicate alternative concepts of pronouns, gender/sex, and orientation.
The following list of words entering mainstream consciousness supplements the guides provided by the National Center for Transgender Equality, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, and GLAAD for covering the trans community.
- misgender: To refer to a person, usually a trans person, by the wrong gender, whether deliberate or accidental.
- deadname: To use the name a trans person was given at birth instead of their current name. Unless you have permission, avoid using deadnames when referring to a time before they transitioned or with formerly.
- transmisogyny: Hatred of trans women, manifested overtly or institutionally.
- trans*: An umbrella term for a spectrum of gender identities, including genderqueer and bigender. Without the wildcard (asterisk), trans refers to transgender women and men. Wildcards are also used in other communities, such as veg*n for vegetarian/vegan and Latin@ for Latina/Latino. (If the asterisk might prompt readers unfamiliar with this convention to search for a footnote, insert one with a brief explanation.)
- TGNC: An initialism which groups transgender with gender non-conforming, instead of with lesbian, gay, and bisexual (as in LGBT), because transgender is an identity, not an orientation.
As a society, we respect different pronunciations and spellings of names, and getting the terminology right is another item on that checklist.
Writers and editors, especially those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, can learn more by paying attention to what trans writers—such as Ryka Aoki and Dane Figueroa Edidi—are writing.
As a society, we respect different pronunciations and spellings of names, and getting the terminology right is another item on that checklist. Style guides are only helpful to a point because they can’t tell you what individual preferences are. As with all personal details, the best practice is to ask.
Karen Yin is the founder of Conscious Style Guide, a resource for inclusive, empowering, and respectful language, and AP vs. Chicago, an irreverent language blog for anyone who “gives a dollar sign, ampersand, exclamation point, and pound sign about style.” Winner of the Robinson Prize in 2017 for furthering the craft of professional editing, Karen was a columnist for Copyediting and the keynote speaker at the Northwest Independent Editors Guild's Red Pencil 6 conference.