Call Me Caitlyn

By now, we’ve probably all heard of Caitlyn Jenner’s debut on the cover of Vanity Fair, and the (mostly) positive response.  I’m not going to get into a discussion of the words “hero” or “courage” – although feel free to comment if you would like to. What I do want to highlight is an article that GLAAD put out about Caitlyn Jenner and about all transgender individuals.

GLAAD issued a tip sheet for journalists and the greater media who happen to be covering transgender issues, particularly pertinent for this blog as it comes down to proper labels including pronouns that should be employed when talking about transgender individuals.  Here are some of the highlights:

Transgender is used to describe people who transition, and transgender is an adjective, NOT a noun.  For example, Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender woman, not “Jenner is a transgender.” Don’t use transgendered – there’s no need for the extraneous “-ed”.  Likewise, the terms transsexual and transvestite are not appropriate.

You should refer to transgender individuals by their actual name, not their formal name (Caitlyn Jenner rather than Bruce). For a time, it may be necessary to add “formerly known as…” but once the public has learned a trangender individual’s new name, stop referring to their former name.

Use pronouns for the person’s gender – this is the part that a lot of the media and several high profile celebrities/politicians continue to get wrong about Caitlyn Jenner.  Her name is Caitlyn, and she is a cast member of “Keeping up with the Kardashians”. Avoid using male pronouns for a transgender woman and avoid using female pronouns for a transgender male, even when describing events in the past.  GLAAD’s example is perfect for this – “Prior to her transition, Caitlyn Jenner won the gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the Summer Olympics held in Montreal in 1976.”

GLAAD’s next point is probably the one that confuses the most people.  Caitlyn Jenner is female, that is her gender identity.  This does not correlate to her sexual orientation.  Gender identity is one’s sense of being male or female, while sexual orientation is who one is attracted to.  If Caitlyn Jenner is attracted to women, then she would be a transgender lesbian woman.  If she is attracted to men, Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender heterosexual woman.  Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing.

Get in the habit of avoiding saying “born a man” or “born a woman”.

It’s understandable that people may want to speculate about what medical procedures a transgende individual may or may not have undergone. But don’t.  It’s private information, just like any medical procedures you may or may not have had.  If YOU want to be open and honest about those, that’s your right.  But other people have the right to privacy.  Also, transgender identity is not dependent on medical procedures.  As was once describe to me, medical procedures “only make the outside look like what the inside feels.”

I’m taking this one directly from GLAAD,

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.

This last GLAAD tip is critically important and something that has definitely been in the news about Caitlyn Jenner.  There have been a rash of articles critiquing Jenner’s femininity, and before her transition there were plenty of articles questioning Bruce Jenner’s masculinity.  In a time where we are supposed to be looking past conventional standards of feminitiy and masculinity, doing so to a transgender individual is both reductive and insulting.

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