Trans Media Guide

Please note this is an ever changing article. This means I will continue to update it as more problems/information arises. Please leave a comment with feedback or use my contact the author page!


The news media has a huge problem when it comes to reporting on trans* people. This problem spans across a wide variety of arenas, it is not localized to one specific issue that can be addressed simply. The news media needs an overhaul, a make-over if you will, on how it reports trans* people. While I understand there are articles and guides out there that cover how to do this, I’ve noticed very few explain exactly why in some form of depth. I want this to be a basic guideline, a stepping stone of dos and don’ts, organized by the trans* community and their voices. A guide from and by trans* people about trans* people. There are no better teachers than ourselves.

Transgender/Trans* vs Transsexual

Some people still identify with the term transsexual and prefer it. This is perfectly fine, however, when writing generally or if you do not know if the person identifies this way, it is best to use transgender. Transgender covers everyone whose identity does not match with their assigned at birth gender. This includes agender, genderfluid, and genderqueer people as well. Trans* with the asterisk denotes a catch-all for these identities and is considered more inclusive towards them as opposed to simply using transgender.

Another issue with transsexual is that it focuses on the sex and sexual aspects of trans* people. It focuses on changing sexual characteristics, even though some people do not medically transition. These people are no less valid in their identity either. It also conjures mental images associated with sex in the sexuality sense as well. This can cause issues, especially with things such as demeaning porn featuring trans women (tranny/shemale porn) being such a big market. Transgender focuses on the main identity for people, their genders, and separates it from their genitals/secondary sex characteristics.

Transgender (adjective) vs transgenders (noun)/transgendered (verb)

Transgender, and trans*, simply put are adjectives. They are descriptors of a person’s identity. Just as white, black, gay, and bisexual are descriptors of people, transgender is as well. This is partially why transgenders and transgendered are problematic. They denote either a noun or a verb. Someone is transgender, they are not a transgender nor are they in the act of transgendering.

Transgenders is problematic because it takes away the human aspect of a person. They become that one identity, rather than a person who happens to be transgender. The main focus becomes that possibly small facet of their life. While identity is important to a lot of people, we are never one thing. We cannot be boiled down to one component (minus the human one). We are a multitude of identities, experiences, and personalities. By stating someone is a transgender, you remove all of these things. You make them a thing rather than a person.

Transgendered is also problematic because it denotes that being transgender is an act. One simply crosses to the other side and that is that, rather than a process and an identity. It implies that one becomes or does being transgender, rather than something one is. For example, if someone comes out of the closet as gay, they are not gayed, they are simply gay. Saying someone is transgendered takes away the identity aspect.

Pronouns/Correct Identity

Short title, not as short section. Trans* people should always be presented with the pronouns they prefer. This includes past context as well. Switching between pronouns is not only confusing, but disrespectful for the person. Most trans* people have always identified as their gender and not the one they were assigned at birth. Even if they have not, respect is important and someone should be addressed how they currently identify.

This extends into identifying people correctly. A trans woman is a woman and should be identified as such. She is not a cross-dresser or a transvestite. These are entirely different identities. If you are unsure how someone identifies, ask. If you cannot ask them, generally how they present is a good enough way. Generally this is an issue with those who are victims of crimes. Many trans* people are misgendered in criminal case reporting because they cannot speak for themselves.

Names are also a very important factor. Names are part of who we are and are a very important identity. This includes chosen names. A trans* person’s chosen name is their real name. Their old name is a dead name. That name is not them nor should it be used. For clarity, sometimes it can be used, but only briefly. For example, when referring to Chelsea Manning, some people may start articles with formerly known as Bradley Manning. This should only be done on a need to know basis, otherwise dead names should be avoided all together.

These things are very important as using the wrong pronouns, incorrect name, and incorrect identity leads to ungendering and misgendering. These are extremely problematic things as they establish that the wrong gender is the correct gender for a trans* person and that they do not truly know who they are. No one knows more about themselves than the person. Many trans* people go their whole lives hearing incorrect pronouns and names which is why trans* people can get some upset over misgendering, even if it is not themselves being misgendered.

Problematic phrasing (ex: actually a boy/girl or biologically male/female)

When talking about trans* people, many people are curious about their status of their transition. People seem to be obsessed with the state of a trans* person’s genitals. To appease this, many people will say a trans* person is biologically male/female or that they are actually a boy/girl or similar phrasing. Both of these are extremely problematic for similar and different reasons. Saying someone is biologically male/female is a way of ungendering and misgendering them. Focusing on their biology is a form of biotruth, that biology trumps all. Even if a trans* person has not medically transitioned they are still biologically their identified gender since they are that gender. By biologically saying that a trans* person is the opposite of how they identify, you are trying to assert that they are not really that gender.

Saying someone is actually a boy/girl is problematic for all the reasons that saying someone is biologically male/female and then some. By saying someone is actually something else, you are entirely erasing their identity. This goes beyond biotruths and into erasure. It also insists a dominance and knowledge over someone else’s identity. This is something that needs to be entirely avoided. Trans* people are actually their identified gender.

Scare quotes

Scare quotes are when people use quotes around a word to denote sarcasm or lack of sincerity. For example, if I say someone is a “girl”, I am implying that they are not really a girl and that the word is used loosely or out of insincere respect. I do not mean they are really a girl. The use of scare quotes around pronouns and identities for trans* people is used in the same vein as people saying someone is actually their assigned at birth gender. They are only using the words because the other person insists in a way, but they do not believe the other party. I’ve seen people attempt to defend the use of scare quotes by saying they were quoting the other party. This is inaccurate because the quote should be more than a single word. For example, saying she defines herself as a “girl” as opposed to saying, she defines herself as “a girl who happens to have an different past than most girls” or something of that nature. Never put someone’s pronouns or identity in quotes.

The use of slurs (tranny/shemale/he-she)

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. The word faggot is not considered proper in talking about gay people, these words are the same way. Tranny is a slur used in pornography that focuses on trans women. If you were to google the word, you get pictures of people in drag, the ‘man in a dress’ stereotype, and other tropes that trans women have to deal with. It is a slur that conjures up images of how trans women are not really women, as well as sexualizes them.

The same is for shemale. It focuses on their assigned at birth gender as well as sexualizes trans women. Many consider it a slur since, like tranny, the most use the word gets is in pornography. It is also used to other trans women from cis women. He-she is the same way, focusing on the fact trans* people have transitioned to one different from the one they were assigned as. He-she others trans* people, putting them in a different and separate category.

Talks of genitals/operative status

Someone’s pre or post operative status does not make them any more or less legitimate. Anyone who is pre-op is not actually male/female or really a boy/girl. Genitals have no affect on someone’s identity. Generally speaking, someone’s operative status or how long in transition they are should be left out unless explicitly brought up by the trans* person. Questions about genitals, surgical status, and the like are rude and invasive. The only people who need to know these things are those who the trans* person is sleeping with, doctors, or whoever they want to tell.


News media has a tendency to use before and after photos of trans* people. This perpetuates the idea that trans* people are not their actual gender, but what they were assigned at birth. While before and after photos can be uplifting and inspiring to other trans* people and the changes can be interesting, unless the article is about the person’s journey, they should be left out. Before/after pictures are almost always the most masculine before (for trans women/trans* feminine) or feminine (for trans men/trans* masculine) to show the contrast. Pictures of the person presenting how they did as their actual gender should be used as opposed to before and after pictures. Before pictures should never be used by themselves.

LGBT/Queer does not mean gay

Often people use lgbt /queer interchangeably with gay. While gay is the G in LGBT, it does not mean that gay defines everyone. Many trans* people are straight, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or other types of sexualities. By saying gay, you are erasing nothing most trans* people, lesbians, bisexuals, and other people besides gay men are being erased. Queer also is used to encompass anyone who is not heterosexual or cisgender. Queer does not specifically mean gay, though gay is included under this umbrella term. When talking about equal rights, people often say gay rights, LGBT rights, and equal rights. Gay rights are not LGBT rights. LGBT rights are gay rights. When talking about things that affect specifically trans* people, such as bathroom legislation, they are not gay rights, they are trans* rights, or if you want to include non-gender conforming people who may be affected (such as cis butch lesbians), LGBT or queer should be used.

Never talking to the trans* community

Most of the time, the news media does not ask members of the trans* community to participate in articles about themselves. They may ask leaders of organizations like GLAAD or the HRC to speak on the behalf of trans* people. Most of the time, these people are cis. Rarely do they outreach to the community to be educated on trans* issues or what trans* people feel is important to succeed. If they do, they often focus on the majority who is binary or gender conforming. It is uncommon to see people who are genderqueer, agender, or other non-binary identities being included in articles.

The most accurate information is going to come from inside the community. While Google is your friend and basic research is suggested before engaging the community, not outreaching to the community will end with possible faults in the article or information. Even on basic things some people disagree (some trans* people do prefer the word transgendered). However, the basic idea is safe rather than sorry.

If you mess up, remember, be open to criticism and correction. Apologize and move on. Do not try to defend your error. Fix it, apologize, and move on. If you defend your error, you come off as believe you were in the right and that you know better than the trans* people you potentially harmed. Some people may become more harsh than others, but listen to them for their anger is justified. This is something that is deeply personal and affects people every day and may be a sore spot due to past or current experiences. Be patient and open to learn. This is our lives, not yours.

Please note this is an ever changing article. This means I will continue to update it as more problems/information arises. Please leave a comment with feedback or use my contact the author page!


Author: Lucian Clark

Lucian Clark was born and raised in South New Jersey. Recently they published their first novel, a dark romance, titled Cemetery Drive. Their works have been featured across numerous platforms such as The Advocate and in anthologies like Werewolves Versus and Postcards From The Void. They've also been featured on several podcasts to talk about horror, activism, and their writing. With a passion for all things spooky, horrific, and queer, Lucian can often be found on social media talking about werewolves, rats, and My Chemical Romance. When not actively writing or reading, Lucian is also the curator of the queer horror website, GenderTerror, which features original art, stories, interview and more. They can also be found playing video games or with their pets (currently some rats and a cat). They are active in local and national social activism with a focus on LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive justice.

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