The media, transgender men and women
On Tuesday, October 15, the Rappler Desk decided to acknowledge that because the world is changing, our usual lenses and categories need to adjust to changing realities around us. One such issue is gender and its complexities. We recognize that gender is not just male or female, man or woman.
We need not look too far away as our very own workplace is perfect proof of that. There are “men” who look masculine externally yet are “women” in their heart of hearts. There are “women” who look feminine and dress chic yet are “men” in their preferences. And of course there are individuals who are attracted to both men and women and who consider themselves both man and woman. They defy conventional classification and challenge traditional gender categories.
For a society long trained and educated to think of gender as only a choice between two sexes, the changing reality that gender is not just man or woman can be disorienting, confusing, and too complex. Life and reality are no longer as simple as they used to be as more individuals have spoken and come out to declare their sexual preferences that do not fit into the two categories.
For the media to continue doing its job of reflecting and reporting on existing realities accurately, it should be able to quickly grasp and capture those realities. As a starting point, it does so by using the correct language.
Because the media is pervasive now more than ever, it plays a critical role in spreading and reinforcing gender and transgender stereotypes. But what defines gender? Is it physical attributes, identity, sexual preference or orientation, public perception, personal choice? Is it a choice of only one to the exclusion of the rest? If there are stringent definitions by the courts of gender, should these be binding on the media as well?
The terms relating to transgender are numerous and will require re-education – some say "de-education" of many newsrooms that have long regarded gender as only one of two choices. For instance, glaad.org provides definitions for:
- transgender man – assigned female at birth but identifies and lives as a man
- transgender woman – assigned male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman
- gender identity – internal, deeply held sense of one’s gender
- gender expression – external manifestations of gender (name, pronouns, clothing, voice, etc)
- sexual orientation – enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person
The American Psychological Association defines gender as the "socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women."
It’s a nuanced world that is foreign to many. Why should the media care at all or even take the time to understand the terminologies and complexities? It’s basic. Part of the media’s role is to give voice to the voiceless, the minorities, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged. It’s not so much about political correctness as it is about recognizing a community or individuals who have been ignored and regarded as practically non-existent.
In March 2012, we wrote about Heart Diño, the first transgender chair of the UP Student Council. We reported then: “'I’m a man but I identify myself as a woman,' Diño told Rappler in an earlier interview….For this story, Diño will be referred to as she. Diño prefers to be addressed as such as she considers herself a transgender.” Our Move project manager Voltaire Tupaz was the one who first wrote about Diño, and back then we used “transgender” as a noun.
We were ahead of the New York Times, the Associated Press, The Huffington Post, National Public Radio and other American media which articulated a change in editorial policy after Pfc Bradley Manning (of Wikileaks fame) said he wanted to be referred to as Chelsea Manning. That story forced them to re-examine and change their existing editorial stylebook in August 2013. Rappler was unable to articulate and spell out its policy to the public in 2012.
Two years after Heart Diño, we are reporting on Jeffrey Laude, the transgender woman who went by the name of “Jennifer.” She was her family’s breadwinner, described as selfless, charming, and confident about her sexuality. On Saturday, October 11, Laude was murdered by a white male suspected to be US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. With that murder came the end of her dreams for a better life for her and her family.
Jennifer Laude reminded us about the need to spell out and explain why we are using her name and “she” as the pronoun to refer to her. Language, after all, shapes perception and the definition of reality. Language is the exercise of power to recognize and define that reality.
Taking after what had been articulated by the Associated Press and the BBC, we have decided to adopt this policy: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical or external characteristics of their opposite sex or who present themselves differently from their sex at birth. If a preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the individuals’ lifestyle and public life. Explain briefly to the reader the choice of pronoun used.”
When we refer to Laude, we will use the pronoun “she” and use “transgender” as an adjective. We will use “transgender woman” when referring to Laude.
Language and mental categories should reflect day-to-day realities. Reality is neither rigid nor stagnant. If the Vatican is re-examining its position on divorce and gays, the media should be no less dynamic and proactive. – Rappler.com