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Saturday, June 06, 2009


AP Style Guide and Gender Identity

Posted by The Dean of Cincinnati

Over at the Queer Cincinnati blog, Barry has been following some stories that feature inappropriate use of genderized pronouns when reporting on non-standard individuals (from a gender identity perspective).  Here’s his latest entry.  (Here’s an earlier one.)  I must admit, when I first started thinking about this issue, I wasn’t sure about Barry’s position.  I mean, if a man presents himself (herself?) as a woman, should a news reporter really ignore the fact of his (her?) physical maleness when using pronouns in a story?  In other words, should a reporter call a man “she” if that’s how the person presents herself?  (I’m confusing myself with all these pronouns!  Yet another argument supporting the singluar “their.” )

Anyway, rather than try to figure things out on my own, I was curious how something like the AP Style Guide might provide clarity for addressing gender identity in situations like this.  I mean, there is no argument with The Enquirer or WCPO, for example, if they are following assigned form; in that case the issue would be with AP.  So I did some light internet browsing and found this resource outlining AP Style Guide definitions.

ASSOCIATED PRESS (2006)
gay Used to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Preferred over homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity.

Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent to a story, and avoid references to “sexual preference” or to a gay or alternative “lifestyle.”

lesbian See gay.

transgender  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.

transsexuals  See transgender.

So it seems that, according to the AP Style Guide, sexual orientation is irrelevant if not central to the story, and individuals should be referred to using the genderized pronouns of their choice.  So, a man who dresses as a woman is “she,” according to the style book.  End of argument (unless you are a homophobe who wishes to accost the AP). 

Therefore, any time the Enquirer messes this up, someone should request a correction, and follow the Gannett chain if the paper doesn’t do the right thing.


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  1. Bearman says:

    Reading the most recent article about the hospital, the Enquirer didn’t use either he or she in any references that I saw in reference to Thrasher.

  2. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    Does it matter the physical gender of the perpetrator?  If so, why?

  3. Bearman says:

    Seemingly it did.  The story indicated the patient was agitated enough by the incident but more agitated when it was determined that it was a man physically.  Don’t know if he would have had the same reaction and follow through on reporting and charges if that wasn’t revealed.

  4. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    “Seemingly” and “Don’t know”—good indicators that the paper did not do it’s job to report the facts, right?

  5. Bearman says:

    They reported the facts.  Some of the details and what prompted the victim to respond as he did is what I am not sure of thus my use of Seemingly and Don’t know.  So while the Enquirer may have been lacking in providing some details, the facts they reported were accurate.

  6. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    It would be “accurate” to call someone with a penis “he” when using pronouns, but according to the AP Style Guide that is not the case when the person with a penis presents herself as a woman.

    I am not debating whether that is how it should be.  That is how it is.  The Enquirer, to my knowledge, is supposed to follow the Style Guide.

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