Media Debate: Do We Call Manning He or She?

Media Debate: Do We Call Manning He or She?

The Huffington Post is chastising media outlets for not immediately referring to Bradley Manning as “she” now that he has decided that he is transgendered and wishes to be treated as a woman and called “Chelsea.”  

HuffPo’s admonishing, accusatory headline “News Outlets Continue To Refer To Chelsea Manning As ‘He'” sets the table for a politically correct primer in how the media should be handling gender specific pronouns when reporting on Manning. 

New York Times reporter Brian Stetler took to Twitter to explain the mixed use of gender specific pronouns used in the article he wrote on Manning’s gender identification change:  

According to the AP style book: 

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.

Reuters continued to refer to Manning as “he” and “him” as did CNN. Meanwhile, MSNBC and Daily Mail used feminine references for Manning. In a response to the Times story, public editor Margaret Sullivan referred to Manning as “Ms. Manning” and advocated for a quick change at the Old Gray Lady to the feminine pronoun.

The Poynter Institute (a journalism school that leads public discussions on issues such as this) turned to the gay advocacy group GLAAD for guidelines on how to handle the gender issue when reporting on Manning: 

Transgender An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Problematic: “transgenders,” “a transgender”
Preferred: “transgender people,” “a transgender person”
Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, “Tony is a transgender,” or “The parade included many transgenders.” Instead say, “Tony is a transgender man,” or “The parade included many transgender people.”

Problematic: “transgendered”
Preferred: “transgender”
The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous “-ed” tacked onto the end. An “-ed” suffix adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. For example, it is grammatically incorrect to turn transgender into a participle, as it is an adjective, not a verb, and only verbs can be used as participles by adding an “-ed” suffix.

Problematic: “sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative”
Preferred: “transition”
Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.