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Gender and Sexuality

misogyny

Misogyny is a contempt for or ingrained prejudice against women and girls. Generally the adjective form, “misogynistic,” is more accurate to describe someone’s actions (e.g., “made misogynistic comments” instead of “is a misogynist”). It may be helpful to specify and define the particular type of misogyny being discussed (for instance, misogynoir is directed specifically toward Black women and girls, and transmisogyny is directed specifically at trans women and girls).

mpox

Mpox (“em-pox”), or monkeypox, is a disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is related to smallpox. It is primarily transmitted from human to human through prolonged close physical contact, including sexual contact, though it is not currently categorized as a sexually transmitted infection. To refer to the populations seeing the largest numbers of mpox cases as of August 2022, some organizations suggest phrasing such as “men who have sex with men and those in their sexual networks,” which emphasizes behavior rather than identity. However, being as specific as possible about the population(s) being discussed may be helpful for clarity. Some scientists have criticized the name “monkeypox,” saying it is stigmatizing and has racist connotations; alternatives in use in some places beyond mpox include MPX, hMPX, and MPV. As with reporting on any disease or diagnosis, it’s important to keep people’s right to privacy in mind, and to consider whether disclosing someone’s diagnosis or vaccination status is truly necessary and relevant to coverage.

passing

Passing is a term that identifies someone as able to “pass,” or be perceived as a member of a dominant group. In the context of gender and sexuality, this could mean, for one example, the ability of nonbinary and trans people with more conventional gender presentations to pass for cisgender. The ability to pass is often considered a privilege. It offers safety and access to opportunities that people who can’t pass don’t have. However, a person’s ability to pass does not erase their identity, nor should the ability to pass be used to invalidate their gender or sexual orientation.

pronouns

Pronouns are words that take the place of a noun and tend to correlate to gender identity in the third person: he, she, they, ze … Some individuals also use a combination of pronouns (e.g., he/they, she/they, she/xir). Providing brief explanation for some less common pronouns can be helpful for clarity. If someone’s pronouns are unknown, they/them/theirs can be used as a gender-neutral alternative instead of the binary he/she. Saying someone “uses she/they pronouns” (vs. “prefers she/they pronouns”) affirms that a person’s pronouns and gender identity are not a choice but a deeply felt part of their identity.

queer

Queer is an umbrella term used to describe sexuality, gender, expression, and identity outside of the cisgender and heterosexual “norm.” Historically used as a slur, it’s been widely reclaimed. While many people and groups now use the word (“She is a queer woman” or “They belong to a queer volleyball league”), some people may still find it inaccurate or offensive. As with any identifier, being as specific as possible and taking into account an individual’s preference whenever feasible ensures coverage reflects how someone self-identifies.

rape culture

Rape culture is based on enduring gender inequities that normalizes and justifies sexual violence. Manifestations of rape culture in media coverage can involve, for instance, describing what a rape victim wore, using the term “sex” to describe a rape or sexual assault (which implies consent), and including stereotypes of rape victims and survivors in general. 

sex assigned at birth (SAAB)

Sex assigned at birth (SAAB) is a term that refers to the sex label (e.g., male or female) an infant is assigned by doctors and/or parents at birth, based on biological and genetic factors like chromosomes and sexual anatomy. SAAB is not inherently connected to gender or gender identity, and the terms are not interchangeable. SAAB is also clearer than “biological sex,” which is scientifically imprecise and can be invalidating to trans and nonbinary people.

sex positive

Sex positive and sex positivity refer to a social and philosophical movement dedicated to shifting attitudes and norms around sex and sexuality by approaching sex in a nonjudgmental and respectful way. It values consent above all else, and teaches communication, education, and allowing the individual to make informed decisions about their body and pleasure. It’s important not to make assumptions about a person’s connection to, views on, or comfort with sex positivity based on their belonging to a particular community, or mode(s) of self-expression. Focusing on an individual’s or group’s story and identifiers can prevent overgeneralizations. 

sex work / sex worker

Sex work is an umbrella term for any work in which goods and money are exchanged for consensual erotic performances and/or sexual services. A sex worker is a person who engages in sex work. Steering clear of stigmatizing language and coded terms like “massage parlor” helps avoid reinforcing assumptions or generalizations about sex workers’ identities; all kinds of people engage in sex work.

sexual orientation

Sexual orientation indicates who a person is sexually and/or romantically attracted to. It is not the same as gender (someone’s deepest understanding of their gender identity) or gender expression (outward signifiers of a person’s gender such as clothing or hairstyle). The shift from “preference” to “orientation” signals the understanding of a person’s sexual orientation as innate rather than a choice or inclination.

Last updated 08/05/22

Gender and sexuality are deeply felt and highly individual parts of everyone’s identity. Understanding of gender and sexuality has evolved over time, and with that evolution comes changing terminology. 

This section of the Language, Please style guidance aims to explore and explain this evolution and the myriad ways people can describe their experiences and identifications in these spaces.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will update and expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

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