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Gender and Sexuality

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.

sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) / gender identity change efforts (GICE)

Sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are the unethical pseudoscientific practice of attempting to alter a person’s sexual orientation. They often overlap with gender identity change efforts (GICE). The phrase “conversion therapy” is sometimes used as an umbrella term for SOCE and GICE, though this can lend credence to the false idea that these efforts are actual treatments. Accurate reporting would reflect that the practices are harmful, not supported with scientific evidence, and not a legitimate form of therapy. 

slur

A slur is biased language that is offensive toward a person or group based on identity, such as race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or disability, or class. Some words once considered slurs have been reclaimed in certain contexts by the populations they were once used to disparage. Still, given the historically offensive nature of terms such as these, caution is warranted when deciding to repeat them in full, especially outside the context of someone’s self-identification. Keeping repetition to a minimum helps avoid unintentionally desensitizing audiences to the use of such terms. If someone uses a particular term to self-identify, making sure it’s clear that is their stated preference adds necessary context.

transition / transitioning

Transitioning refers to the process during which trans and nonbinary people align their lives with their gender. News coverage that focuses excessively on trans and nonbinary people’s transitions, particularly their surgeries, can be othering and contribute to stereotypes. Referring to medical transitioning as “sex reassignment” and “sex change” surgeries, rather than gender-confirming or gender-affirming surgeries, can imply someone is “changing” their gender instead of affirming the gender they’ve always known themselves to be.

womanism

Womanism is a woman-first branch of feminism that centers Black women and the ways in which Black women experience and resist both gender and racial oppression. Since womanism may not be as familiar a term to all audiences as feminism, providing some explanation and context is helpful for clarity.

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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