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.
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.
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 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.
Due to a variety of reasons, women and feminine-presenting people may face different kinds of discrimination within the health care system. Consideration of the forces that can continue to shape women’s experiences within the health care system is important when writing about a woman’s experience with an illness or disability. For instance, an understanding of the reasons a woman’s diagnosis may be delayed can help avoid language that diminishes or dismisses her symptoms, regardless of whether she has an official diagnosis.
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.
When discussing abortion, aiming for precise language — using terms like pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion, rather than pro-choice/pro-life, for instance, and explaining the specific procedure or legislation in question — brings clarity to coverage. Many common phrases associated with the topic (for instance, “partial-birth abortion”) are not medical terminology and may be the favored terms of advocates on one side of the issue. If necessary and relevant to your coverage to include these such terms, explaining them and how they may be used in emotional or political arguments adds vital context to audiences. Using gender-neutral language to discuss abortion in a general sense ensures coverage encompasses the widest range of people who could be affected by the issue. “Pregnant people,” “people seeking an abortion,” and “people who give birth” are all employed as gender-neutral alternatives to woman-specific ones, though they may not be useful when discussing abortion in the context of women’s rights.
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.
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.
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