Media Guidelines for Non-Binary Identities

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What and Why | Do’s and Don’ts | Terms and Definitions | Pronouns | Common Pitfalls To AvoidResources | Positive Coverage Examples

Media Guidelines For Non-Binary Identities: Why

Coverage of LGBTQ issues often stems as a response to the violence or discrimination that is frequently experienced by LGBTQ people in the press, in their schools, their jobs, their own community, and even at home.

Though well-intentioned, there are ways in which your writing may propagate the hurt. It’s important to be aware of the nuances regarding gender identities; there is a fine line between an educational story and a sensationalizing exposé.

As a journalist, you are responsible for shaping the public’s perception and opinion. Adhering to these guidelines will promote integrity and communicate supportiveness to the LGBTQ community and the public at large.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • ask for name and pronoun
  • use name and pronoun throughout article (you may clarify that this is the person’s chosen name or pronoun)
  • ask for gender identity label, and their personal definition of it
  • define terms that might be unfamiliar to your audience
  • emphasize diversity in race, age, class, origin
  • lots of research on transgender communities
  • use the resources listed below
  • think outside the box


  • assume a person’s gender
  • use multiple names or pronouns for the same person, unless explicitly told so
  • use previous name or pronoun, even when referring to someone pre-transition
  • use quotation marks around chosen name or pronoun
  • conflate gender identity with sexuality, presentation, expression
  • assume a non-binary identity based on androgynous appearance
  • emphasize a gender non-conforming childhood as “proof” of current gender identity
  • emphasize medical transition above other aspects of transition or identity
  • reveal a person’s birth assigned sex, birth name, past/present genital configuration, or use “before and after” pictures, without obtaining explicit permission
    • Note: omitting this information is preferred, unless specifically relevant to the topic being discussed. Bringing attention to someone’s assigned sex places undue focus on their body, trivializes their current gender identity, and only serves to sensationalize.
  • use inaccurate, disrespectful, or deprecated language:
    • don’t say “used to be a man / is biologically male,” instead say “was assigned male at birth”
    • don’t say “had a/the sex-change/sex-reassignment surgery,” instead say “had [gender confirmation] surgery”
    • don’t say “has a confusing gender presentation,” instead try “an ambiguous gender presentation”
    • don’t say “son/daughter, brother/sister, mom/dad,” instead say “child, sibling, parent” (unless otherwise specified)

Terms and Definitions

Biological characteristics at birth; usually designated a sex of male or female depending on their apparent genitals. Separate from gender.

Biological variation of sexual characteristics (chromosomes, genitals, reproductive organs, and/or hormonal composition) falling outside of strictly dimorphic model of male or female.

Sex Assigned/Designated at Birth (MAAB/DMAB, FAAB/DFAB)
The sex a person is assigned at birth, and consequently the gender they are assumed to be based on their birth sex.

Gender Binary
The idea that there are only two distinct sexes and/or genders: male and female.

Gender Identity
Internal sense of self, most commonly of being a man or a woman, masculine or feminine, although gender also exists in any combination of maleness, femaleness, both, neither, or something else entirely.

Gender Expression
Outward display or presentation of gender; may include appearance, behavior, name, pronouns, etc.

A person whose internal gender identity matches their physical sex and their gender assigned at birth.

A person whose gender identity does not align with their assigned gender at birth.

Abbreviation of transgender. Shorthand to refers to the diverse gender identities that fall under the transgender umbrella, not only trans men and trans women.

Trans man
Someone who was female assigned at birth and currently identifies as a man.

Trans woman
Someone who was assigned male at birth and currently identifies as a woman.

The social, physical, legal, and emotional processes of aligning one’s self with their gender identity.

Non-Binary Gender
Any gender that is not strictly male or female.

An identity that encompasses any gender that is not strictly male or female.

Sexuality / Sexual Orientation
Sexual Orientation refers to sexual, romantic, and/or emotional attraction towards others. It is completely independent of gender identity.

Common labels (straight, gay, lesbian) point to a person’s own gender as much as the gender of who they’re attracted to. Thus, people with a non-binary gender may find it difficult to describe their sexual orientation using these labels.

A Note on Definitions

Specific labels, along with their respective definitions, are continuously evolving. Most terms are subject to individual interpretation. It is best to ask a person what their preferred label means to them, and how it represents their gender identity.

Genderqueer vs. Non-Binary

Generally, these two terms may be used interchangeably.

The differences between them are subtle. Non-binary is an umbrella term for any gender identity that is not strictly male or female. Genderqueer can be thought of as a broader umbrella, encompassing non-binary genders, as well as queer or non-normative expressions of gender, and may carry the politicized connotation of queering gender.

Genderqueer or Non-Binary may be used as a stand-alone identity.

Often, a person will identify as a particular gender falling within this umbrella, such as: agender, neutrois, androgyne, bi-gender, demigirl/demiboy, butch, gender-fluid, pangender, among others.

It is best to use non-binary or genderqueer when talking about the community as a whole, or referring to the concept of a gender that is not male or female.


English pronouns “he” and “she” imply a gender of male or female. Therefore, it is incorrect to refer to someone whose gender is not male or female with these pronouns.

Because no gender-neutral standard exists yet, people with a non-binary gender often choose a different pronoun to refer to themselves.

You should always ask for a person’s pronoun, and use it throughout the article, without quotation marks, just as you would use he or she. When unable to obtain someone’s preferred pronoun, it is advised to use the neutral singular they much like you would when referring to someone of indeterminate gender, or avoid pronouns altogether by using the person’s name.

Common Pitfalls To Avoid

Conflation of Terms

Using a specific gender identity label as catch-all for people who sidestep gender lines; common ones are gender-fluid or agender. These are specific identities within the non-binary umbrella.

Genderqueer as Not Transgender

Lumping people who have alternative gender presentations into a genderqueer category, and/or specifying genderqueer as not transgender. Whether one is transgender or not is a matter of self-identity.

Transgender as Genderqueer, or Transcending Gender

Transgender people may be forcing us to redefine how society thinks about the gender binary, but most trans men and trans women do not consider themselves genderqueer.

Superficiality and Stereotypes

Placing undue focus on appearances, especially gendered aspects, perpetuates stereotypes. Similarly, focusing solely on the physical or surgeries reduces a holistic gender identity to body parts.

There are many equally engaging issues that transcend “looks” important to the community: access to healthcare, discrimination, violence, acceptance, affordable transition, legal conundrums, upending the framework of gender as we know it.


Defining transgender as feeling the “opposite” gender is not only inaccurate, but leaves no room for non-binary identities. Even inclusive and respectful coverage often fails to acknowledge that some people are not trans men or trans women, erasing non-binary gender all together.

For an in-depth look, read What the Ruby Rose Obsession Misses About Gender Fluid Lives, The Advocate



Transgender and Non-Binary Basics

Examples of Positive Non-Binary Coverage

© 2015