When considering gender, it is important to understand what specific terms mean, and how they should, or should not, be used. Sex assigned at birth and gender are not the same things. Sex refers to biological characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs. In contrast, gender is shaped by social and cultural constructs and refers to a person’s role in society or their identity.
Recognize that there are more than two genders. Some people are transgender, meaning they do not identify with the gender that society associates with their sex assigned at birth. This may include people who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, or others who do not identify in binary terms (i.e. man/woman). Also, keep in mind that the understanding of gender varies across cultures. For instance, some non-Western and Indigenous cultures traditionally include genders that fall outside the man/woman binary or genders that aren’t automatically correlated to the sex assigned at birth. There are Native Hawaiian people who are mahu, Zapotec people who are muxe, and Diné (Navajo) people who are nádleehí. Do not assume that people in these categories are trans or non-binary. Instead, refer to people in these categories with the culturally appropriate terms they use to describe themselves.
It is also important to understand that while we have been socialized to think of two sexes—“male” and “female”—there are many biological variations that do not neatly fall into these categories. There may be variations in sex characteristics including hormones, sex chromosomes, and reproductive organs. Some people identify as intersex to indicate that their biological sex is more complex than a simple binary.
Gender pronouns can be used in place of a person’s name. Just as it is important to spell and pronounce a person’s name correctly, it is also important to use the correct pronouns to refer to a person in writing and/or in conversation.
In a one-on-one conversation, it is a best practice to share your pronouns and ask the other person for the pronouns they use, or simply use their name until they tell you their pronouns. In a group setting, it is best practice to encourage people to include their pronouns in introductions or on name tags if they are comfortable doing so, but make this optional for those who might not feel comfortable or safe disclosing their pronouns in that environment.
Do not assume what someone’s pronouns are by looking at them. Similarly, don’t assume that pronouns tell you how a person identifies in terms of gender; pronouns simply indicate how that person wants to be referred to. Correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show respect for their gender identity.
- Ask a person’s name, gender, and pronouns.
- Example: “Hi, I'm ____ and I use _____ pronouns. What pronouns do you use?"
- Ask the interviewee if they go by a name that is different than the one you have (i.e. what is listed in the directory, etc.).
- Before writing about someone’s gender, or someone’s sex assigned at birth, question the value it brings to the story. If you feel you must refer to the person’s gender, ask how they identify.
- If you’re in doubt about how you refer to someone, or how they fit into the larger context of your story, consider allowing the interviewee to preview the work before publishing.
People may face systemic discrimination based on their gender. That’s a key reason why it is critical to treat them with respect by understanding that gender identity is simply one aspect of a person’s experience. In your writing, consider the whole person. Always ask their preference on sex and gender terminology and ask permission before sharing a personal story.
- The AP Stylebook allows use of “trans” in the second reference after “transgender,” and in headlines.
- “They,” “their,” and “them” are acceptable as gender-neutral singular pronouns.
- Avoid conflating sex assigned at birth and gender. Terms like “male,” “female,” and “intersex,” relate to sex/sex assigned at birth. Terms like “women,” “men,” “genderqueer,” “trans, “agender,” etc., refer to gender.
- Consider whether gender binary descriptions are necessary (i.e. brothers and sisters, men and women). Instead use gender-neutral alternatives (i.e. siblings, people).
- Avoid the language of gender opposites (i.e. “opposite sex,” “opposite gender”). Using the terms “person,” “people,” or “people of different genders” is preferred.
- "Transgender" refers to someone whose gender does not align with societal expectations about their sex assigned at birth. Use “transgender” as an adjective that modifies “man” or “woman” (i.e. transgender man, transgender woman). Don’t suggest that trans men or trans women are not “real” men or women, or somehow separate from the larger categories of men or women.
- Keep in mind that some people identify as “trans” or “non-binary” or other identities that do not associate with the categories of “men” or “women,” (i.e. “transmasculine” or “transfeminine”). Refer to people with the language they use to describe themselves.
- Decouple anatomy from identity in your writing. For example, terms like “women’s health” do not apply when describing health services needed by trans men and trans masculine people and terms like “men’s bodies” do not apply when talking about anatomy that more people than just men possess.
- Avoid language that puts more value on being, appearing, or “passing” as cisgender (a person whose identity and gender correspond with societal expectations of their sex at birth). Avoid referring to cisgender as the “normal” gender identity.
- The AP Stylebook advises against "[presuming] maleness in constructing a sentence." If possible, reword a sentence to avoid gender. When that is not possible, you may opt to use "they" or "their" to indicate that the gender of the individual referenced is either not known or the reference applies to any gender. Avoid adding gender binary choices to substitute for an unknown gender (e.g. “The applicant will get the job if he/she is the most qualified.”).
- For titles, terms, and job designations ending in “-man” (e.g. spokesman, mailman), consider using the suffix “-person” (e.g. spokesperson) or a gender-neutral alternate (e.g. mail carrier). Student titles include “first-year student” instead of “freshman,” “alum” (singular) instead of “alumnus,” and “alumni” (plural) instead of “alumna.”
- When using traditional titles, ask the subject how they would like to be referred. Do not assume that “Mrs,” “Ms,” or “Mr” is the most appropriate title. Some people use the gender-neutral honorific, “Mx” or a professional title such as “Dr.”
- When discussing instances of oppression that certain groups (often women) face, consider being inclusive of other oppressed groups, such as trans and non-binary people (e.g. "pregnant people" rather than "pregnant women" and "people who menstruate" rather than "women who menstruate").
University of Utah Resources
Transgender Health Program at U of U Health brings quality health care to trans adults and teens from all walks of life. They provide a safe, trans-affirmative environment where patients can comfortably access the full range of health services they need.
LGBT Resource Center empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual/aromantic (LGBTQIA+) students to grow as leaders and learners by supporting students in navigating university systems, exploring their identities, finding community, and developing as leaders with a social justice lens.
Women’s Resource Center supports people who experience gender-based marginalization and recognizes intersecting identities. We cultivate access to choice and change through programs, counseling, training, and scholarships. We advocate for solutions and strategies to advance equity in higher education.
Gender Studies Program offers a space for the study of the interactions between gender with race, class, sexual orientation, and nationality; curricula that address men’s lives, masculinity, and the lives of people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community; and a wide range of feminist thought and practice.
The Office of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Title IX (OEO/AA) is dedicated to providing a fair and equitable environment for all to pursue their academic and professional endeavors and to equally access university programs.
Office for Inclusive Excellence engages, supports, and advances an environment fostering the values of respect, diversity, equity, inclusivity, and academic excellence for students in our increasingly global campus community.
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) serves across the entire university system and leads this work for the university. Our division includes resource centers, offices, and associated student, faculty, and staff affinity groups. Our mission is to serve as a catalyst for transformation toward diversity, equity, and inclusion as an embodiment of the university’s core values with the ultimate vision of establishing a culture of belonging throughout the university and becoming a model campus for equity, diversity, and inclusive excellence.
University of Utah Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (UHEDI) has a mission to create a culture where inclusion fuels innovation and quality while also addressing health and education inequities within U of U Health. UHEDI also coordinates outreach and inclusion efforts across U of U Health to ensure the workplace environment attracts and promotes the success of diverse communities.
Diversity Style Guide: LGBTQ Glossary
Gender Pronouns (University of Wisconsin)
Students & Gender Identity: A Toolkit for Schools (K-12 emphasis; USC Rossier)
Trans Journalist Association’s Style Guide