I could certainly style myself as a radical copyeditor, but somehow until recently I had missed the existence of The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, a genderqueer copyeditor who blogs in the intersection between copyediting and politics, and also sells copyediting services. Believe me, I’ll be taking a deep dive soon. Kapitan says:
I believe that language matters, and that those of us who are working to manifest a better, more just world have a responsibility to use language in ways that describe the world we are working to create, rather than unconsciously perpetuating bias and prejudice.
Meanwhile, however, I wanted to introduce our readers to the very comprehensive The Radical Copyeditor’s Style Guide for Writing about Transgender People. You get a hint in the illustration above. Like all good manifestos, it comes with appropriate disclaimers:
A style guide for writing about transgender people is practically an oxymoron. Style guides are designed to create absolutes—bringing rules and order to a meandering and contradictory patchwork quilt of a language. Yet there are no absolutes when it comes to gender. …
There are profound reasons for why the language that trans people use to describe ourselves and our communities changes and evolves so quickly. In Western culture, non-trans people have for centuries created the language that describes us, and this language has long labeled us as deviant, criminal, pathological, unwell, and/or unreal.
… Just as there is no monolithic transgender community, there is also no one “correct” way to speak or write about trans people.
Then there’s How to use this guide and (perhaps more important) How not to use this guide. The how not to section includes links to some fine articles:
“words don’t kill people, people kill words”and the glossary introduction “there is no perfect word,” both by Julia Serano. The second link also takes you to Serano’s glossary of trans, gender, sexuality, and activism terminology
“I Was Recently Informed I’m Not a Transsexual,” by Riki Wilchins.
Then we get into the main course of the style guide, which is broken into three sections. I’m limiting myself to one example of each.
1.3. Transition is the correct word for the social and/or medical process of publicly living into one’s true gender.
Use: Chris transitioned at age 32; the transition process
Avoid: Chris is transgendering; Chris had a sex change; Chris had “the surgery”; Chris became a woman
Bias-free and respectful language:
2.4.3. Pronouns are simply pronouns. They aren’t “preferred” and they aren’t inherently tied to gender identity or biology.
Use: pronouns; personal pronouns; she/her/hers; he/him/his; they/them/theirs; ze/zir/zirs; Sam/Sam/Sam (and any other pronoun or combination)
Avoid: preferred pronouns; masculine pronouns; feminine pronouns; male pronouns; female pronouns
As J. Mase III once succinctly put it, “my pronouns aren’t preferred; they’re required.” A person’s correct pronouns are not a preference; neither are pronouns inherently masculine, feminine, male, or female: for example, a masculine person could use she/her/hers pronouns and a female person could use they/them/theirs pronouns.
Sensitive and inclusive broader language:
3.2. Do not use LGBTQ or its many variants (LGBT, LGBTQIA+, etc.) as a synonym for gay.
Use: LGBTQ people versus non-LGBTQ people
Avoid: LGBTQ people versus straight people
If you’re using an acronym that includes transgender people, it’s important to actually include trans people in the context of what you are writing about. For example, if you’re only writing about people in same-sex relationships, or if you’re trying to refer to everyone with a marginalized sexuality, don’t use LGBTQ. Some transgender people (15%) identify as straight.* LGBTQ and straight/heterosexual are not, therefore, opposites, and should never be treated as such.
As you can imagine from these tidbits, there is much more. The guide is thoughtful, careful, respectful, comprehensive, informative and — if you’re a copyediting nerd like me — well-written and entertaining.
If you write anything at all relating to these topics, bookmark it and refer to it regularly. I will.