The Associated Press Stylebook, which for decades has served as the default style manual for most news organizations, has issued a “Topical Guide” for transgender coverage that encourages writers to use “unbiased language” and to “avoid false balance [by] giving a platform to unqualified claims or sources in the guise of balancing a story by including all views.”
Yet the guidance appears to explicitly embrace the language and claims of transgender activists, a move likely to steer newsrooms away from objectively framing the issue.
The AP Stylebook has issued prior guidance related to gender and sexuality, and some of that is repackaged in the Topical Guide. But it does include some updates, together providing an extensive reference for journalists.
The Transgender Coverage Topical Guide explains: “A person’s sex and gender are usually assigned at birth by parents or attendants and can turn out to be inaccurate. Experts say gender is a spectrum, not a binary structure consisting of only men and women, that can vary among societies and can change over time.” The guide encourages writers to refer to subjects according to their preferred gender identity. The guide condemns “deadnaming,” or referring to a transgender person’s previous name, because that “can be akin to using a slur and can cause feelings of gender dysphoria to resurface.”
The guide explains that the word “identify” can be useful, but alternative phrasing “like ‘is a woman’ is more to the point than ‘identifies as a woman.’”
The guide describes the term “sex” by explaining “a person’s sex is usually assigned at birth by parents or attendants, sometimes inaccurately” and further advises writers to “avoid terms like ‘biological male,’ which opponents of transgender rights sometimes use to oversimplify sex and gender, is often misleading shorthand for ‘assigned male at birth,’ and is redundant because sex is inherently biological.”
In describing “gender-confirmation procedures” and “gender-affirming care,” the guide explains that “treatments can improve psychological well-being and reduce suicidal behavior.” The guide cites that the World Professional Association for Transgender Health “recently lowered its recommended minimum age for starting gender transition treatment, including ‘sex hormones’ and surgeries. It says hormones can be started at age 14 and some surgeries at 15 or 17.”
The subsection “legislation” explains: “Starting in 2020, conservative-leaning U.S. state legislatures began considering a wave of bills aimed at transgender youths. Many political observers assert that the legislation is being used to motivate voters by falsely framing children as under threat.”
The guide specifically criticizes efforts to maintain sex-specific sports: “In the following two years, more than a dozen states passed laws banning transgender athletes from certain sports teams. Opponents say that the measures unfairly target an already marginalized community, and that rules and monitoring in individual leagues and conferences render such legislation unnecessary.”
The guide further states that “proponents of such restrictions assert that transgender women have an athletic advantage over cisgender women. Transgender athletes’ backers argue, among other things, that individuals are different, that sweeping restrictions overblow the prevalence of the issue, and that it’s not possible to know with certainty what gives any particular athlete, transgender or cisgender, a competitive edge.”
There is updated guidance on characterizing pregnancy as well. Previously, the AP Stylebook had endorsed the gender-neutral framing “pregnant people,” explaining that “the inclusive term ‘pregnant people’ is preferred when describing people who are pregnant. It takes into account minors, transgender men and nonbinary people. Aim to use the phrase ‘pregnant women’ only when it’s known everyone the term applies to identifies as a woman.”
New guidance suggests that “pregnant women,” “women seeking abortions,” “pregnant people” and “people seeking abortions” are all permissible, and writers should “use judgment and decide what is most appropriate in a given story.” The update specifically advises against “overly clinical language like ‘people with uteruses’ or ‘birthing people.’”
In 2017, AP Stylebook embraced “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.