How to speak about the trans community without being a jerk.

Cate McGregor, who was last night referred to in a transphobic tweet



Last night’s panel on the ABC’s Q&A program included a military hero. Her name is Group Captain Cate McGregor, and she’s the highest-ranking military woman official in the world — and the first transgender person to appear on the news show’s panel.

The program was going smoothly —  until a tweet broadcast live on the program referring to McGregor as “he/she”.

This tweet flashed up on screen: “Wow she/he is a hero.”

The term sparked social media fury, with one Twitter user writing: “You might like to know that it’s disrespectful to call someone he/she. She is hero – just ‘she’.”

Another Tweeted “(f)ire whoever picks the #qanda tweets”, while others branded the tweet “transphobic”.

The ABC has stood by its decision to air the tweets, as reports, but the incident has highlighted the fact some Australians don’t know how to speak about members of the trans community without causing offence.

If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun is preferred, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression.”

If that’s you, never fear — because today, we bring you a quick cheat sheet on how to speak to (and about) trans men and women without coming across like a total douchebag.

So what’s the right way to refer to a trans person?

Before we answer that, let’s be clear on what “transgender” and “transexual” mean.

A transexual is a person who identifies as a member of the ‘opposite’ sex to their birth sex. Transsexuals usually seek hormone therapy and often surgery to bring their body into line with their gender identity, as Transgender Victoria explains — but a person can be a transexual without having had that surgery.


“Transgender” and “trans” are umbrella terms used to describe all those whose gender identity is at odds with their biological sex; basically, for transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

That may all sound complex, but what it boils down to is this simple suggestion when you want to refer to a trans man or woman: If you can, just check which pronoun should be used.

“Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like you to use,” media monitoring organisation GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) says. Transgender Victoria’s executive director Sally Goldner agrees: she previously told Mamamia it is “critical” to check with a trans person what pronouns they prefer before addressing or referring to the person, regardless of whether that person has had gender reassignment surgery.

As a general rule, however, a person who identifies as a certain gender should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender.

“If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun is preferred, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression.” GLAAD explains. “For example, if a person wears a dress and uses the name Susan, feminine pronouns are usually appropriate.”


One more thing:

There are a few terms that should be avoided at all costs: a transgender person is not “a transgender” or even “transgendered” (just a gay person is not “gayed”, as GLAAD points out.)

It’s also not on to say “he/she” (we’re looking at you #qanda tweeter). And for God’s sake, do not say “she-male,” “it,” or “shim”.

Also — don’t ever use the word “tranny”, Sally says, adding: “If someone identifies as that, then that’s their call too.”

GLAAD agrees. “Do not use the word “transvestite” at all, unless someone specifically self-identifies that way,” it says, and be aware that “transgender women are not cross-dressers or drag queens”.

Finally, “(i)t is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity,” GLAAD says.

So when Kelly Osbourne went on a rant about her ex-fiance cheating with a transexual woman, using words like “tranny” and “chicks with dicks”? That was transphobic, and not cool at all.

Got it?

Here are a few prominent trans people. Any more you want to add?

For more resources and information in Victoria, you can visit the Transgender Victoria website here or GLAAD here. The Gender Centre also provides more services for the Australian transgender and gender diverse community, while Ausgender is a community-based support and social group for the transgender and transsexual communities.

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