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 News.com.au 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 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.