"I'm still calling him Bruce." "It's an it, not a she." "I will never call it Caitlyn." My Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds exploded with comments like these after Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner announced her intention to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
The media, of course, reported the story with fervor, and even after the news of her transition from male to female died down, Caitlyn Jenner remained a hot topic. Reporters, though, were unsure of how to refer to her.
Many articles referred to her as "Jenner" each time they mentioned the former athlete, while some journalists chose to use Caitlyn's preferred pronoun, 'she'. Others seemed confused about which pronoun to use when speaking of Jenner, stammering over their words while reporting news of her surgeries and scandals.
All this confusion seems strange, especially considering the Associated Press has clear, defined rules regarding which words to use when reporting about transgender and transsexual individuals. Why, then, do we have such a problem with changing something as simple as a pronoun or a first name? Why was it easier for us to call her Bruce when her first name was actually William than it is for us to call her Caitlyn now that it is her legal name?
Perhaps we are resistant to change. Maybe we are afraid of what we do not understand. For some, it is a religious issue. For others, it was difficult to understand how someone who had once been considered the epitome of masculinity, an olympic (gold) medalist, suddenly announced she would be transitioning to female. In reality, Caitlyn's gender transition was a slow process, but the news hit social media as if she had decided to transition overnight.
Whatever the reason, we as journalists have an obligation to be sensitive to those whose stories we report, and we should treat them with dignity and respect, even if that means presenting the information in a way that some find unseemly; and many found the transition from Bruce to Caitlyn offensive. Anyway, if we don't set the example, who will? This isn't the first time the press has reported on transgender celebrities, and it most certainly will not be the last, so we need to think about what kind of damage we are doing to the self-esteem of transgender individuals by refusing to accept that their self-concepts are, in fact, their true identities.
Journalists' articles and videos reach audiences all over the world, and if we are to report something as personal and important as one person's struggle to transition from one gender to another, we should, at the very least, use the individual's preferred pronoun. Imagine the difficulty of coming out to your family as transgender. It cannot be easy. Now, imagine they refuse to accept you as you are. Now, imagine it on a larger scale. Imagine half of the people who are telling your story are still calling you 'he' when all you have ever wanted is to be 'she'.
For anyone wanting more information, here is a short documentary about Caitlyn Jenner.