AP Updates Journalist’s Guide with New Rules for Transgender Issues

Dr. Favale commented that the AP guide misrepresents conclusions about gender identity, even those made by secular scientists and medical professionals.

Journalists working hard inside a newsroom.
Journalists working hard inside a newsroom. (photo: Deror Avi / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Associated Press released new guidance for writers and editors this week to include a topical handbook on what language to use when covering transgender issues.

Predominantly used by American journalists, the AP Stylebook is viewed as the top authority for grammar usage and style in news writing.

The guidance includes a litany of new definitions dictating how AP writers should approach and refer to transgender coverage, setting the stage by defining the word “transgender” as “a person whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth.” 

Writers are instructed to avoid terms like “biological sex,” “male or female hormones” and “sex change,” and replace them with substitutes like “sex assigned at birth,” specific hormone names, and “gender transition.” The guide also deems certain words “slurs.” Using a transgender person’s previous name, or “deadname,” for example, would fall under this category. 

AP additionally devotes an entire section to transgender sports, warning writers not to “misgender or imply doubt” about transgender athletes, specifically males competing in women’s sports. For example, the guide bars writers from using the phrase “former men’s swimmer,” directing them to say that transgender players “are banned from playing on teams in line with their gender.”

In addition to rules outlining the scope of terminology writers are constrained to, the newest guide reveals implicit philosophical and moral claims which pose consequences beyond mere stylistic changes, according to Dr. Abigail Favale, author of The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory and professor of gender studies and feminist literary criticism. 

Favale, who is a Catholic convert, approaches gender from a perspective informed by Church teaching. She believes that the AP’s guidance has serious ramifications for the inherent dignity of the human body and society at large. 

Dr. Favale commented that the AP guide misrepresents conclusions about gender identity, even those made by secular scientists and medical professionals. In a phone interview, Dr. Favale reflected that “The [AP] does not fairly represent the long-term outcomes of gender-affirmative care,” and presents procedures like sex-transition surgeries as conclusive when they remain heavily contested, not just in Catholic teaching but among secular scientists and academics.

The guidance also unilaterally denounces using the term “groom” “without clearly stating it is untrue.” The usage of “groom” to refer to the sexual grooming of children, such as in exposure to explicit and graphic sexual content, has been the target of intense backlash by LGBTQ activists in recent months. 

AP claims that the word “falsely liken[s] LGBTQ people’s interactions with children” and LGBTQ education to child molestation. 

By doing so, the guide completely “forecloses the possibility that it could ever be true, only that the word “groom” is always inaccurate when used to describe an LGBTQ person,” Dr. Favale said. Avoiding relevant facts about the physical bodies of human beings, for example, is necessary for accurately reporting on cases of criminal behavior.

AP’s guide is not merely a list of writing rules, Dr. Favale summarized, it is “both ‘Catechesis’ and guidelines — the reader is being taught not just what language to use, [but also] how to view the topic.”