By Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files
Reporting on the brutal murder of a 26-year-old transpinay (pinay transgender) Jennifer Laude by a United States Marine, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, Saturday, one question in the minds of members of media aside from the details about the crime was what pronoun to use for Jennifer.
Naomi Fontanos, executive director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, said, “When referring to a transgender woman, like Jennifer Laude; who was assigned male at birth, but identified herself as a woman — the appropriate pronoun to use is ‘she’.”
GANDA Filipinas is a non-profit, nonpartisan, non-government organization advocating genuine gender equality for all Filipinos. It also upholds the view that transgender rights are human rights. Most of its members consist of transgender women in the Philippines.
When writing about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ), there is a need to understand the difference between “sex” and “gender.”
“Sex” is the term used to refer biological and physiological characteristics of a person while “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles and behaviors of a person. Gender does not necessarily have to match one’s sexual orientation.
The term “transgender” is commonly used as an umbrella term for those people whose gender identity and/or expression don’t fit their assigned sex at birth.
Another confusion that most people have when identifying someone whose gender identity and sexual orientation don’t match is the term “transsexual.”
“Transsexual” is a term referring to a person who does not identify with the sex that was assigned at birth and desires to realign their gender and sex through medical intervention.
“In the Philippines, there is poor understanding of these terms in spite of the uptake in their usage. Many Filipinos have the wrong notion that a transgender or a transsexual person [needs to] have some form of surgery. This is not correct,” Fontanos said.
The use of pronouns when identifying transgender and transsexual people should also follow their gender identity and/or expression.
In the case of Jennifer Laude, traditional media as well as those in social media, call her “Jeffrey, her birth name and use the pronoun “he.” This is politically incorrect.
In the same manner, calling a transgender or a transsexual person “gay”, “lesbian”, “bayot”, “bakla”, or “beki” is considered demeaning in LGBTQ community.
“Media practitioners should have the responsibility to educate themselves about sexual and gender diversity. If media people persist in telling stories involving the LGBTQ Filipinos, then it is their duty to tell those stories in a dignified way which means respecting their sexual orientation and gender identity. In Jennifer’s case, [the] media should respect the life she lived. Obviously, she lived her life as a woman and that’s the way we should remember her,” Fontanos said.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)