5 October 2016

Why using “sex change” is problematic and recommendations

Lately there has been a rise in stories regarding transgender people in the news. When reporting stories involving transgender people we advise avoiding use of the term “sex change”, either to describe a transgender person or the process of gender transition.

For example, instead of “sex change soldier”, we recommend “trans (or transgender) soldier”. Similarly, instead of “soldier who had a sex change”, say “soldier who has come out as trans/is trans/is transgender”. This is more accurate and less offensive.

Why is it problematic?

The term “sex change” has a long history of aggressive tabloid use to “out” and ridicule trans people. Trans people do not use “sex change” when referring to themselves and, just as in the case of other pejorative terms used to describe minorities, find it discriminatory when referred to in this way by others.

Such pejorative usage is in direct contradiction of the IPSO Editor’s Code of Practice: “The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s … gender identity”.

In a world where equal marriage and gender non-conformity are widely respected and accepted by the public, it feels intolerant and unaccepting.



In almost all cases “transgender person” or “trans person” are the only terms necessary in common parlance. They are the most widely acceptable among the trans community and universally understood in UK society today; analogous to “gay” or “lesbian”.

Important to remember

As it says in our online friendly note of tips on reporting stories regarding trans people: If your story boils down to “Jane is transgender…” consider the hundreds of thousands of gender non-conforming people in Britain today; doctors, engineers, lawyers, artists, teachers, politicians, musicians, managers, soldiers… and so on. Is your story really newsworthy?

Thank you for reading.

For more resources and style guides for reporting stories please visit our Media Resources page.

Media Standards Trust have a list of news organisations from across the UK, if you want to complain or get in touch.

On Road,

Project Manager for On Road.


  • Kevin on October 6, 2016:

    Wrong, some of us do use, and don’t mind, the term “sex change”. I transitioned 18yrs ago and it’s worrying seeing all the language I and others from the time often use to describe our experience being policed. Like feeling trapped or born “in the wrong body”, it’s language some of use because that’s what it feels like. Stop telling all of us how to talk about our own experience.

  • Gina on October 31, 2016:

    It’s just one of many identies and everyone has one. Should everyones identity be at the forefront of describing who they are? Why just target the transgendered identity?