Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 28, 2022 / 10:05 am
Revisions to a handbook many U.S. news outlets consider “a bible” for grammar usage and style in news writing could signal a dramatic shift in the way the media reports on transgender issues.
The changes to the widely used Associated Press Stylebook adopt and promote the preferred language and ideology of the LGBTQ movement, which is sharply at odds with Catholic teaching on transgenderism.
As a result, a leading Catholic expert on gender issues warns that the changes disregard the inherent dignity of the human body and will have a major impact on society at large.
Abigail Favale, an academic expert in gender studies and feminist literary criticism who is a professor in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, says the style book takes philosophical stands on issues under the guise of being a writing guide.
“It feels like both catechesis and guidelines — there’s a sense in which the reader is being taught what language to use, as well as how to view the topic,” she told CNA.
The Associated Press, an international news agency based in New York, now defines the word “transgender” in its style book as “a person whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth.”
The AP also instructs writers to avoid terms like “biological sex,” “male or female hormones” and “sex change,” and replace them with such substitutes as “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.
The AP additionally devotes an entire section in the revised style guide 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.”
Catholic teaching on gender
From a Catholic perspective, these revisions are significant, says Favale. A Catholic convert who approaches gender from a perspective informed by Church teaching, she is the author of “The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory” (Ignatius Press, 2022).
The Catholic Church teaches that a human person’s sex is inherent to his or her own dignity and soul. “By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (No. 2393).
Pope Francis has spoken out repeatedly against gender ideology. “‘This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female,’” he wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, published in 2016, quoting from the final report of the 2015 Synod of Bishops.
“It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated,’” he wrote. “It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality.”
In Favale’s view, the AP misrepresents conclusions about gender identity, even those made by secular scientists and medical professionals.
“The [AP] does not fairly represent the long-term outcomes of gender-affirmative care,” she said, adding that it presents procedures like sex-transition surgeries as conclusive when they remain heavily contested, not just in Catholic teaching but among secular scientists and academics.
“It’s presenting as settled and conclusive things that really aren’t,” Favale said.
The AP’s guidance, for example, unilaterally denounces using the term “groom” “without clearly stating it is untrue” in connection with LGBTQ people. 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, Favale said, the stylebook 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.”
The AP’s changes coincide with recent controversy surrounding updates in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to the entries for “female” and “male.” The dictionary now includes “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male,” as a secondary definition of “female.” Likewise, the definition of “male” now includes “having a gender identity that is opposite of female.”
Recent social media posts drew attention to the changes, which Merriam-Webster made in 2020.
Edie Heipel is a former Political Correspondent for CNA's Washington, D.C. bureau. She previously worked in communications for Center for Renewing America, served in the Trump White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and has been a contributor to various outlets including The Federalist and The Charlotte Lozier Institute. She is a graduate of Wheaton College.
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Shawnee State University and Prof. Nicholas Meriwether have agreed to a $400,000 settlement after the professor faced disciplinary action for declining to use the preferred pronouns of a self-identified transgender student.