The Associated Press, which maintains a writing style guide that is something of a bible for journalists, is overhauling its recommended terminology for sex and gender, according to their latest stylebook update.
In a presentation to journalists this weekend, the curators of AP‘s style guide urged writers to start thinking of “gender” and “sex” as separate concepts, noting that while gender is “a person’s social identity,” “sex” refers to their “biological characteristics.”
You can only be one sex, it turns out, but you can be quite a few genders.
“Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people,” the update noted. “When needed for clarity or in certain stories about scientific studies, alternatives include men and women, boys and girls, males and females.”
The update also authorized the use of the word “they,” typically designed to refer to multiple individuals, as a “singular pronoun,” noting that “gender non-binary” individuals often ask others to refer to them using the plural term, sending the whole English language into a tailspin.
“We specify that you need to make clear in the context that the ‘they’ in question is just one person,” AP‘s style master said, in announcing the change. “We don’t, among our own staff, want to open a floodgate. But we recognize a need for it, so we want to open it a bit.”