While reporting this week's cover story on the experiences of a few local transgender people, I had to make additions and adjustments to my vocabulary. First off, Nico Valenzuela used the abbreviation "FTM" to describe his transition. (That acronym stands for female-to-male, in contrast with those who are going MTF.)
Then Deborah Surat, director of a local LGBT youth program, advised me to use the word "transgender" as an adjective (as in, "transgender people"), not as a verb or a noun.
Nico's mom threw me for a loop when, after expressing love and support for her child, she kept referring to him as "she" and "my daughter," and by his given name of "Erika." (Does anyone know the protocol here? Amy Alkon?)
Then Adison Petti told me to avoid regular pronouns when writing about zir because ze doesn't identify as a "he" or a "she," a "him" or a "her."
Beginning work on this story, I was worried I'd say the wrong thing or offend someone. That worry soon receded; the transgender people I interviewed were patient with my clumsy questions, even as they delved into memories that were often painful. Yes, vocabulary is important, but in the end they came across just as people who want their stories heard.