The June 9th 2014 issue of TIME Magazine isn’t to be found yet on newsstands (trust me, I hustled over to my local Barnes & Noble after work yesterday in search of it!). But so far the buzz generated from this announcement seems to indicate that this is a big deal. A really…big…deal. The headline of the cover reads:
THE TRANSGENDER TIPPING POINT
America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier
And how can we not be left with our mouth agape at the head-to-toe shot of actress and trans activist Laverne Cox. The caption reads, “Laverne Cox, a star of Orange is the New Black, is one of an estimated 1.5 million Americans who identify as transgender.” I have watched hundreds of my social media friends in the transgender community commenting on this cover story with astonishment, joy, and hope. My own initial reaction was one of shock, followed by great excitement. I even posted this on my Facebook page:
My enthusiasm for this significant moment in time for the transgender movement remains, and always will.
However, as the day progressed on, and the news continued to spread, and the comments continued to pour in, I felt something…unsettling come up for me about it. I couldn’t put my finger to it until I had a conversation with one of my clients, when I asked her what she thought of the upcoming cover story.
Laverne Cox is now the “face,” and therefore the voice, of the Transgender Population in the eyes of many Americans.
There are a lot of reasons why this actually works in favor of the transgender movement. Ms. Cox is incredibly articulate. She is patient when explaining things to “non-transgender-informed” persons. She never misses any opportunity to bring up the issues of violence, race, and class into the conversation. She herself has endured bullying, isolation, and suicidal feelings. She makes a point of saying how her experience is only one transgender person’s experience, that she does not speak for everyone else’s (see how she does all of this in a May 29th interview with TIME, done in conjunction with the cover story).
Now…let us not forget that Ms. Cox also just happen to be drop-dead gorgeous.
So let’s be honest about what that means as we look at this snapshot of this moment in time (no pun intended).
There was a conscious decision made to put Ms. Cox on the cover of TIME magazine. Not a montage of “everyday transgender folks” that included persons having many different experiences, including those who transitioned from female-to-male and who are gender non-conforming.
This is a glamorous photo of a very feminine, well-dressed, television actress who happens to be transgender. This photo represents the entire “transgender civil rights movement.”
I’m also concerned that it perpetuates the notion in our society, even if it is unconscious for many, that we will be more likely to pay attention to and listen to someone who is considered to be “attractive.”
One of my concerns is that many people will now be “okay” with persons who are transgender, but only as long as they look, without a doubt, exactly like the gender they are transitioning to is “supposed” to look (i.e. clearly feminine or clearly masculine).
Let me stress that this is nothing against Ms. Cox—in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if she has already thought of all of this and more than likely will speak to it.
I also am not trying to bite the hand that feeds me, so to speak. There will no doubt be great benefits that come from Laverne Cox being the face of this mainstream article. And in the coming days people will learn from her, they will open their minds to what she has to say, and some will even have a change of heart about previously held beliefs about people who are transgender. And these are all good things!
Please, just be aware of the “machine” that is putting this all out there. Be aware of the way our society still has a long ways to go when it comes to not objectifying women. That although Ms. Cox is a beauty to behold, that she is so much more than that. That the transgender women who are not seen as being as “attractive” or “feminine” as Ms. Cox are just as deserving of your respect and attention.
Just like with any other civil rights movement there are baby steps being taken that are leading us closer to the final desired result. This step is huge, and should be acknowledged as such. Just continue to be aware of just how much work still needs to be done.