Laverne Cox on TIME Magazine: How Will it Help, and Perhaps Hinder the Transgender Movement?

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:


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: Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 9.56.52 AM

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.

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  • Ashley

    May 31, 2014 at 12:42 PM Reply

    Sadly, I don’t see how we can get people to accept us quickly; unless we go all or nothing like Miss Cox.

    I praise her for making men drool. It actually saddens me in a way because I am NOT
    like her.

    We have to live under other peoples’ cookie mold to please them. I think she is still a
    reasonable role model that can help break the expectations down. For instance, society
    had a hatred over the glbt crowd. Yet, today; we have movies about transgender people.
    We have a t’girl on the cover of a well known magazine. The expectations were that this
    would never happen. Yet, it does now. I find this a victory.

    So, the not so glamorous, old has beens like me still can cheer. The expectations that
    you mentioned in your article remind me of the same argument women had for at least 20
    years about why their girls are reading teen magazines that glamorize stick figure girls that
    look like starved and abused prisoners. Time magazine fits in that culture, we are stuck
    with it for now. I pray, that your concerns will be resolved over time, with people like
    Miss Cox.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      May 31, 2014 at 12:46 PM Reply

      Most of the response I’ve heard to my article echoes what you have said. I am happy that Laverne Cox is embraced by so many as a pioneer for the trans community. 🙂

  • Billie Jean DeBekker

    May 31, 2014 at 1:13 PM Reply

    This will always be a slippery subject as to who is best to represent the T-Community as a whole.. I surly would rather have women like Ms. Cox, Jenny Boleyn(Spelling) Kirsten Beck or Rachelle Seifert represent who I am then Ru Paul or the Bearded Lady in a Dorthy Outfit.

    Like you said, She is very articulate.. Society is always going to have their “Perceptive View” of what is a woman or what is a Man and that is in wholly thanks to the media and Advertisers.

    I am just thankful that a National Media outlet actually chose someone that can possibly spread a little more positive light on the trans community.

    Just be grateful they didn’t talk to me.. I have the finesses of a Jackhammer.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      May 31, 2014 at 8:03 PM Reply

      Lol oh Billie you deserve your moment in the spotlight just as much 🙂

    • Rachel Seifert

      June 2, 2014 at 12:34 AM Reply

      Each voice matters. Yours is among the most inspiring to me dear friend!

  • Florence Jane

    June 1, 2014 at 1:22 PM Reply

    We also need people to understand that the T umbrella includes folks who are gender fluid, non-binary, androgynous and all the others from the rainbow of possibilities, as well as the two poles many of us fit to.

  • Rachel Seifert

    June 2, 2014 at 1:13 AM Reply

    I agree that this is an important milestone. I have long been of the opinion it is important, aye verily, necessary trans people be visible. The more opportunity folks have to know a trans person, to like a trans person, to admire a trans person, to love a trans person, to respect a trans person, to trust a trans person, to work with a trans person, to play with a trans person, the faster we will normalize in society’s eyes and become a non-issue. All that most of us want is to get on with our lives living as our authentic selves. Trans people, like all people, come in a variety of flavors. Some, like Laverne, are perceived as beautiful, articulate, intelligent, and successful while others are not. This is not so different in any segment of our society in that we tend to elevate folks we deem of quality to stand for us – who but the best and brightest after all. Every four years, we pick a new president to lead us who represents our ideals and values at that time.

    Lavern, and each of us, stand on the shoulders of generations of powerful trans people whose voices were raised in earnest with cries of defiance and pleas for mercy and acceptance. Many of those voices were forever silenced by fear and bigotry. Lavern’s, and ultimately our own, voices will rise and fall in their time lending their support to those who come after us.

    Lavern’s brave stand is a banner to rally behind. People are coming to know that we trans folk have been hiding among them forever and that we are their friends, family, and coworkers and not to be feared but valued. Lavern has stepped into a context that gives all trans people access to being heard and valued. Each person is unique in this world, and each of us brings something important to the table. Lavern is not all trans people any more than President Obama is every American but she has done herself and the trans community proud in stepping up, in putting herself out there, and in behaving with so much compassion, love, and understanding.

    The media messaging piece, or “the machine” as you called it, should not be ignored. This is a crafted message within a specific agenda which is not absolutely clear. However, it demonstrates a marked departure from the derogatory rhetoric and unflattering caricaturization of trans people that remains disturbingly common in media today.

  • Karen.j.Coles

    August 6, 2014 at 4:27 PM Reply

    One of the fundamental principles of this great land is life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    There are a few among us that are not happy with our insides not matching our outsides.
    We want to find the equilibrium our hearts, souls and minds so quest for. I believe it takes great courage to reach for this balance.

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