Time Magazine has declared that society has reached a “transgender tipping point,” offering up a new feature that includes an extensive “Transgender 101” article covering the gamut of issues affecting the trans community, a photo essay of transgender individuals, another photo collection of transgender individuals who “influenced American culture,” and a personal interview with Laverne Cox, the openly trans actress who stars in Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black.
The cover story and its other components comprise what is perhaps the most positive and in-depth representation of transgender life experiences ever presented in mainstream print media. After recent incidents of transgender misrepresentation, such as Katie Couric’s insensitive interview with Cox and model Carmen Carrera, Piers Morgan’s two combative interviews with activist Janet Mock, and the Grantland story about “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” the Time feature is a breath of fresh air. Here’s a look at the many important points Time’s Katy Steinmetz got right in the new cover story:
- The stories focus not on what it means to transition, but on what it’s like being transgender in a world that is not accepting and understanding of transgender people.
- Though it’s already the magazine’s style, the article boasts, “This article will use the names, nouns and pronouns preferred by individuals, in accordance with TIME’s style.”
- The main feature emphasizes the discrimination transgender people experience, including how they are “significantly more likely to be impoverished, unemployed, and suicidal than other Americans.”
- In a brief history of society’s understanding of trans identities, Steinmetz parses out the differences between the biology of sex, the culture of gender, and the differences between sexual orientation — “who you want to go to bed with” — and gender identity — “who you want to go to bed as.”
- Relaying the story of transgender homecoming queen Cassidy Lynn Campbell, Steinmetz highlights how transgender victories can still be shrouded in confusion and negative reactions.
- Steinmetz highlights many obstacles that remain to transgender equality: full inclusion in public schools and in athletics, inclusion in the military and at women’s colleges, changes to legal documentation, access to inclusive health care coverage, and blatant discrimination in employment, housing, and basic services — and the mental health consequences that follow.
- The photo essay profiles both trans men and trans women, highlighting the unique challenges each has faced in their different journeys.
- Steinmetz invites Cox to get personal about why people might respond defensively to understanding what it means to be transgender. She explained, “People need to be willing to let go of what they think they know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman… I think the reality is that most of us are insecure about our gender.”
Cox had previously placed fifth in a poll for Time’s “most influential people,” but didn’t make the top 100 list. This feature seems to be the magazine’s answer to excluding her at the time.
Time’s broad treatment of transgender issues could go quite far to raise awareness about who the members of this community are and what they’re experiencing in society. All that it took was inviting people to share their stories and presenting them in a way that respected their identities and experiences.