All the trans news that fits! (and some that never will)
So many people are trying to take the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey that all seven of the servers have bogged down. The survey went live on the Internet on Wednesday, August 19, and is being fielded by the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, D.C. Today, NCTE Founder and Executive Director Mara Keisling sent out a message asking the Trans community to be patient and keep trying.
I echo that sentiment. If you are a Trans woman or a Trans man, if you identify as gender queer or non-binary, no matter where you are in your journey, you need make sure that you and all your Trans friends take the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey.
This week, Conde’ Nast, the publisher of Vanity Fair, GQ, The New Yorker, Vogue, and Glamour magazines, announced they would publish Trans America: Exploring Gender Identity and Expression, a special issue dedicated to telling the stories of transgender people.
The special issue is already on the newsstands, and once again Caitlyn Jenner, who has apparently become the voice of the glamour branch of the Transgender Movement, is on the cover. Remember her photo on the July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair?
At $4.99 + tax, that July issue flew off the newsstands with such a flurry that I didn’t have enough time to check my couch cushions or the bottom of my purse for lost coins to buy my own copy. Disclosure: I actually did find enough spare change, but when I find quarters, they automatically go into a can marked “Laundry”. Thankfully, a friend bought two copies and set one aside for me.
And that gift was no small gesture, because $4.99 + tax is a pretty good chunk of change. Most of my Trans friends will only ever rarely walk into a bookstore or drugstore just to buy a magazine at that price, especially when none of the articles and advertisements are actually written for us.
I am going to make a confession. On my way to the grocery store, I stopped at a local drug store and bought a copy of Trans America.
The price? $12.00 + tax.
As I am writing this, I am staring at a pile of laundry that is spilling out of my closet. My refrigerator is empty and my roommate’s food stamps, which we share illegally, won’t show up in her account until tomorrow.
My palms are beginning to sweat. I should have asked for a roll of quarters.
Instead, I have another photo of Caitlyn Jenner, this time on the cover of a $12.00 magazine being published for two audiences, that I can discern: one is a readership that can clearly afford it and the products advertised inside; and two, fools like me who can’t afford it or the products, but buy it anyway because we feel obligated or are just curious beyond our better judgement.
Nothing in Trans America moved me nearly as much as the full page ad from NCTE near the front that laid out some hard facts about the Trans community, such as 90 percent of us having been discriminated against, harassed, or assaulted because we are Trans.
Take that, privilege!
Other than that, though, there is nothing in Trans America that moves me at all. Yes, there are some beautiful photos of Trans celebrities like Janet Mock, Chaz Bono, Lana Wachowski, Lea T, Geena Rocero, Antony Hegarty, and others, but we’ve seen them all before. The short biographies that accompany each photo offer nothing we haven’t read or heard elsewhere. For example, Lana Wachowski’s biography is reduced to a few sentences from a speech that was posted on YouTube in 2012.
I love the speech, but seriously, Vanity Fair, it was three years ago.
In fact, almost all of the articles have been lifted from previous issues of one Conde’ Nast publication or another, so not even the stories themselves offer anything that hasn’t already been published. One story, “The Humboldt Murders,” first appeared in The New Yorker in 1997. It tells the story of Teena Brandon and his murder. As if cut-and-paste without editing is one way to preserve the historical integrity of a bygone binary era, the editors chose to run the original story, complete with misgendering,albeit with a one sentence apology, just in case anyone might actually care.
To be fair, the editors never actually make the claim that the purpose of the issue is to preserve and recount Trans history. But it does suggest at least some historical integrity in the title, Trans America: Exploring Gender Identity and Expression. Evidently, the editors feel that running the same story about Caitlyn Jenner that appeared just one month ago is “exploring gender identity and expression.”
But it isn’t. All they’re doing is going over the same ground again and again.
While I sincerely want to appreciate the effort by Conde’ Nast and its editors to tell the stories of transgender people, they aren’t actually making much of an effort to tell the “personal tales of struggle, transition, and triumph” that the cover also claims.
And those stories need to be told, which is why the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey is so important.
Before I get myself too deep in some real hot water, I want to explain a couple things. I understand enough about how business works to know that it would be incredibly naïve of me to think for a moment that Conde’ Nast isn’t using the Trans community and the Trans America to make a few bucks. And I also understand that it is generally accepted outside the Trans community that there are 700,000 Trans people in the United States, with an average life expectancy of between 35 and 45 years, and that Trans people are four times more likely to live in poverty. (http://www.lgbtmap.org/unfair-price-transgender)
Contrast those demographic realities of the Trans community with this: Vanity Fair has a readership that is almost twice the official Trans population of the United States, and the average reader is 45 years old with a household income of just under $81,000. Their “affluent” audience has an average income of $172,000. (http://www.condenast.com/brands/vanity-fair/media-kit/print)
Clearly, Conde’ Nast isn’t talking to me or anyone else in the Trans community, except for maybe the few people profiled in Trans America.
Not that you asked for it, but here’s my advice: If you’re in the Trans community, save your money and put it toward a large pizza, because we all know that you can get three good meals out of a large pizza.
I realize that my face and my opinion on anything is never going to make it onto the pages of Vanity Fair, and that’s why I completed the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey. It is my best chance for telling my story in a way that matters, and it might just be your best chance, too. But, if I step down from my righteous arms akimbo stance on the platform known as the Transgender Movement, I have to admit that Conde’ Nast might actually be doing our community a huge favor.
Our community desperately needs allies upon allies upon allies who have money because in Washington, D.C. and in our state capitols money equals power. Anything that moves us closer to equality is worth our attention. Maybe the Trans America special issue will convince a few more influential constituents to persuade their federal and state representatives to write gender identity and gender expression into our civil rights laws.
Naturally, Conde’ Nast is beholden above all else to two groups of people: advertisers and readers. Conde’ Nast’s editorial team has one job to do, and that is to deliver a large number of readers with a lot of money to its advertisers. This is why you will never see coupons you can clip for tomato soup and toothpaste in Vanity Fair. What you will see are ads for cologne, wine, jewelry, and lots of other luxurious items.
Admittedly, I am not even close to being in that target audience, and neither are most of my Trans and non-binary friends. Is it any wonder that so many Trans people feel left out of mainstream society when the typical reader of a magazine dedicated to telling their stories will be read only by people who make a bazillion times more money than they do? Well, be that as it may, as my grandmother once said, the day is as good as the deed. So here’s hoping Trans America can nudge a few bazillionaires over to our side, because they get people elected and they get laws passed.
Knowing that the writers and editors at Vanity Fair are at the top of the profession, I had hoped they had done their research and would know what most of us in the Trans community already know because we are living it. I had hoped the stories would be about people who were once in the target audience of Vanity Fair, but whose lives unraveled during their transition. I wanted stories and words that came from the mouths of the thousands of Trans women and Trans men who have lost their jobs, their families, and their communities because of who they are.
I wanted America to hear how one out of every seven Trans people earn less than $10,000 per year because no one will hire them. I had hoped that Vanity Fair’s editors would tell their target audience about privilege and that for many Trans people life is about being bullied out of school, running away from home as teenagers, being attacked in shelters, and worrying about whether they should pay the rent or utilities. I wanted the pages of Trans America to be filled with pleas for more funding to treat those of us who are HIV+, but don’t know it because we’re too afraid we will be turned away in disgust by doctors.
I had hoped the editors would implore institutions such as churches and shelters to stop turning us away, and I wanted the editors and writers to realize that those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs are forced to pay taxes into a system that, as a matter of policy, has never recognized us as human beings whose civil rights deserve to be protected.
But there is none of that in Trans America and that is why it is absolutely critical that everyone in the Trans community take the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey.
In their research, the writers at Vanity Fair could have poured over the data in the 2011 report, Injustice at Every Turn, and before they conducted a single interview or took even one photograph they would have come to know what Trans people, especially Trans women of color, already know: We are being murdered and tortured, denied justice and health care, and thrown into jail cells with rapists and murderers. But, rather than crafting a masterpiece to convince their readers that Trans Lives Matter and that they, the readers, have a moral obligation to act, the editors of Conde’ Nast chose to cut-and-paste old stories as if that somehow constitutes an appropriate and significant enough exploration of gender identity and expression in America to justify asking readers to fork over $12.00.
I have no doubt that the writers and editors at Vanity Fair are sympathetic to the Transgender Movement. Let’s hope that the visibility Trans America brings to our community moves us closer to equality than it does to further commodification.
As important as visibility is, one of my great fears is that our allies and the glamorous stars of the Transgender Movement will forget that visibility is not the goal of the Transgender Movement. If it was, then how can we explain the brutal slaying of at least eight Trans and Gender Fluid people since Caitlyn Jenner’s photo appeared on the cover of the July 2015 issue of Vanity Fair? If visibility is the goal, we would have declared “mission accomplished” in 1952 when Christine Jorgensen’s story appeared in the New York Daily News.
Visibility is important, but above all else, the goal of the Transgender Movement is equality and justice without any exceptions. So, maybe Trans America will help propel the Transgender Movement forward, but it won’t get us to where we are going.
Not while record numbers of Trans people, especially Trans people of color, are being murdered and beaten on the streets, and not while Trans people are routinely denied employment, housing and health care.
Not while our voices are silenced by those who would presume to speak on our behalf.
We are in the middle of a crisis and the urgency that reverberates throughout the Transgender Movement is something that only a Trans person can ever fully understand.
This is why it is of paramount importance that Trans people speak for Trans people.
This is why you must complete the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey.