Republican Senator Orrin Hatch recently conceded that same-sex marriage will eventually become the “law of the land,” and with that, it looks as if the conservative right has finally decided to start to notice the winds of progress. The fight is far from over, but with same-sex marriage legal in twenty states, and appeals making their way through the judicial systems of the other thirty, even leading Republicans can see that victory for marriage equality is within sight. Institutionalized marriage is not, however, the only repository of bigotry and persecution tainting the nation – there is still a great deal to accomplish on the equality front for the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities, and an incredible amount that needs to be accomplished for the trans community. This fact makes TIME Magazine’s June issue all the more significant.
Laverne Cox, star of Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, graces a cover with the title “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier.” The impact of a transgender woman on the cover of such a mainstream magazine will surely reverberate throughout the world, but an important message permeates the entire issue. “There’s not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience,” Cox told TIME’s Katy Steinmetz. As award-winning writer Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently expressed, there is a very real danger in the idea of a single story and, in addition to a personal interview with Cox, this issue includes a “Transgender 101” article covering a wide array of issues as well as a photo essay of transgender individuals.
Trans rights and trans issues have been garnering increasing attention within the LGBT community, notably in the storm of controversy surrounding RuPaul’s Drag Race, but outside, awareness has continued to progress at a snail’s pace. Two issues that have attracted wider notice have been Jared Leto’s casting as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club and Andrew Garfield’s in the video for ‘We Exist’ by Arcade Fire, the question in both instances being why were men chosen to play transgender women rather than transgender women themselves?
Visibility for the trans community has become one of the most pressing hurdles. Janet Mock, Carmen Carrera and Cox made waves addressing the very real, and very harrowing, challenges facing the trans community today – the double standards, invasive questions, violence and discrimination – with Katie Couric, Piers Morgan and Alicia Menendez. Yet TIME is doing something that brief television appearances cannot do – it is giving leading figures the opportunity to articulate their own experiences while incorporating those of the myriad of others.
By taking the helm, women like Cox and Mock are taking control of the trans agenda, and that’s important. Like any oppressed and disenfranchised group, the trans community needs the support of everyone, but they don’t need others to speak for them. By providing Cox with such a monumental platform to share her story, TIME is giving her the chance to touch the lives of millions. Cox goes on to say in her interview that visibility is important because it takes people being able to say, “Oh yeah, I know someone who is trans” for ignorance-fuelled discrimination to melt away. “When people have points of reference that are humanizing, that demystifies difference.” By calmly and clearly expressing her fears, her hopes and her feelings, Cox provides the human touch needed to inspire acceptance. By bringing the trials and concerns of the trans community to the fore, TIME has raised the visibility of a community in desperate need of legal protections and rights. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that the marriage equality movement is creeping towards its apex, but it’s unbelievably reassuring to see that equality’s progress is expanding and in no way slowing down.
James McDonald is a Brooklyn-native currently based in Scotland. When not pouring through the letters of Mary, Queen of Scots in pursuit of an MLitt Scottish History degree at the University of Glasgow, you’ll find him typing away. To date, his writing has been featured in Haaretz, the Huffington Post, the Lambda Literary Review, Gayletter, Thought Catalog and The Outmost, with more (hopefully) on the way. Follow him @jamesian7
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