Dear Time: Thanks for nothing.

I guess transpeople are trendy, now that Time says so.

I guess transpeople are trendy, now that Time says so.

One of the big buzzes at the beginning of last week (the day after Memorial Day) was that a transperson was to be featured on the cover of Time — Laverne Cox, one of the co-stars of Orange Is the New Black. Time teased us with a Q-and-A with Ms. Cox but kept the online version of the cover story behind a subscriber paywall. Some of my wonderful and extremely supportive friends were excited about this and messaged me on Facebook and sent links to the Q-and-A and offered me their copies of the issue when they were finished with it. And I, too, was somewhat excited, cautiously curious at how Time would play this story.

I finally got a copy in the mail at the beginning of the week (courtesy of my friend and former Fresno Bee colleague, Diana Ramirez-Simon), and, well, I wanted to read it and let it swirl around a little bit before I added my two cents to what I’ve been calling the last frontier of civil rights for some time now.

Okay, I’ve read it, all nine pages — actually, four pages, after you take out the photos and the half-page of air on the lede page — and, well, I’m not happy. Time, thanks for nothing. I’ll explain …


The story itself was okaaaaaayyyy, kind of a glossy, Trans 101 primer for people who, years into this, still have never seen or encountered a transgender person. In some ways, it’s what I was doing four years ago when I started running “Ask Aunt Fran” installments on this here blog, only with some updates and a couple of recent stories, such as Cassidy Campbell, the trans homecoming queen in Huntington Beach, Calif.; the update on the current political progress (or lack thereof) on the civil rights front; and Cox and her journey from feminine, bullied boy to stunning star.

Since I don’t give Netflix my money, I haven’t seen Orange Is the New Black. It didn’t hit me until a couple of days ago, when I saw one of the many Web articles about the upcoming season and finally realized: “Holy shit! The new season starts this Sunday!” Immediately followed by: “A-HAAAA! No WONDER Time put Laverne on the cover!” And then the anger came in a rush.

If you’re in the news business, you damn well know — or should — that the whole gender-dysphoric spectrum has been news for some time now.

Hell, deeply red-state Fresno — the place where I came out, the place all the elites in the Bay Area and L.A. ignore, save to peer down their imperious noses and scoff at and joke about — had a transman run for prom king — followed almost immediately by the country’s first trans prom queen (at two different high schools) — seven years ago! And it was also seven years ago that network TV had a trans actress in a prominent role — Candis Cayne in Dirty Sexy Money.

And let’s see, a bunch of trans happenings, good and bad, since then:

It’s still legal in 32 states to discriminate against transpeople … Congress refuses to acknowledge the presence of transpeople (including my representative, a 30-year Democratic congresswoman in a very safe seat; I sent a letter to early last year about perhaps working for trans civil rights on the national level, with no response at all from her staff) — except when it’s someone like Barney Frank, working with the “Human Rights” Campaign’s blessing, to lop transpeople off a failed attempt at passing an employment Non-Discrimination Act … Amanda Simpson, the first transperson appointed by a president to a federal post, four years ago … Chaz Bono’s coming-out three years ago … Last year, close to home, Calliope Wong, a senior transgirl at Amity High School in nearby Woodbridge, having her application turned down by so-called “liberal” Smith College for not being a real woman …

Two mothers, Cheryl Kilodavis (My Princess Boy) and Lori Duron (Raising My Rainbow) who have written bestsellers about their gender-nonconforming sons … Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace and MMA fighter Fallon Fox coming out publicly … Kids who have had to fight in court just to use the damned bathroom in school … The American Psychiatric Association finally ceasing last year to consider gender dysphoria as a disorder …  Kristin Beck, a former Navy SEAL who came out and wrote a bestesller about her experiences and transition last year … Laverne and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Carmen Carrera gracefully deflecting Katie Couric’s ignorant what’s-under-the-skirt? question on her (now-canceled) talk show … Janet Mock writing a bestseller and having to endure Piers Morgan’s ignorance on his (now-canceled) talk show … Karen Adell Scot, the science teacher (and ex-soldier and ex-cop) at Yosemite High in Oakhurst, Calif. (less than an hour north of Fresno), who had to warp-speed her coming-out …

And, hand in-hand with the continuing struggle to have our civil rights as Americans recognized, there’s a 16-year-old Latina transgirl who has been sitting in an adult prison here in Connecticut for two months now without ever having been charged with a crime, and only now, as of yesterday, is being released to a juvenile facility out of state … and the continuing violence against transpeople — just a week and a half ago, there were the two black transwomen assaulted on a MARTA train in Atlanta, and bystanders did nothing but cheer and pull out their phones to video the attack.

So, with all this having gone on, the editors at Time wait until the week of the season premiere of a popular series, slap a photo of one of the stars on the cover and proclaim loudly, with some self-congratulation, “Hey! Look! Transpeople exist! Aren’t we hip and trendy to notice?”

Uhhhhh … no, Time, you’re not. If you’re actually journalists, or look down the above list, you’ll see that you’re way behind the curve. This fight to have our rights as Americans recognized has been going on for some time now, with its battles and victories and defeats and temporary setbacks.

The one parallel I can think of is had their predecessors at Time waited until the fall of 1965 — the premiere of I Spy, with Bill Cosby’s groundbreaking role as the first black co-star of a network TV drama  — to write a cover story about the black civil rights movement.

Just how the hell do you think that would’ve gone over?

Uhhhhhh, yeah.

Same with trans civil rights.

So, in closing, Time editors, I just want to say: Thanks sooooo much for turning our civil rights battle into a cheap product tie-in. Thanks for nothing.

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3 Responses to “Dear Time: Thanks for nothing.”

  1. Jessica Alexander Says:

    Don’t try so hard to take offense. Most Americans think we are total freaks and don’t know the difference between a drag queen and a trans woman. Laverne Cox is a well spoken woman and a successful role model and I would much rather that she be the one America Is getting expos rather than the normal negative stories that the press is usually running about trans people.

    • franoramaworld Says:

      Jessica, I totally understand the anger and the pain and frustration in your comment. But please understand that this is changing, and at a pretty quick pace.

      You should know two things about me:

      1) For most of the last 30 years, I’ve been a part of “the press.” As Frannie 2.0 the past six years, I was welcomed back with open arms by two of the newspapers for which I worked as 1.0, including the place for which I currently work, the New Haven Register. And I’m doing what I can to foster understanding (this blog is part of that) in the world at large. Three years ago (when I was unemployed and living in California), the week Connecticut’s Senate was debating adding trans to the state anti-discrimination law, I wrote an op-ed piece for the Register — kind of a coming-out to old colleagues and readers who used to read me — that ended up on page one. In this go-round, when editors and writers have questions about gender identity, I’m usually there to answer.

      And a huge story the past two months here has been a 16-year-old transgirl who sat in an adult prison without ever having been charged with a crime. A dear friend who works with juvenile justice matters clued me to the story, and I went to the editors to tell them what was going on. The editor overseeing our three papers in Connecticut immediately jumped on the story, coming out strongly for her release in an editorial three days before the page-one Sunday feature appeared; several columns, stories and editorials ran over the following weeks, keeping up the drumbeat. (The state just announced a couple days ago that she’s moving to an out-of-state juvy facility.)

      And my previous paper, The Fresno Bee, also had a major trans story a couple months ago, one that went national — about Karen Adell Scot, a longtime high school science teacher up in the mountains in Oakhurst, 45 minutes north of Fresno. Fresno, where I came out, is a pretty red-state part of the world, Oakhurst even more so — and when Karen announced to her co-workers that she planned to come back from spring break as Karen, but one of the teachers, out of spite, leaked it to the public and forced her to come out publicly a lot faster than she wanted. The writers and editors at the Bee, where I had worked in both genders, did a fantastic and very sensitive job with the story.

      So yes, while there are some meatheads (the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s insensitive, bullshit treatment of the murder of a young transwoman in March of last year, making her look like a whore who deserved it), the media as a whole are progressing. And I’ve witnessed it up close. Which is why I expected more from Time, and why its story pissed me off.

      2) I’m not trying to take offense with the story. I understand that there are still people who need the glossy, simple, Trans 101 primer. But years into this fight, that’s not the story that a magazine that’s allegedly one of the country’s foremost publications should be writing. Time came off appearing as if it had just discovered transpeople. And the timing — which prompted my reaction here in the first place — was shameful, deplorable. I went into the story with an open mind to go with a critical eye, and I was hoping for something much better.

      I admit freely that I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a lot of friends and friendly acquaintances, and my circle of friends on both sides of the country exploded once I came out. And if you know me, then you know I’m trans, and you know what trans is. And you know I won’t settle for less than the best from people, from the world.

      When I started my wild little trip, I had a little talk with myself. I said, “I am not a freak, I am not a second-class citizen, and I won’t be treated as such.” And I internalized it. And if someone has a problem with me, I’m in their face like flies on shit. For us to settle for — to accept — any less doesn’t do any of us any good. We not only need better — we deserve it. And I demand it.

      Laverne is, indeed, well-spoken, as are Janet Mock, Carmen Carrera, Chaz Bono and quite a few others who have walked the walk. Strange as it sounds since we’re talking about a magazine that placed her on its cover, she deserved better from Time, too.

      And while there are a hell of a lot of ignorant goobers out there, there are a lot of nontrans people who DO get it — who do understand, who don’t view us as freaks. I’m living proof.

      If you need any encouragement, by all means write me back. We’ll talk. Thanks for reading, and I wish you all the best.

    • franoramaworld Says:

      Jessica: I was telling you above about the active stance the papers I work for are taking on trans rights. Well, this is already online and will be running in the company’s three Connecticut daily papers (New Haven Register, Torrington Register Citizen, Middletown Press) in the morning. No, I had nothing to do with this, and yes, I couldn’t be happier with this:

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