“Science” Magazine Runs Transmisogynistic Cover, Editor Tweets ‘Deception’ Tropes When Challenged

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One of the best known and most respected publications in science and technology chose to run a sexualized, transmisogynistic photo for its cover this week, and when the editor was challenged on twitter for pandering to the male gaze, he responded that he thought it would be interesting what would happen when those males “find out.”

While the focus of Science magazine’s July 11 issue on combating HIV and AIDS worldwide is laudable, the editors unfortunately chose the route of crude sensationalism to present that story to the public. The magazine cover features a dehumanizing image of trans women sex workers in Jakarta that focuses on their bodies, crops out their faces and primarily centers on their exposed thighs. The text accompanying that picture says, “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS,” as if trans sex workers are somehow an image that is naturally synonymous with this disease.

And while, yes, trans women globally, on average, do face significantly elevated risks, could you imagine the outraged response if the same cover text accompanied an image of two men in a sexual embrace, and further only showed them from the neck down?

It has also been pointed out that apparently Science has never run any similar cover image that focuses on sexualizing parts of human bodies before. What’s more, the online text that appears below the cover image states:

This “key affected population” has high HIV prevalence but is largely ignored by government efforts.

Yet, when you click on the linked cover story, it doesn’t actually mention trans people at all.

However, when one of the Science editors was challenged on twitter over this image, the situation worsened quickly. When several people challenged Jim Austin, Science Careers Editor, about the blatant sexism on the cover, Austin responded by saying, “You realize they are transgender? Does it matter? That at least colors things, no?” as if crudely sexualizing women suddenly becomes okay as long as they’re trans.

When @JacquelynGill challenged the idea that sexually dehumanizing trans women is okay by saying the image was just another “male gazey image,” Austin responded, “Interesting to consider how those gazey males will feel when they find out.”

Here Austin has gone far beyond the line and is starting to play into violently anti-trans woman ‘deception’ tropes. The fact is that this type of rhetoric has been used for years to promote victim-blaming myths against trans women, and has even been used in court cases to reduce sentences or free cis men from culpability for murdering trans women (even in cases where the men in question actually knew the woman was trans all along). These statements, particularly when taken in conjunction with an image catering to the male gaze, also buy into the idea that trans women’s bodies are somehow public domain. And above all, they buy into the utterly stupid, unscientific idea that cis males somehow have some kind of “right” to not be attracted to trans women.

If a man is uncomfortable with his own sexual attractions, that is not a public issue; that is his own problem that he needs to sort out for himself. And the recent spate of often brutal murders against trans women of color across the U.S. emphasize that the priority in this conversation must be the safety of women, not the hand-wringing of men who lack the personal integrity to make sense of their own sexual desires in a healthy, reasonable way.


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Savannah is a queer trans woman and physicist who was unleashed into the cosmos from the great state of North Carolina. She has been active on LGBT diversity issues in physics and also writes on trans feminism and other social justice issues on her blog leftytgirl, preferably while listening to metal. Savannah presently works at a university in Osaka from where she misses her amazing cat Zinfandel back in North Carolina very much. Follow her on Twitter.

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24 Comments

  1. 0

    He issued an apology to those offended by it, but of course not an apology for running the cover or the possible ramifications of the cover in the first place.

    Apology tweet

    “RT @Marcia4Science: From us at Science, we apologize to those offended by recent cover. Intent was to highlight solutions to HIV, and it…”

  2. 0

    For what it’s worth, the editor-in-chief addressed public reaction to this cover image.

    Still, I’m not sure why Science bothered with a cover image of people at all, especially because the package of stories covered many types of people. If you look, you can find examples of human disease cover art that don’t feature humans:
    Breast cancer

    Sickle cell

    • 1

      Exactly! It would have been so easy and much more tasteful to do a cover illustration that doesn’t feature or draw attention to people or any one group of people. HIV/AIDS doesn’t affect only one group of people, and those who are affected by the disease should not only be defined by this aspect of their lives.

  3. 1

    the guy keeps trying to assert that running that cover was ok…sounds familiar…”stop telling me i’m wrong, you’re spoiling my fun”…barf. I wish he and others like him would just shut the fuck up and get a clue

    • 0

      Just an FYI, the guy is actually the new editor in chief and she is a woman. I think it was an awful cover from all perspectives. I will be cancelling my Science subscription if they run any more of that baloney.

  4. 1

    … And this is one of the journals that everybody in my field (physics) strives to get published in. Good job, Science! Just what I needed after I finished debating some colleagues about feminism. /sarcasm

  5. 0

    As has been pointed out in the comments above, since I wrote this original draft, Science has apologized for running the cover photo. I wrote an updated version of this article that takes into account their apology here (and I also expand on my argument a bit in the updated version):

    http://leftytgirl.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/science-magazine-runs-trans-misogynistic-cover-editor-tweets-deception-tropes-when-challenged/

    Also, since I tweeted the above link to the editors in question, Jim Austin has deleted the “how those gazey males will feel when they find out” tweet, so I will interpret that as a positive development.

  6. 1

    Shit like this should make a magazine like that ashamed of its title. As if it’s not enough when it’s done by some dumbass sensationalist junk mag. On the cover of a magazine known for garnering respect from thinking people? Hideous, absolutely hideous. And as to the excuses of that guy? You’d think someone linked with science would have an interest perhaps in basic research.

  7. 1

    my experiences since coming out as trans have been universally bad.
    at school, in the restrooms (I am LEGALLY allowed to use the womens room), cis women have called me a rapist aand compared me to bill cosby (the jist of the comment being that I was like him, incapable of raping a woman by force)
    at the campus q center they were all eager to help. until I sohwed up to meet them with my wife. I was told that I wasnt a “real” lesbian. they offered to help my wife leave me.
    Ive lost all the friends I had. one (my then weed connect) grabbed my chest when I told him I was taking hormones. the others heard his version of events and decided I was somehow to blame.
    I have been systematically denied chances for interviews, even here in portland.
    administrators at my school have used a different bit of tactical bureaucracy every semester in attempts to have me removed from school. I have had to attend only online classes for the last couple of semesters as my body has gone from hard to hide to blatantly non-male in appearence. As a result of it all I am now entering my fourth year at a two year college. I had gained accpetance as a transfer student to a local four year school until a mysterious issue with their financial aid department nixed the whole thing.
    and thats not going into the single use hate Ive endured-Ive been hit with rocks, had my face shoved into a bathroom wall (the last time I tried to pee in the mens room, just prior to coming out actually but to be fair, guys wearing nail polish is too much for this little suburb just outside Portland).
    Just recently I had my orchierectomy (yes my spelling sucks), but I cant enjoy it like I thought I would. Theres so much less joy in finally getting close to where I want to go only to realize the only people I honestly want anything to do with have long ago written me off as a fake. I dont even see a distinction anymore between the westboro types and the lgbt community, excpet insofar as one wants to kill me the other wants to let them.
    Im sorry, tis went on way longer than I thought and is incoherent. I really just need to shut up, stay hidden and wait to die.
    and thats my experience being a trans woman who doesnt live up to the stereotype of being a dick crazy bimbo.

    • 0

      What did you expect? The lesbian community has always been against us. Sites like Autostraddle only run articles because they know our demographic will financially support them.

      The reality is that nobody will ever accept us. The isolation we face drives us to seek acceptance from others, but we are the only group that will ever liberate ourselves.

  8. 0

    Note – my comment was directed at Emily. The ‘reply to this comment’ function didn’t seem to work.

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