The cover photo of the July 11 issue of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has drawn concern and outrage from trans and human rights advocates this week.
It depicts trans women sex trade workers in Jarkarta, cropped down to headless breasts and miniskirted masculine legs, teetering on stilleto heels. The parallels between this image and the defamatory cover of J. Michael Bailey's book, The Man Who Would be Queen, are unmistakable and painfully reminiscent to many in trans communities. The caption, "Staying a Step Ahead of HIV/AIDS," attempts clever metaphorical humor at the expense of the subjects' clothing and their mortality.
Slantist.com blogger A.V. Flox describes multiple levels of inappropriateness in this image and huge disparities with depictions of other populations on the cover of Science magazine:
Instead of showing viewers a humanizing glimpse into the lives of these women, the reader's eye is drawn directly to their thighs, which are placed almost dead center on the cover. Indeed, their legs take up about half of the cover, and their heads have been cropped out of the picture.
The response from Science editors piled injury on to insult.
Responding to concerns about objectifying photographs of headless, scantily clad women, editor Jim Austin tweeted,
You realize they are transgender? Does it matter? That at least colors things, no?
Austin did not stop at implying that the dignity of women doesn't matter if they're trans. He went on to make a joke of the "trans-panic" trope: the falsehood that trans women, by the act of living authentic lives, are "deceptive" and deserve to be victimized by physical violence:
Interesting to consider how those gazey males [readers] will feel when they find out.
Melbourne University astrophysicist Dr. Katherine Mack, a real scientist, perhaps responded best:
1)Headless women's bodies on cover: not OK.
2)"Hey but they're trans!": not OK
On the same day, the Science family of journals Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt issued a public non-apology, shifting the blame to readers for their feelings of "discomfort" and for presumably lacking the intelligence to understand the "context" and "intent" of her cover image.
I am truly sorry for any discomfort that this cover may have caused anyone, and promise that we will strive to do much better in the future to be sensitive to all groups and not assume that context and intent will speak for themselves.
Ms. McNutt was apparently not sorry for boosting magazine sales with an objectified, sexualized, scandalized depiction of trans women's bodies to titillate her "gazey" male readers; nor was she concerned with the consequences of false stereotypes that lock trans women out of jobs, career opportunities, civil rights and human dignity. I hope that officers and board members of the parent AAAS organization, whose motto is "Advancing science, Serving Society," will listen.
Salacious stereotyping of women, including trans women, is not OK and it's not "science."