Science magazine put transgender sex workers in Jakarta on its cover this month with an objectifying image that cuts off their heads and focuses on their tight dresses, long legs, and high heels. It pissed off a lot of people — from female scientists to cultural critics — and now Congresswoman Jackie Speier has written a letter calling it straight up transphobic.
As originally reported by the Advocate and then picked up by CBS SF, Speier wrote a letter to Science magazine’s executive publisher telling him that the image not only “sends the message that women and minorities still do not fully belong in the ‘boy’s club’ of science,” but also damages the trans community in the way the magazine handled the backlash.
Speier is referring to since-deleted tweets by one of Science’s editors, Jim Austin, who argued that the image is powerful because it’s not immediately clear that the women pictured are transgender. He tweeted: “Interesting to consider how those hazy males will feel when they find out.” The cover story was about successful approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention.
Here’s how Speier responded:
"The choice of cover was made even worse by Science editor Jim Austin’s comments suggesting that if men were drawn in by the exposed legs and tight dresses, it would be ‘interesting’ to see how they felt once they discovered the women were transgender. The prevalence of the ‘trans panic’ defense, in which perpetrators of violent crimes justify their actions by claiming shock at the identity of a trans person, make this an abysmal motivation for Science’s choice of cover are, particularly since transgender people are disproportionately subject to hate crimes. I appreciate the apology from Science’s editor-in-chief, but question how such a sexist, racist, and transphobic cover was selected in the first place."
Science’s editor in chief, Marcia McNutt, did end up issuing an apology, but also defended the cover in her statement, saying it was meant “to highlight the fact that there are solutions for the AIDS crisis for this forgotten but at-risk group.”
We're taking Jackie's side on this one.