Transphobia Revealed

So, it is a Bank Holiday but as I write, I am gently but uncompromisingly reminded that discrimination does not take holidays, as you will see from the below front cover of Reveal Magazine. At the outset, thank you to Natacha Kennedy for diligently taking the photograph in the queue at Morrisons and for granting me permission to use it.

Firstly, I have a question that I want you to keep in mind while you read. The question of what constitutes a bad day for a  journalist. One of the major headaches for journalists and journalism as a profession is role reversal. That is to say, when the journalist, or the publication or organisation they work for, becomes the story.

This is definitely what has happened in the case of the latest issue of Reveal magazine, who have adorned their front cover with a picture of the beautiful Ms Jenna Talackova. What is not so beautiful alas, is their cover line.

The —-> MAN who wins beauty contests.

So, I think it has been a very bad day at the office for Reveal,  and rightly so, since all they have managed to reveal is their ambivalence and contempt for their trans readership, and not least for Jenna Talackova. But how, and why, and what makes me so filled with disgust and anger?

For any magazine, your cover is your seller. It is what people see first when they look at the magazine in a shop or supermarket. No matter how interesting or compelling your content is, you need that cover to sell your product. Your publication will be more than likely grouped together with others of a similar genre. So what I wonder is how does flaunting transphobia sell magazines? 

More importantly, does discrimination have mass market appeal?

To help in my quest to understand the issue better,I decided to  play the role of Shirley Holmes and use Google as my non human Watson to find out more.

Reveal are owned by Hearst Magazines, who have a multitude of different titles in their portfolio, including  Good Housekeeping, Inside Soap and Psychologies to name a few, plus the well known entertainment and digital website Digitalspy, and NetDoctor amongst others.

So it can be seen that Reveal sits in  good company with some very credible brands. But what of Reveal, its readership, and what the magazine offers them?

Their website suggests that;

“Reveal responds to the immediacy of the UK’s ‘I want it now’ culture and lets readers see life through a celebrity lens. Reveal is the only celebrity magazine that has a number of celebrity experts. The journalists at Reveal write emotive, quality copy from a young woman’s perspective.”

Futhermore its brand propostion is as follows.

“Reveal delivers all the celeb gossip, high street fashion, big issues of the day, some helpful advice and a few laughs along the way. Everything is tailored to be relevant to the week of purchase.”

Finally its brand values are to be:

  • Emotive
  • Fashionable
  • Feminine 
  • Fun
  • High street
  • In the know

So having glimpsed into the world of Reveal  and what is on offer it leaves me feeling somewhat mystified. Would the editorial justification for this cover line be that there is a demand for transphobia, as part of an “I want it now culture?” Are your listeners really beating down the door demanding transphobia? I doubt that very much.  Is there an immediate need for it? If so, why?

Reveal also claims to write emotive, quality copy, and to provide a few laughs. Well the coverline was emotive, but for all the wrong reasons. If there was even something remotely, remotely funny about that coverline, I am so saddened to have missed the joke.

Let me assure Reveal that there is nothing funny, nor feminine , or educational about perpetuating and actually giving a platform to transphobia on your front cover. 

To out somebody to an entire readership is in no way journalism. In fact, it is an abuse of the privileges journalism as a profession has, to inform, to entertain, to be noted and sought to give facts and also opinions when needed.

However, I believe there is no justification for this and the cover line does not fall under any of these banners. It also gives a dangerous legitimacy and affirmation to a prevalent view that some quarters of the press do not seem to care about the bullying of trans people, that they think bullying is okay and that cover lines such as Reveal’s add an extra bit of titillation and marketing to a story.

It appears to me too, that we have what I would describe as a ‘trannyisation epidemic’. The sociologist Emile Durkheim suggested that “the sum of the whole was greater than the sum of its parts”.

I believe this to be true of individuals too. But to look at the current discourse in the media, albeit counteracted by activist organisations like Trans Media Watch, you would think that all that mattered about transsexuals was their trans status. It is reductive, insulting and wrong.

Being honest though it is a problem that has beset many minorities for a long time. The press think that someone’s particular minority is their defining feature. However, just because this has been the way of things for some time, it does not mean that minority groups do not have a right to be concerned, and that we cannot halt that trend through a colllective response.

Returning to the cover line for a moment, it was certainly emotive. I can say from personal experience that being outed as trans or as a “man” is always one of the most saddening, degrading, dehumanising and demoralising things I go through. I can say too, that it never gets any easier to deal with, nor better.

I do not know Jenna, but as a trans woman myself, I can both sympathise and empathise with how distressing it must have been for her. My heart goes out to her, actually. But did anyone stop and think what it would do to her emotionally?

For as much as I wax lyrical about how much I love my life now, and whilst I hate the suffering narrative, it was traumatic, before I lived as my true self. I hated it.I felt incongruent, I wanted to be beautiful, not handsome, everything was just wrong. That is the key word here I think. For a magazine to act as a self appointed  judge and jury and to force Jenna Talackova to revisit that part of her past is disgusting, unjustifiable as well and makes me sick to my stomach.

It is clear too from the graphology of the article what sort of cheap, sensationalist angle they were going for. Big, lurid, yellow lettering, and MAN over the top of a picture of a stunningly gorgeous woman in huge capital letters. Alongside a strategically placed arrow. How de-humanising and low can you get Reveal?

It is all too clear the psychological reaction they wanted to provoke. They want the reader to be “fooled” into thinking “it” is a woman, before they triumphantly splash her past history over the top, ergo revealing, then everyone can have a bloody good laugh at “the tranny’s expense”. Well your revelation here has backfired here, as has your pithy apology. Sorry if you were offended, not sorry we were wrong, almost projecting and passing the buck. You are not sorry, you are sorry you were caught, and that your true transphobic colours were revealed.

I hate to be a bore as well, but the article is factually inaccurate.Jenna Talackova is not a man, legally or otherwise. Perhaps they should have consulted their sister site NetDoctor and looked up Gender Dysphoria.

Moreover, it is also in breach of the Editors Code of Conduct (Article 12) in relation to discrimination which suggests that;

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative 

   reference to an individual’s race, colour,

religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion,
sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or
disability must be avoided unless genuinely
relevant to the story.

There is clear evidence of prejudice and pejorative referencing here, as though transsexuals are just something to be laughed at for kicks or voyeuristic entertainment. As though Jenna Talackova is not a person containing a mind, thoughts and feelings, but a cheap gossip device.

Think too of the target audience of the publication, young women. Supposing a young woman, early in transition saw this. How are they meant to feel? Ecstastic?

This is disgusting, cheap, playing it for laughs journalism. But as I conclude, do you know what upsets me most? That the outcome could in fact have been very different. Imagine a piece, celebrating Jenna Talackova’s life, her beauty, her achievements and attitude. Proud transwoman enters beauty contest and almost wins. A much more positive message, an empowering one, not only for Jenna, but also for other women, with whom her situation undoubtedly resonates.

Even after apologising, Reveal were still patting themselves on the back. Well as I said before, your cover is your shop window. It does not matter a jot how sensitive or positive the article may have been. I am afraid the callous, rude, devil may care transphobia on  the front cover invalidated that completely.

Jenna Talackova has already the been the butt of transphobia once already, and she did not need it again. For the publication to feign surprise at the adverse reaction to the cover line, is either stupid, naive or malicious. I cannot decide which.

However, I do hope that the PCC will take swift and decisive action, to be clear in no uncertain terms to Reveal and Hearst Magazines as a company that whilst we have a free press, that freedom must come in tandem with responsibility.

Also, Hearst needs to be reminded that this is not journalism, and that presenting such “discoveries” as journalism is revolting and contemptible. Being trans is about living your life, not being an object of bullying, transphobia and degradation. Reveal need to be reminded we are people, with thoughts, feelings and emotions, not amusing playground bully targets.

As I close, I am left with a torrid taste in my mouth, and a realisation of how low something masquerading as journalism can go. It it disgusting. It is an insult to true journalism which seeks to inform, entertain, and to educate and impart knowledge to people’s minds. It is the taste and smell, and ugliness of transphobia. We may not be able to eradicate it, but we can fight it and that is what I want to join the trans community in so doing for evermore, as long as I can type, and speak, I can play my part, for Jenna, and for us all. For as Durkheim said;

“The sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What a fabulous and encouraging truth!




4 thoughts on “Transphobia Revealed

  1. It’s the same kind of yellow journalism that denoted Thomas Beatie as a pregnant man. Yes, I legitimize Beatie as a man. However, the media played on the tag line “pregnant man” before letting on that Beatie was transgendered. In Jenna’s case some less credible news outlets play the reverse card I.e., showing a gorgeous female and then supplying the “scandalous” tag line. She’s a man! **Yawn** It’s all so predictable. Simply put, Jenna is having to put up with the same insipid reporting so many other celebs have had to face. Sadly, as a woman with a transgendered past she is more vulnerable than most. I know her personally, she’s the real deal. Thanks for blogging so effectively here.

  2. Yes, I was notified about this on Friday and was the first to slate their ‘apology’ – since then this has attracted wide condemnation and I have just been informed that the TransMedia Watch organisation are also having strong words with them.
    If anybody else would like to leave a comment on their Facebook page they can do so by adding to the existing comments thread here:-

    Unfortunately Reveal disabled the facility for people to add new comments on their page on Saturday as the whole page was being taken over with people criticising their transphobia – and these were deleted as soon as they appeared

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