• After the tipping point: investigating visuals of transgender bodies in magazine media

      Manzella, Samantha L. (2018-08)
      How do we trouble cisnormativity in a world that relies so heavily on gender identity? From the clothes we wear to the language we use, gender markers shape how we experience the world and engage with others. Too often, when we blur the boundaries of what “male” and “female” look like, we spur fear, confusion, and outrage. These sentiments have realworld repercussions: In 2017, Human Rights Campaign reported record-high numbers of fatal anti-transgender violence in America. After the Tipping Point: Investigating Visuals of Transgender People In Magazine Media seeks to explore the intersection of modern media and trans identities by analyzing editorial photographs of transgender individuals after TIME’s professed “transgender tipping point” in 2014. The project examines four key case studies from some of the U.S.’s most widely read magazines: Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover story (July 2015); Aydian Dowling’s Men’s Health photo spread (November 2015); National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” issue (January 2017); and Ines Rau’s Playboy photo spread (November/December 2017), to investigate how, why, and for whom these images are produced and relate them to literature on the complex nature of publicly visible bodies. Because media content both manifests culture and informs it, magazines are a productive site for investigating public discourse on trans issues, including the shifts over time and limitations of such conversations. Though new photographs of transgender bodies have appeared in popular magazines post-“tipping point,” these depictions often fall prey to the familiar trappings of binary gender roles, highlighting the power of media representation as a force to both buck conventions and perpetuate them, sometimes simultaneously.