Weekend Reading

Let reading ring:

A recent survey of more than six thousand self-identified transgender people showed that 41 percent have attempted suicide, a staggering twenty-six times the rate of the general population. This percentage rises even more for self-reported victims of discrimination and violence, to as many as 78 percent for those who have experienced violence in school. Imagine the headlines if close to half of gay people attempt suicide. Yet the most play this statistic gets is in New York Times advice column about how to broach the topic of transgender transition on social media—and has not even been discussed in other national news publications like The Washington Post and USA Today.

Compare this to the media attention surrounding the suicide of Tyler Clementi in 2010, a gay white Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate filmed him having sex. This merited front page coverage and 85 related articles in the Times, while trans people are being outed routinely and our suicides generally go unreported. For instance, the transgender writer Donna Ostrowsky, who contributed to the Lambda Literary Award-winning The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, committed suicide in New York on June 10 last year, and her death remained unreported by any media outlet, including theNew York Times.

The personal is political, the saying goes, but for women, the political is removed from the person, replaced by trite obsessions with clothes, hair, child care choices and exercise routines. The media’s preoccupation with such trivia is no mere relic of an earlier era. Even today, several generations removed from the devastating critique of their triviality that was at the heart of first-wave feminism, Marie Claire and other women’s magazines remain obsessed with the appearance of female public figures, an obsession that still extends far beyond them into leading news publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. You can take the woman out of the woman’s magazine, but the style of coverage—and it is all about style—remains the same.

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