In 2018, The Atlantic, a magazine lauded for its 10,000-word essays that seemingly only men can write, decided to attempt a cover story on gender dysphoria. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it went horribly, horribly wrong, the resulting product playing into transphobic tropes by fixating on people who regretted transitioning. This cis-centric bumbling also played out on the cover image, which featured a distorted rendering of an aspiring model who was not only misgendered by the magazine but also outed to his family as trans.
As Mina Brewer told Poynter, at the time, his grandfather had a subscription to The Atlantic and the cover resulted in Brewer having to explain his identity to his entire family sooner than anticipated. Luckily, according to Brewer, the family’s reaction was positive. “I didn’t really face any hard transphobia or backlash from [my family],” he told Poynter, adding that it was, nonetheless, a disruptive experience to be outed without consent by a national magazine. “I was really trying to understand my identity for myself and wasn’t really comfortable talking about my gender,” with the strangers on the streets of New York who recognized him from the cover.
At the time of the photoshoot, which Brewer had no idea would result in a cover, he was using they/them pronouns and responded to an open call for subjects for an article that would cover “gender dysphoria and debates different views on teens wanting to transition,” Poynter reports. Even though Brewer was contacted by The Atlantic for use of his photograph, he was never told where the photos would land in the print edition. The magazine issued a lengthy apology after Brewer voiced his concerns about the cover but said there was little that could be done about the print edition.
However, before the apology was issued, art director Paul Spella reportedly defended the photo to Brewer saying the photo was supposed to reflect “the abstract idea of parents navigating their children’s transition” as opposed to a single trans individual. Perhaps if the abstract representation was the end game, using an actual person was not the best call. But it doesn’t seem like The Atlantic wanted to take the time to portray trans people as people.