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Turns Out That Terrible Transphobic Atlantic Story Also Outed Its Cover Model

Illustration for article titled Turns Out That Terrible Transphobic iAtlantic/i Story Also Outed Its Cover Model
Screenshot: Instagram

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.

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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.

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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.

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DISCUSSION

I’ve read through the article like three times now, and I am confused about what Brewer was told and when, and what the actual claim of wrongdoing against The Atlantic is. I get that the ultimate wrong here is supposed to be that Brewer was (in addition to being misgendered) “outed without consent by a national magazine[,]” I just don’t see how the facts actually support that grievance.

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.

It seems like Brewer signed up to be photographed for an article in a national magazine about trans teens debating whether to transition (such as would make it reasonable to assume the photo was going to be used in connection with such an article).

Is the allegedly thoughtless and irresponsible move here that, despite having been duly informed of what the article was about, and the publication it would appear in, that the bridge too far (i.e., the difference between being outed and not being outed—between right and wrong) was whether the photo was on the cover or inside the magazine? I can appreciate the distinction, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference.

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.

Okay, so, grandpa has a subscription to The Atlantic (not exactly the kind of subscription one gets by accident such as by being bamboozled into a bundle of magazine subscription), and the frame is that if only the photo had been inside the magazine rather than on the cover, this would not have resulted in the outing? It seems like regardless of any other factors, Brewer signed up to have their image associated with an article about trans or queer teens that would appear in a national publication—being on the cover probably made them a more prominent subject thereof, but I don’t buy the claim that the sine qua non of Brewer being outed, or having to have this discussion with their family when they had it, was being on the cover rather than inside the magazine.

EDIT: I’m unsure of which pronouns to use here, since the article is using male pronouns, but there’s something in here about Brewer use them/they.