A typical first reaction when I've told people we were putting together a transgender issue is puzzlement. A frown passes over their features, and they seem momentarily thrown. No one, of course, says exactly what they are thinking, but you can see the gears turning. It would be one thing to address the subject in an essay or a column, perhaps, but a whole issue sounds like homework: Next week we'll be studying the history of the transgender people. Please read relevant works and discuss.
Well, yes, done badly, such an issue might read as a contrived lesson in anthropology. Eating spinach would be more fun. Except that when we first began brainstorming this issue with guest editor T Cooper we were very clear on one thing: If we were going to enlighten and inspire anyone, ourselves included, it had to be done in the same bold, sexy brush strokes that we apply to everything else. Not that it was difficult. It's a bold and sexy subject to begin with, and you only have to read T's excellent essay or look at the smoldering pictures of Candis Cayne to see just how. Still, we'd be lying if we didn't acknowledge our own limitations to begin with: No one who works on the editorial team at Out is trans, and our clumsy he/she conversations in early meetings reflected a cartoonish confusion that we gradually mastered (thank heavens for the catch-all pronoun yo).
We may be compulsive dilettantes, but ignorance is not always an impediment, and in this case it was a spur. I'm not sure I've ever worked on an issue that so thoroughly engaged the entire team, not least for the fresh roads it took us along. As an editor my guiding instinct is to create the kind of magazine I would want to read, but in that process we often forget that what attracted us to this racket in the first place was curiosity, nosiness, wanting to know about stuff. Sometimes, after all, you don't know what you want to read until you read it. This is one of those issues.
T Cooper, Guest Editor:
Flipping through the pages of Out over the years -- especially some of the fashion shoots populated by those lanky, androgynous, and way-too-pretty models -- I've frequently found myself fantasizing about which of the guys pictured had not been born male. Perhaps that's just my particular lens, but I guess I'm always conscious of the ways in which gender is depicted in our culture -- and further, how the transgender community is uniquely positioned to challenge our long-held beliefs around gender and sexuality. I started thinking especially about many of my trans brothers who are out there in the queer community having tons of sex and relationships -- and everything in between -- with some of the (nontrans) gay men who make up the bulk of this magazine's readership. So over coffee a few months back, I pitched a story about a handful of these 'trans fags' to Out editor Aaron Hicklin. I also suggested the larger concept of an entirely trans-focused issue and ways we might bring trans culture into the magazine. A couple weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised when Aaron responded with an enthusiastic 'Let's do it.'
What you have in your hands is a result of that collaboration. By no means is it all-inclusive of the wonderful things that are happening in the transgender community and culture at this moment. Nor is it all-inclusive of the less-than-wonderful things happening in trans people's worlds right now. And that is by design: This issue is meant to be a celebration of trans lives and culture -- not an argument for inclusion or importance (both already self-evident, I believe) but rather one small step toward raising awareness around gender in the larger, dare I say, mainstream gay community.
It's surprising to me that even some gay people still don't appreciate the distinction between sexual identity and gender identity and that gays are often those most rigid about the male/female binary. I know that differences around gender are potentially confusing for some people (like a gay man finding himself having sex with a man with a vagina, for instance), but I'm hoping that through the pieces and people that populate this issue, the door will be flung open wide enough for folks to meet eye-to-eye for a moment of heightened understanding and -- even more crucial -- respect.