Science Fails Trans Women

On July 11, the journal Science published a special edition on HIV/AIDS that disrespects trans women in a number of ways. The most obvious is the cover photo, which features a number of trans women sex workers in Jakarta and the focus of the image is directly on their crotches. We at Tenure, She Wrote are disappointed in Science for playing into harmful tropes that continue to put women’s lives in danger.

A.V. Flox at Slantist has done an excellent job of breaking down how Science has previously handled photographs of people on its cover. Of the 42 covers featuring people in the past decade, this is the only one that removed the subject’s heads while focusing on their pelvic region and legs.

The article that is related to the photograph (Australia shows its neighbors how to stem an epidemic) has no mention of trans women what-so-ever. In fact, throughout this issue of Science, trans women are mentioned in just two of the eleven Special Issue articles. In the first (“In PNG, the epidemic that wasn’t”), along with using the problematic term “transgenders” instead of “transgender people”, trans women are insinuated as not being women and are placed in a third category alongside “females” and “males.” Science could have clarified this better by using “cisgender women, cisgender men, and transgender women.” The second article (“Malaysia tries to follow Australia’s path”) features the only quote from a trans woman in this issue.

After publication, Science editor Jim Austin recently posted a number of problematic tweets.





In his Twitter remarks, Austin perpetuated disrespect towards trans women during a time when murders of trans women of color is on the rise. In the days following the publication, Marcia McNutt, the Science Editor-in-Chief, apologized for discomfort caused by the cover.


2 thoughts on “Science Fails Trans Women

  1. Thanks for posting this. During a discussion of the cover with a friend his response was basically that people were being ‘sensitive’ and that “if the article was about turtles, they’d put a turtle on the cover, what’s the difference?” At the time I wasn’t able to clearly articulate why this comparison didn’t quite work. Your post gives a well supported summary of why this turtle analogy misses out on critical underlying issues. At least now if it comes up again I’ll have better information for him about specifically why the cover was problematic…

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