For the record, I like New York Magazine, and actually, I used to be a subscriber (I had a “subscribe to every magazine I like” phase, where my apartment became filled with copies of New York, The New Yorker, The Nation, Chicago Magazine, TIME, Newsweek, The Atlantic, and others — my apartment resembled a doctor’s office waiting room).
The article itself is a mess, bouncing between names and pronouns, being at once explicit and ambiguous. “‘I love my penis,’ she told Howard Stern in a 2007 interview,” is followed by a paragraph about Rothblatt discussing “her imminent surgery” with her son 20 years ago. Now, given that “love” is being used in the present tense for her interview from seven years ago, I’m confused as to what “imminent surgery” that happened two decades ago is being referenced here.
“Raising money from her friends was easy,” one paragraph began. “Martine’s transgendered status may even have been an asset, for it urnished her status as self-made, a pioneer. Patricia Kluge, the former wife of he late media billionaire John Kluge, was a friend of Martine’s at the time and says the subject of her gender never came up.” If the subject of her gender came up, why is it being treated as a core component of her business pitch? (Also, “transgender,” not “transgendered”)
“’She isn’t a woman, and neither am I,’ added Martine’s friend Kate Bornstein, one of the founders of the transgender movement, who saw a special courage in Martine’s disinclination to fully embrace either gender at a time, during the mid-1990s, when ‘gender queer’ had not yet become a familiar term.”
Oh, Kate, I love you, but…
It also struck me as a bit odd that the feature spent time focusing on her appearance, and even refers to her as “like a tall lanky teenage boy with breasts.” I can’t imagine New York Magazine running a feature on Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer that made mention of their breasts. What followed was an odd deconstruction of Rothblatt’s appearance.
“She wears no makeup or jewelry, and she inhabits her muted clothing—jeans, a T-shirt, a floppy button-down thrown on top—in the youthful, offhand way of the tech elite,” the paragraph reads. “Martine is transgender, a power trans, which makes her an even rarer species in the corporate jungle than a female CEO. And she seems genuinely to revel in her self-built in-betweenness. Just after her sex-reassignment surgery, her appearance was more feminine than it is today—old photos show her wearing lipstick, her long, curly hair loose about her shoulders. But in the years since she has developed her own unisexual style. She is a person for whom gender matters enough to have undergone radical surgery, but not enough to care whether she’s called he or she by people, like her 83-year-old mother, who occasionally lose track of which pronouns to use.”
As a woman who wears jeans and a t-shirt 90 percent of the time and has hair shorter than most men, I have to wonder how New York Magazine would portray me. Does my short hair give me a “unisexual style?” Does the fact that I’ve never actually worn lipstick (seriously, I haven’t) make me less a woman that someone whose personal sense of style is more femme? And again, “just after her sex-reassignment surgery” is used, but as was established above, the feature’s words and Rothblatt’s quotes contradict one another on this topic. Most importantly, whether or not she has had surgery (which, for the record, is no more “radical” than having one’s appendix removed”) has little to do with her success in the business world or any of the cool things she’s doing (seriously, she built a robot with an AI set up to mimic her wife. That’s both creepy and super cool!).
When I first heard that Rothblatt topped the list of female CEOs I knew the day would come when her being trans would be fodder for some journalist to act as though this is some M. Night Shyamalan-esque plot twist. “The highest paid female CEO isn’t female at all! It was the plants! The aliens can’t stand water! Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!”
Martine Rothblatt is an extremely interesting feature subject, even without half of the article being focused on her gender. An inventor, an executive, a lawyer, and even a founder of a religion, there are so many intriguing aspects of Rothblatt’s life. It’s a shame so much had to be made of her gender.
Resources on how to cover transgender people in the media can be found at GLAAD‘s website.