Celebrity gender identities aren’t news
Following in the footsteps of sister Lana Wachowski, “Matrix” director Lilly Wachowski has come out as a transgender woman, but not entirely on her own terms.
In a statement to the Windy City Times, Wachowski revealed that reporters have been hounding her agent for the past year, threatening to publish stories about her gender transition. After a Daily Mail journalist literally showed up at her doorstep, Wachowski felt cornered enough to pre-empt the inevitable tabloid story by reaching out to her hometown paper instead.
“So yeah, I’m transgender,” Wachowski said. “And yeah, I’ve transitioned.”
Under any other circumstances, I would’ve been elated. Any time a trans person decides to live publicly as their authentic self is a little victory for the trans community, and proof of our society inching ever so slowly into a more progressive, accepting future.
The important thing to consider here is that Wachowski did not get a choice. She explicitly stated that she was coming out despite not feeling ready yet. The tabloids that dogged her incessantly about her gender identity did so with blatant disregard for her life.
In 2014, golf club innovator Essay Anne Vanderbilt committed suicide after reporter Caleb Hannan discovered she was transgender during the course of his research for a story he was writing about her, and outed her to an investor. In a stunning display of disrespect, Grantland published the piece after her death, in which Hannan referred to her with male pronouns and called her “a troubled man.”
The only mistake the publication felt fair to acknowledge was the failure to have someone familiar with the trans community check the piece for inaccuracies regarding terminology. Grantland seems not to realize or care that no amount of editing will bring Vanderbilt back from the dead.
Even after we’ve witnessed multiple trans women take their own lives after painful, violating interactions with the press, it seems some reporters still care more about the sensationalist appeal of a forced outing than they do about the consequences.
We saw it last year with the tabloid harassment of Caitlyn Jenner. Despite the frenzy, she managed to come out mostly unscathed, and with any luck Wachowski will as well. She has her support group of friends and family, and the wealth and privilege to keep her safe – as safe as any trans person can be living in the U.S.
It should not have to happen this way. It doesn’t matter how much money Wachowski has in the bank or how much she’ll be celebrated as a queer hero for coming out. Every reporter who contacted her agent or solicited her on her doorstep was making an implicit decision to value a scoop over a human life.
As disgusted as I am over the Daily Mail, I also feel the need to point the finger elsewhere: its audience, and the audience of mainstream media at large. The fact that tabloids go to such lengths to scoop each other on stories about something that is a very personal choice that could very negatively affect the person coming out says something equally disgusting about society as a whole.
They cover these stories because that’s where the profit is. As long as cis people continue to pay for the violent dehumanization and objectification of trans people, as long as they stay obsessed with us for no good reason other than the fact that we’re “different” and therefore not worthy of respect and privacy, these stories will continue to be put out, if not by the Daily Mail then by some other tabloid.
There is some hope. The Daily Mail did face intense backlash for its invasion, and I’m thankful for it. Maybe we are moving towards “another world” as Wachowski puts it, one that accepts and celebrates transness without also tailoring it for public consumption. It’s a nice thought to have, but I won’t hold my breath. I don’t know if I can afford to.