In 2015, shortly before Broadly went live, journalist Diana Tourjée pitched us a story on tucking. When the piece, a humorous and candid guide for non-op trans women and Diana’s first article for Broadly, was ready for publication, the editors searched for a photo to accompany the article. The words “transgender person in underwear” and variations on that theme returned zero results in the stock photo library we used. Eventually, the editors landed on an image of a young man’s lower body, showing his legs beneath a pair of sheer pantyhose.
Immediately after publishing, Diana, who became a staff member on Broadly a few months later, reached out to request we change the image, pointing out how insensitive and harmful it is to depict a trans woman with a photo of a cisgender man. The editors changed and apologized, calling the error an “oversight.” It’s embarrassing to think back on this moment, and it’s still frustrating to look at that article now — the replacement image is of a cisgender woman in shorts, with her head cropped off.
In the years since, Broadly editors have worked diligently to think more thoughtfully and critically about how we represent trans and non-binary people in our work. But even at our best, we have been limited by the stock imagery available to us. Today, we’re launching The Gender Spectrum Collection, a stock photo library of over 180 images of 15 trans and non-binary models, shot by artist and photographer Zackary Drucker, and made available to the public for free.
Transgender and non-binary people are likely more visible in mass media today than ever before in history, but they’re often portrayed in ways that are misrepresentative, and at times outright destructive. Because only 16 percent of Americans say they know a transgender person, the majority of Americans understand what it means to be trans through the media they consume, making media imagery depicting transgender people particularly significant.
A representative from Shutterstock told Broadly they saw a 64 percent increase in “transgender” as a search term in February as compared to the same time last year. Image searches for “gender fluid” on Getty Images tripled between June 2017 and June 2018, yet the three most downloaded photos of transgender people in the library at that time were all of a hand with a transgender pride symbol, without an identifiable face or body in the background. This is typical of many stock photos: Trans people are rarely depicted as engaging with their communities or participating in public life, which severely limits the range of experiences we imagine transgender people to have.
Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection aims to help media better represent trans and non-binary people who are not necessarily defined by their gender identities, but rather as human beings with careers, relationships, talents, passions, and internal lives—people you see at the office, at school, in your home.
As was the case for the replacement image for Diana’s tucking story, members of these communities are also frequently represented by images of singular body parts, or disembodied torsos and obscured faces. As Nick Adams, director of transgender media and representation at GLAAD, recently told Broadly, these images, detached of a human face or body, feel “very reductionistic, and it seems like it's sending out a message that trans people are ashamed, so we don't show our faces.”
Certainly, greater inclusivity in photo libraries alone won’t solve this issue. The responsibility falls on us, the editors behind the stories, to choose imagery that breaks down stereotypes, confronts our biases, and makes visible the full breadth and diversity of transgender personhood.
While editors tend to focus on selecting the photo that best represents a single story, in reality, that image may become the first representation of a transgender or non-binary person a reader has ever seen. It’s not enough to think of these images in isolation; each photo published is part of a collective portrait—one constructed by both the stories we make visible and the stories we rub out.
Erasure often happens quietly, through falling back on customary practices and making seemingly small decisions to cut here, replace there.
Of course, we also need to bring more trans and non-binary people in front of the camera, and into the newsroom. Members of these communities should be authoring their own stories, creating the images that shape how we see the world, and choosing who we see in it.
Erasure often happens quietly, through falling back on customary practices and making seemingly small decisions to cut here, replace there. The transgender community has a prolific history of breaking with society’s mandates in order to live as their authentic selves; it’s time we follow in their footsteps, to boldly break from the status quo and usher in a new paradigm of visibility.
Join Broadly for EUPHORIA on March 30 in New York to see the Gender Spectrum Collection photos in person and celebrate Trans Day of Visibility with performances from Big Freedia and House of LaBeija, as well as a conversation with Alok, Tyler Ford, and Tourmaline.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.