The cover of Science magazine’s special AIDS and HIV issue hit mailboxes on Wednesday: It shows the legs and minidress-clad torsos of transgender sex workers in Jakarta. The women have breasts but no heads. “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS,” reads the display text, a winking inch or so away from their stiletto heels.
Though transgender sex workers are a “key affected population” for the epidemic in Indonesia, they are often overlooked by government health services, which is ostensibly why Science chose to splash bits of their anatomy on its cover.
If transwomen get ignored, though, it’s in large part due to prejudice—and in that respect the optics of the Science tableau do more harm than good.
The Slantist sex blog explains this car wreck of noble intentions pretty well.
“Instead of showing viewers a humanizing glimpse into the lives of these women,” writes A.V. Flox, the cover objectifies their bodies. It uses their bare legs as bait to lure in male readers, and then reverses the readers’ expectations in a way that’s supposed to be … funny?
“Interesting to consider how those gazey males will feel when they find out,” tweeted Science editor Jim Austin gleefully. Because transgender women with AIDS are great comedic fodder! “Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?” he continued. If only…
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Just one of a flood of indignant articles. The magazine has since apologized.