What’s Gender? Time Cover Story Explores ‘Beyond He or She’

Not three years after announcing the “transgender tipping point,” TIME magazine began exploring the next cultural frontier: a society, no longer labelled by the strict binaries of male and female. But how much of the gender and sexual-fluidity craze is actually spurred on by Hollywood and the liberal media?

In July 2014, TIME controversially featured transgender icon Laverne Cox as its cover star for an in-depth article penned by San Francisco Bureau Chief Katy Steinmetz. At the time, the magazine considered transgender issues to be “America’s next civil rights frontier,” brought to the forefront of societal consciousness by shows like Orange Is the New Black, which starred Cox.

Now, amidst bathroom bills and religious freedom laws, LGBT activists still say “transgender rights” have not yet been fully recognized. Even so, the media continues leftward toward the rejection of binary gender norms like male and female.

Following National Geographic’s Jan. 2017 special issue “Gender Revolution,” TIME came out with its own exploration of gender fluidity. Titled “Beyond He or She” and authored again by Steinmetz, the March 16 cover story focused on the “changing meaning of gender and sexuality.” And my, is it changing quickly.

“Whoever controls the language of the debate has a lot of power,” Sex Scandal author Ashley McGuire weighed in. “Even the fact we are using the word gender instead of sex is very important, because gender means basically nothing and sex has a very concrete definition.”

When a word means nothing, it means everything.

One survey that Steinmetz cited asked respondents to write the term that best defined their gender. Staggeringly, the researchers received more than 500 unique answers.

Other researchers interviewed 1,000 young people about the 60 gender types Facebook offers users. Nearly one third of the group said that number of options to be “just about right” or “too few.”

Older folks were less comfortable with the cultural shift. While 7% of baby boomers felt uncomfortable defining themselves as straight or cisgender, more than double that percentage of Millennials did.

Lots of questions swirl around this complicated issue, but one has everybody wondering: Have people always been “genderqueer,” “neutrois” or “two-spirit”? What has caused the recent surge in gender possibilities?

Researcher Stephanie Sanders of Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute believes that the trend is “something in between ‘born that way’ and choice.” But although the exact cause is hard to pinpoint, celebrities, TV and an intense media spotlight have contributed to the mainstreaming of previously fringe beliefs. While social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have connected gender minorities in a way that was impossible before, Hollywood stars like Ruby Rose, Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart have fully embraced and marketed their self-professed “queerness.”

News media have sought to normalize any sort of gender deviation, reinforcing those behaviors. The New York Times, Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Salon and ABC are only some of the many outlets that have lent credibility to the changing landscape by giving it serious news coverage.

But what’s most alarming is that the liberal media seem to agree with gay Texan Kyle Scotten, who weighed in on those who have embraced nonconforming gender terminology. "It makes sense to them, in their own head," he told Steinmetz, "and that's enough."

In today's media world, truth and relativism are somehow synonyms.