Since 2007, TIME magazine has welcomed online input to its “TIME 100” list of the most influential people in the world. It’s a meaningless exercise in faux-democracy; the votes have nothing to do with the final results, which are surely decided upon long before the polls close. In past years, the polls have been hijacked by pranksters, and have served as an opportunity for pop star’s fanbases to rally around something (not exactly what Madonna had in mind), but this year gave us an exciting and promising result: Laverne Cox, the actress who made waves last summer as the surprise breakout star of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and, quite possibly, the most visible and outspoken transwoman celebrities ever, received 81,000 votes in favor of inclusion on the list, representing 92% of her total reactions and the fifth-largest total on the vast poll.
Why, then, was she excluded from the list when TIME revealed it yesterday? Let’s break down some possibilities:
1. TIME doesn’t care about our votes; they already had the list in mind.
Of course this is the case. It’s been the case every year. Even so, to include Cox as a nominee indicates that TIME had at least some level of awareness of her influence over the past year, and the significance her inclusion on the list would carry. Unless..
2. Cox was listed for the illusion of inclusivity, to build some goodwill for the magazine.
Certainly possible, but why not go all the way then? This isn’t really an “it’s an honor just to be nominated” situation; the ballot was expansive (and included Jared Leto, the cisgendered actor who won an Oscar this year for his portrayal of a transwoman, by the way). And Cox is more than a token; she actively created change in public awareness and perception of transgender people and issues in a year that’s been pivotal for queer rights in the United States. It doesn’t make sense to deny that she earned a spot on that list. So maybe it was just…
3. Transphobia. Did prejudicial attitudes keep Cox off the list?
My naïveté is telling me “No, that can’t be! TIME openly supports trans* acceptance and equality!” And it seems that, historically, they have: here, here, here, and here, to name a few. They definitely haven’t kept trans* people entirely invisible in their pages, so why now? Maybe…
4. Someone on the editorial board just chickened out.
I can picture it now: “It’s too soon.. We’re not ready.. Trust me on this one,” some pathetic TIME editor may have said as the final decisions were being made. But again, why? I guess it all comes down to..
5. They just didn’t know any better.
I think this is the one. TIME understood that Cox was an influential person this year, moreso than nearly anyone else in the popular culture. What they didn’t understand, it seems, is the significance of excluding her, or the message it would send.
Excluding Laverne Cox represents the active erasure of trans* persons. Choosing not to take an extremely valid and important opportunity to represent the successes and contributions of a transperson when many trans* people continue are victims of repeated discrimination and acts of violence is a failure on the TIME editors’ part to meet their duty as members of the media.