Rolling Stone censors women’s nipples — unless that woman is transgender

Rolling Stone earlier this month ran a feature on transgender punk rock musician Laura Jane Grace, exploring how the musician’s transition affected her life, including that it allegedly ruined her marriage to her ex-wife, Heather Gabel. In a lengthy Facebook status posted Wednesday, Gabel essentially called bullshit on the “sensational hetero drama,” claiming this was “not the case,” but really, misrepresentation of their marriage was only half the controversy. To Gabel, there was a stark, disrespectful double standard in Rolling Stone’s representation of trans and cisgender women: its censorship of cis but not transgender women’s nipples.

The magazine’s feature story on Grace is topped off with a photo of her in a bathtub, naked from the waist up, her nipples entirely uncensored. Plenty of cisgender women have posed similarly for magazine photoshoots, but their nipples are unfailingly censored somehow. In a photoshoot with Rolling Stone just last year, the magazine wouldn’t even allow the mere outlines of Nicki Minaj’s nipples to be visible and photoshopped them out. Society regards bodies it perceives as female as explicitly sexual and in need of regulation, because that’s just how society has always treated those it regards as female, period.

Rolling Stone’s exposure of Grace’s nipples was in no way a nod to the Free the Nipple movement that is rooted in the empowerment of women regardless of whether or not they were born with female anatomy. Rather, it sends a clear message that the magazine does not regard trans women as real women.

Gabel was not happy with this disrespect shown to her ex. “Believe me, I want everyone’s tits out,” Gabel wrote in her post. “I am in no way supporting the idea that censorship of women’s nipples is ok at all, but since Rolling Stone censors women’s nipples the photo should have looked a little more like this,” she said, including an edited version of the photo with Grace’s nipples covered by stars.

The issue in this case, obviously, isn’t the continued censorship, policing, and excessive sexualization of women’s bodies (which is always an issue but not exactly the issue right now) — it’s that treating transgender women differently invalidates and disrespects their gender identity. It’s annoying that we even still have to say that.

Rolling Stone has never published a photograph of a non trans women’s nipples uncensored before, which, to me, reads as them making arbitrary distinctions between trans and non trans women, which is fucked up,” Gabel wrote. She added: “In my opinion, this is not a subversive decision aimed at giving censorship the middle finger, it’s a blatant example of misgendering, of gender inequality, and a general slap in the face to anyone who expects to have their gender identity respected.”

The way society regards the female body is so woefully subjective: female nipples in adult films catered to the male gaze are perfectly appropriate, but mothers feeding their babies in restaurants or women trying to enjoy a day at the beach the same way men do need to be policed. The sexism and objectification cisgender women are subjected to shouldn’t be imposed on transgender women, but nor should we regard cis and transgender women as different groups who should be treated differently.