Revisiting the “Transgender Tipping Point” Ten Years Later

Julia Serano
9 min readMay 31, 2024


image of an opened photo album with a couple loose black and white photos on top of it
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

May 29th marked ten years since the publication of Time magazine’s The Transgender Tipping Point article, written by Katy Steinmetz; Laverne Cox was featured on the cover of that week’s issue on June 9, 2014. I hadn’t realized we were approaching this anniversary until Jude Doyle asked me to comment on it for his article, 10 years since the ‘transgender tipping point’, which also includes perspectives from many other trans people, so I encourage you to check it out!

As I started jotting down my thoughts, I realized that I had a lot to say — about the article, the ways it’s been interpreted, and that period in time more generally — so I figured I’d flesh them out into a full-fledged essay. (Note: some of this overlaps with quotes I provided for Jude’s piece.)

Being active in trans communities when the “Tipping Point” article came out in 2014, I remember there being mixed reactions to it. A lot of people celebrated it as a sign of progress, while others argued that circumstances had not materially improved for most trans people (which Steinmetz herself admits at the outset of the article). I remember having ambivalent feelings about the article, as both these points seemed to have some truth to them.

The standard interpretation of the article is that trans people had finally achieved a critical mass of mainstream acceptance in 2014. This seems preposterous in retrospect, given that we’ve been subjected to an ever-increasing moral panic and legislative onslaught in subsequent years. In fact, there is evidence that the current anti-trans backlash began to coalesce around 2015–16, likely in response to the increased visibility trans people had received in the early 2010s.

In re-reading the article, I noticed that Steinmetz never mentions the phrase “tipping point” in the text, so it’s likely this was an editorial flourish (as most journalists don’t write their own headlines). In any case, it’s ironic that 2014 may have indeed been a tipping point, albeit toward anti-trans backlash rather than further acceptance.

Having said all that, I do believe there was a truly positive development for trans people taking place in the early 2010s that is potentially worthy of the moniker “tipping point.” For most of my life, the trans experience was typified by isolation and invisibility. Most of us grew up not knowing any other trans people and this sense of isolation was reinforced by how infrequently trans people and issues were covered in the media. Even as an adult, it was really hard to find trans community, especially if you weren’t living in a major city. Gender-affirming care was also extremely difficult to access, both because there were very few providers and most adhered to a strict gatekeeping system wherein only a select few “true transsexuals” (people who would be “passable” and heteronormative post-transition) were allowed to transition. This only added to the sense that very few trans people existed.

The early 2000s brought two important changes. First, the internet allowed trans people to connect and share information and resources with one another online for the first time. Second, trans health professionals finally recognized that strict gatekeeping and conversion therapy were causing more harm than good, so they shifted toward informed consent for adults and gender affirmative approaches for trans youth. Together, these changes enabled more and more people to come out as trans on their own terms, leading to more trans visibility, which made it easier for closeted or questioning trans people to realize that being openly trans and/or transitioning was a very real option for them.

As someone who was very active in trans communities throughout the 2000s, I witnessed all of this gradually happening, but it was outside of the mainstream’s purview. However, by the early 2010s, it began bubbling to the surface in the form of increased media coverage of trans people and issues. Some at the time (including Time magazine) misinterpreted this increased trans visibility as a sign of mainstream acceptance. Anti-trans activists would later misinterpret it as evidence of “transgender social contagion.” But I think that moment can be accurately described as a tipping point in trans autonomy and agency, where gender-diverse people could finally speak for ourselves and choose our own trans trajectories. Now that we know how many of us exist and what the range of possibilities are, I don’t think that anti-trans activists can put that genie back in the bottle so easily.

It is common for people (both trans and cis) to mistakenly equate visibility with acceptance or progress. In reality, visibility is a double-edged sword: While some media portrayals may be positive and humanizing, others may be sensationalistic and demonizing. While 2014 may have seemed like the pinnacle of trans visibility at the time, I’m pretty sure that there are way more trans-related media stories today in 2024, especially in conservative outlets and the UK press who relentlessly depict us as “sexual predators” who are “grooming children” and spreading “gender ideology.” I would gladly choose invisibility over such relentless fearmongering and disinformation.

While I’m not one to equate visibility with progress, I must say that there was something unprecedented about “tipping point” era media coverage. It wasn’t just that there were depictions of trans fictional characters in Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, The Danish Girl, and other TV shows and movies of the time. Rather, for the first time, you could regularly find trans people speaking in their own voices in mainstream outlets. Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, and Janet Mock were all routinely interviewed on high profile programs. You could listen to Jazz Jennings on I Am Jazz or watch Laura Jane Grace interview other trans people on True Trans. And as much as we all want to forget Caitlyn Jenner these days, her 2015 reality show I Am Cait featured many other trans people, including Kate Bornstein, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and Jen Richards, sharing their perspectives with audiences.

While we still have trans celebrities in 2024, and while there are still occasional high-profile interviews with trans people, I cannot fathom a trans person getting their own mainstream TV show in which they get to engage other trans people in conversation today given the current atmosphere. Hell, the BBC reportedly won’t even let a trans person be interviewed nowadays without also including a “gender critical” person on for “balance.”

In addition to trans celebrities speaking in their own voices, there was a general sense at the time that news and media outlets should have trans writers covering trans-related issues (something that is pretty standard in coverage of other marginalized communities). Most online news outlets I followed back then had at least one trans journalist on hand, and those that didn’t often recognized that this was a liability for them.

I’ve been writing about trans-related issues for over twenty years now. I often receive writing requests from LGBTQ+, feminist, progressive, and academic outlets inviting me to contribute. But 2014–16 was the only period of my life that mainstream outlets sent me unsolicited invitations to write about trans issues for them — it happened about a half dozen times (for the record, one of them was Time). Of course, not all of them panned out: I remember one outlet wanted me to write something more “personal” rather than the political/analytical piece I submitted to them. But several did publish my work during that time.

Nowadays, despite the never-ending stream of trans-related news stories, very few are penned by trans writers (outside of the aforementioned LGBTQ+, feminist, progressive, and academic publications). I have been diligently covering the anti-trans movement and trans healthcare and research on my own sites — and other trans writers and journalists have been doing the same on their sites — but mainstream news outlets are largely ignoring what we have to say, instead favoring articles and op-eds written by cis outsiders who are quick to disregard trans perspectives and lived experiences. I briefly considered calling this the “Jesse-Singalization” of trans reporting, but it’s not actually a new thing. It’s basically a return to pre-“tipping point” standards, where issues that directly impact transgender people are filtered through cisgender “experts,” editors, and media producers.

As a musician, I’ve always been fascinated by the history of “tipping points” in contemporary music, when the music industry was surprised by some novel development and suddenly found themselves playing catch-up. The one I’m most familiar with (having lived through it) was the unexpected success of Nirvana. For a few-year period in the early 1990s, all the major record companies were signing any and all bands associated with “grunge” or indie rock more generally. Some of those bands became successful, but most didn’t. More pertinent to the topic at hand, it turned out to be a brief feeding frenzy that eventually subsided once everyone moved on to pursue the next big thing.

I think this analogy is apt for Time’s declaration of a “Transgender Tipping Point” in 2014. In many respects, they were describing a media phenomenon — a fleeting moment when outlets felt like they needed to play catch-up on this issue. So they hired trans writers, published trans cover stories, and greenlighted trans-themed TV shows because they didn’t want to be seen as behind the curve. But once it was over — and especially once the anti-trans backlash began gaining traction — the mainstream media largely abandoned us, just when our voices needed to be heard the most.

While many things have gotten worse for trans people since the so-called “tipping point” moment, there has been some gradual progress (once again) taking place outside of the mainstream media’s purview. When I transitioned back in 2001, most cis people didn’t personally know any trans people — this surely made them susceptible to believing whatever stereotypes or misinformation the media was peddling about us. In 2014, Time’s “Tipping Point” article cited a survey finding that 9% of Americans knew someone who is trans. By 2021, a Pew Research survey reported that that number has since increased to 42%.

Having a trans person in your life will likely have far more of an influence on your views of trans people than any article in The Atlantic or politician’s soundbite. This is arguably why Republicans’ relentless anti-trans political attacks in recent years have been a flat-out failure at the ballot box. It’s hard to smear a minority group as an imminent threat to society when almost half the population knows us as everyday people who are just trying to live our lives the best we can.

As much as I would like to see the media more rigorously scrutinize the current anti-trans backlash — or at the very least, refuse to launder their talking points into mainstream discourse (I’m looking at you, New York Times) — I don’t think they are as important as they once were on this matter.

Back when I was growing up, seeing trans people depicted in newspapers, films, or TV (even if rarely and inaccurately) felt like a tenuous connection to a trans community that I longed for but remained isolated from. So it’s no wonder that we celebrated in the early 2010s as those depictions became slightly more frequent and realistic. But today in 2024, most of us have actual connections to trans communities either online or locally. And many cis people have actual connections to one or more trans people in their lives. This firsthand knowledge likely leads them to be skeptical of both anti-trans activist and mainstream media attempts to portray us as deluded or reprehensible.

Almost without exception, the mainstream media is a staunch defender of the status quo. While they may not spout blatant transphobia as often as they once did, they will likely continue to promote cisnormative framings on issues that impact us for the foreseeable future (e.g., in their recent coverage of gender-affirming care). While it’s necessary to hold them accountable and push them to do better, we must recognize that they will never be our salvation. Any progress we make in the coming years will come from the bottom up. Specifically, it will come from trans communities — our insights, art, culture, and activism — and the influence that our perspectives will have the cis people who are closest to us.

This essay was made possible by my Patreon supporters — if you appreciate it, please consider supporting me there. A non-paywalled version of the same essay can also be found on Substack.



Julia Serano

writes about gender, sexuality, social justice, & science. author of Whipping Girl, Excluded, 99 Erics, & her latest: SEXED UP! more at