Laverne Cox Should Not Be in the Time 100

Illustration for article titled Laverne Cox Should Not Be in the emTime 100/em

In the lead up to the announcement of Time's 100 Most Influential People, it looked as though Laverne Cox really had a chance to make the list. She seemed to be getting a strong push online from lots of different quarters, but should she have been named to the list?

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The Time 100 seems to be viewed as an honor. However, Time itself has repeatedly said that is not an honor at all; it simply refers to people who are the most influential—for good or for ill. Two of the "for ill" individuals on this year's list (in my opinion at least) are Vladimir Putin and Rand Paul, and previously Kim Jong Il has been on the list. This isn't exactly a "gold star" sort of award.

So, let's be honest, I'm pretty much in awe of Laverne Cox. Am I a bit too star struck? Probably. Is there something of a band wagon approach I'm following? Okay, maybe. Is she influential on me? Absolutely. But let's ask ourselves the same question as Time is asking: on the global stage, is Laverne Cox one of the 100 most influential people in the year 2014?

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While it pains me to admit this, the answer to that question is no. Now, if you asked me if Laverne Cox was one of the 100 most influential LGBT people in the United States? Slam dunk. One of the 100 most influential trans people in America? She made that list in 2013! World wide? Restricting ourselves to trans people? Probably, yes. Although it seems to me it would be fairly hard to get enough data from various nations to test such a claim. One of the 100 most influential LGBT people world wide? ...Probably not. Maybe. But probably not. Can we even identity the 100 most influential LGBT people world wide in the first place? I have my doubts.

It seems to me that Cox is a fairly "local" phenomenon. By local, I don't just mean the United States in terms of territory, but rather I mean a more nebulous concept of English-speaking, Americentric progressive communities. I'm 7000 miles away from the US, but I know of Cox because of my engagement in an English-speaking, Americentric progressive community. I watch her show because I discovered it in that community. I learned her personal story from interviews within that cultural milieu. I have communicated with her via social media, again, a part of that aforementioned community. She has tremendous influence within that community, and elements of that influence are seeping out to those outside of the community in question.

Those elements are not enough to satisfy the requirements of a place on the Time 100. She is not a politician in charge of a major nation state, nor of a minor nation state which has come into the news over the past year. She is not a business mogul influencing the companies which have directed the consumption habits of millions, even billions, of people world wide. She is an artist, an actress, but not one with the reach of the artists included on the list. At least, not this year.

My conclusion that she doesn't warrant inclusion (even though, disclaimer, I voted for her in the poll!) is based not on her, but on the requirements set out by Time. No one should see this as an insult to Cox, nor a rebuke to members of the LGBT community, especially the trans and queer communities of color. This doesn't mean she isn't an influential person who is altering the dialogue within a certain sphere (a sphere very important to those of us who supported her inclusion by voting for her) it just means the world is a very, very, very big place—and we are still a very, very, very small part of it.

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Unfortunately, there are many people on the list who probably shouldn't be included either for the same reasons. Time's inconsistency is troubling.

Image via AP.

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DISCUSSION

ninjacate
Cate Young

I love you, but I'm gonna have to call bullshit on this. I've been thinking about this since yesterday and I think I've figured out why this essay really rubs me the wrong way.

When it comes down to it, Time is the one who sets out the criteria for who is influential, and said criteria is incredibly nebulous and frankly, flexible.

She is not a politician in charge of a major nation state, nor of a minor nation state which has come into the news over the past year. She is not a business mogul influencing the companies which have directed the consumption habits of millions, even billions, of people world wide. She is an artist, an actress, but not one with the reach of the artists included on the list. At least, not this year.

I would say that of all the women on the list this year, only Miley Cyrus, Hillary Clinton, Malala, Serena Williams and maybe Kerry Washington have achieved the kind of worldwide cultural penetration that you seem to be implying is required to merit a spot on the list.

In the space of a year (ie. the time since OITNB debuted and launched her into the mainstream) Cox has used her celebrity to champion rights for TWoC, including helping to free CeCe McDonald from prison, and working on a documentary about her case. She is incredibly vocal about trans rights from transition to healthcare to incarceration, and has been actively using her celebrity to advocate for the trans community.

As you've said, making this list isn't a "gold star" award in the traditional sense, but is meant to simply reflect the state of things, and people's impact on culture. I can't see how you would argue that Laverne Cox doesn't merit inclusion when people like Carrie Underwood (terrible live musical much?), Amy Adams (only recently hit the big time, and even that is arguable) Yao Chen (incredibly influential in China, but undoubtedly little known elsewhere) or Ory Okolloh (magnificent but hardly influential in the sense you've noted here) have all made it. I hardly think Carrie Underwood is known outside "English-speaking, Americentric [progressive] communities" and yet here she is. I don't begrudge her that, but I find it hard to believe, having read the short excerpts available on the site, that Laverne Cox has somehow fallen short of:

"She's an advocate for causes like animal rights and the Red Cross. She has publicly challenged lawmakers when she's disagreed with them, and covered controversial issues in her music. She can sing the fire out of a song and tell a joke."

And that alone was all it took to classify her (Underwood) as an "Icon." This really seems like yet another instance of people raising the bar any time a BW manages to surmount it. If we can accept that other people are "influential" based simply on media exposure and activism, then there is no universe in which Laverne Cox does not qualify.