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South Africa Embraces Laverne Cox

Writing by Chanel Retief // Illustration by Ayelen Lujan

If you had told me a year ago that Cosmopolitan South Africa was going to make history by doing something their regular audience might find unusual, I wouldn’t have believed you. But we can now celebrate an historical moment that is significant for both the LGBTQIA+ community and a major publication. For their February ‘love’ edition, Cosmopolitan South Africa chose to feature transgender actress Laverne Cox on the cover.

The first time I heard Cox was going to be featured on the cover, I immediately thought of what it had meant when when she was featured as the first transgender woman on the iconic TIMES magazine cover in 2014. I remember thinking to myself how much the world seemed to be changing, taking the media with it. I was proud to be part of that change, even if as just an observer.

Then came Caitlyn Jenner and her cover of Vanity Fair. Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover was treated as if she was the first woman ever to share her story of being transgender. It was as if the world had forgotten about that moment Cox was on the cover of TIMES. Or the fact that she was one of the first and only transgender women to have a primetime Emmy award.

Although it’s taken South Africa awhile to progress in terms of LGBTQIA rights, Cosmopolitan South Africa has made the February edition about more than just Valentines Day. Usually Cosmo focuses on hetero-normative dating culture. You know what that means; how a woman can satisfy her man in the bedroom, how to spice up your love life, and how to look good for him – the same boring rhetoric. Thankfully, this month Cosmopolitan did not reinforce these tired heterosexual, gendered ideas of love and have made the issue about all kinds of love – especially self-love. And who better to represent the notion of self-love than the great Laverne Cox?

What Cosmopolitan has decided to do is take back the mainstream definition of love and adapt it to something that means more. Cosmopolitan’s main audience is women, and it is generally women who are in heterosexual relationships. There is an important message embedded in the magazine for their readers: it expands the definition and notion of love. This offers an opportunity for the reader to learn about the sorts of things that would not generally be in the magazine.

Despite Cosmopolitan offering a nuanced space for people to learn about LGBTQIA+ issues, some responded with negativity. The pages that Cosmo filled in this issue allowed for people to ask questions about things they may not understand. Why instead of showing respect, have people chosen to be so negative? Cosmopolitan has decided to support and show pride in the LGBTQIA+ community. If readers find it difficult to understand social changes that are happening, then simply put the magazine down and move on with life. Don’t troll Facebook and make negative comments about how transgender people don’t deserve a voice or a platform because you feel uncomfortable by their presence.

In an interview, Cox has said, “We’re being able to write our stories and we’re being able to talk back to the media.”. There is so much that can and has been said about the media publication Cosmopolitan. Journalist  Emmi Miller wrote that it was and still is “a women’s magazine with a monthly offering of dating tips, celeb gossip and style advice”. My description of it has always been very “Sex and the City” where they teach women to satisfy men, suggesting that by improving your wardrobe and your libido, you will do just that. However given recent events; I have changed my mind. The fact that Cosmopolitan even went as far as using the LGBTQIA+ flag as the new design for the logo, goes to show they are at least trying to strive towards more progressive values.

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Chanel Retief

Chanel J Retief is a 23 years old student studying journalism, media and an English degree at one of South Africa’s top Journalism schools, Rhodes University. She is an aspiring author and her passion lies deeply in writing.
Chanel is the editor-in-chief at her university’s leading student press.
Follow Chanel on Instagram @chanel.red12

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