I used to look at Matt Kroczaleski the way all of his fans did: With a sense of wonder and a hint of jealousy. I’ve been lifting weights long enough to have experienced the tug of war that happens when you gain weight: You’re stronger! (but look worse). And when you lose weight: You look better! (aaaand you’re weaker). But “Kroc” didn’t have this problem.
He was the one of the only powerlifters you could admire for his feats of strength as well as his physique. He looked lean and mean and there seemed to be nothing he couldn’t do. Seriously, look at this:
For a while, he was a member of the advisory board at Muscle & Fitness and I would have to hit him up for contributions to different stories—a lifting tip here, a diet tip there. Whenever I reached out to him, I did so with an extra layer of courtesy. All the guys we deal with are alpha males in one way or another, but Kroc was THE alpha, and I never wanted to piss him off. Which, in retrospect, is pretty dumb. In all my dealings with him, he couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. He turned stuff in early and always asked how else he could help out. But the images of blood pouring out of his nose, or of him screaming after he set a world record were burned into my mind. This guy could eat you! Don’t piss him off!
Of course I’m not alone. Those images gave the rest of the world pretty specific ideas about who Kroc was—and made the revelation that Kroc identifies as female and has changed her name to Janae Marie—a lot harder for a lot of people to take. In the October issue of M&F we published this story on Janae, which I wrote over the summer:
By anyone’s recollection, it’s the longest story M&F has ever published at over 5,000 words, and definitely the first story in the mag to feature a transgender athlete. We’ve gotten some very positive reactions to the story, though you wouldn’t be able to tell on the day we posted the story to Facebook. The knee-jerk reaction from a lot of closed-minded people—almost all of whom were merely reacting to the photos and hadn’t read a word of the story—required one of our web guys to stand guard for a week so he could delete the most disgusting, vitriolic comments. I should also point out here that the M&F Facebook page has nearly 6 million likes, so it’s impossible to say how the vast majority of readers felt about the story. In any sort of publishing, you rarely hear when the readers are happy, but you’re guaranteed to hear when they’re pissed. I’d like to think that the reaction was from a very vocal minority.
Either way, it underscored for me what a long way we have to go to reach transgender equality. While writing the story, I consulted The Human Rights Campaign for statistics on anti-transgender violence. In my first draft, I noted that 14 transgender people had been killed in the US in 2015. By the time we went to press about two weeks later, the number had jumped to 17. Today, as I write this, the number is 21. It’s sickening and disheartening, and I honestly have no idea what to say about that other than point out how dangerous it can be to be different. How will anything get better? I’m not an activist, so I can only speak as a journalist, but I believe the only way to affect any sort of change is to continue to cover the issues that face the LGBTQ community as often and as earnestly as we can. It takes a long time—and a lot of exposure to a particular idea—until a majority of people can start to accept it. We tend to lump transgender rights in with the grander LGBTQ community, but the unfortunate truth seems to be that transgender people have it as bad as gay people did in the early ’80s.
To clarify, my story isn’t really about the big picture. It’s an up-close look at Janae, who is one of the most intelligent, fascinating, and complex individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. The ultimate irony for me is this: My mission as an editor at M&F is to give service to the reader. When Matt Kroc was a member of our advisory board, I considered his expertise totally indispensable to that mission. I could never have imagined that as Janae she could provide a service that is infinitely greater than her technical know-how.
To close this post, I want to thank everyone at M&F and at AMI, especially our Managing Editor Brian Good, Training Director Sean Hyson, and Editor-in-Chief Shawn Perine, for their support in publishing this story. We knew the backlash would come, but all of us, right up to the CEO, decided it was the right thing to do. Some unhappy readers would later point out that M&F isn’t Vanity Fair or The Atlantic. It’s an excellent point. And to me, it made running this story all the more important.
Hit me with any feedback on Twitter: @MCTuthill