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Valerie Keefe

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Libra Tampons, A Little Bit of Free Advice

Posted: 01/04/12 05:59 PM ET

I suppose it's a measure of progress that much of the trans community can manage to get exercised over what is, yes, a blatantly cissexist tampon ad. And it's probably a measure of my own flitting and occasionally frivolous nature that I could get in any way exercised about an ad in New Zealand, one of the few countries that has elected trans people to parliament, when there are serious political battles being waged in Canada, a three-way fight for the Republican nomination where one of the participants could seriously infringe on trans rights while the other two would appoint people who would do that either directly or indirectly, and the danger that SOPA poses to informed-consent medicine. But this is more than about politics.

This ad isn't that offensive to me as a trans woman (though it definitely did try to be), but it was offensive to basic standards of comedy.

So let's break down this ad into its constituent plot. We have two people in a women's washroom, both female-presenting. There's been some debate over whether the person on the left is a trans woman or a man in drag, though men in drag typically don't have breasts to adjust quite so naturally, or enter women's washrooms, for that matter. So the trans woman in the ad, for reasons unbeknownst to me, is trying to upstage the cis woman in the ad, following the cis woman's every action, first applying mascara to lashes so large that they need FAA approval, then applying the same lip gloss, then adjusting her full top, until... what's this? The coup de grâce, a tampon, flaunted by the cis woman. At this point the trans woman shrugs and leaves, having been bested by our menstruating heroine.

First of all, the ad is based on a lazy premise, that menstruation is what makes a woman. There are plenty of cis women who can't menstruate, and some trans women who can. Secondly, the ad is punching down, taking a marginalized group and making fun of them via an externally applied prejudice. And what's worse, I think, is what it says not about trans women but about all women, cis or trans. Say it with me, sisters, you've heard this one before: you're not a real woman if... (Extra credit for the other 12 or so Studio 60 fans out there if the sketch "Jenny Doesn't Have a Baby" came to mind.)

So, instead of a lazy ad that tries to sell a product to cis women (who, admittedly, are going to buy an awful lot more tampons per capita than trans women) on some badly written appeal to essentialism, here's my suggestion for what the ad could have done: the competitive buildup remains unchanged (whatever, sure, the casting department can go for the ex-rugby player and put her next to a poor woman's Kristin Chenoweth); then the cis woman pulls out a Libra tampon, at which point the trans woman looks on, shrugs, makes a gesture with her fingers (which are larger than the tampon), turns, and walks out; tagline: "Libra: Some Girls Get Us."

Libra, feel free to use this ad, and donate to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project some of the money you saved by not paying the people who served you rather badly in writing this disaster of an ad. On the other hand, you can study this advertisement from IKEA:

The trans woman in this ad is not degendered or made to feel less than; she just hurts herself on a table in a painful way. (Although the voice that comes out when she's in agony is a bit off-putting, it is a choice made for an ad geared toward a largely cis audience and doesn't do anything to assert that the subject isn't a woman.)

So there, for all the people who are concerned that the BTGL movement has become the political correctness police, one random trans writer asserts that there are funny ads to be written involving trans people, just like any other group of people.

Maybe someday you'll produce one, Libra.