A Thai trans rights group, Thai Transgender Alliance, has recently stated its objections in an open letter about a Thai-language advertisement from the Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA.
The ad, seen below, features a thai trans woman who is talking with a man (a date or her boyfriend, by all appearances) in an IKEA store. When the woman notices an item on sale, she suddenly exclaims “Hooo… sale” in a deeper voice, intended to reveal her status as trans. The man responds by giving her a bizarre look, then at the end of the commercial he literally runs the other way while she is picking up furniture to buy (the fact that she picks up three presumably heavy boxes also seems to be an attempt to suggest, “she’s really a man!”). The title of the video, translated as “Forgot to Deceive,” implies that she is intended to represent a “disguised man,” falling squarely into the classic deceitful trans woman trope.
In their open letter, Thai Transgender Alliance stated that
The MTF transgender/transwomen character is openly mocked as being “deceitful” … The transgender content of the advertisement is negative and stereotypical in nature, perpetuating misunderstanding transgenderism as human sexuality for “deceitful and deviant lifestyle”.
This plays into the disclosure myth that has been used to victim-blame trans women who have been the targets of abuse and violence from cis men.
The ad was played on Bangkok’s sky train system for about two weeks at the beginning of the year.
However, this is not the first time trans-misogyny has appeared in an IKEA ad. The following was an ad that ran in France back in 2006. It shows a woman putting on make-up, apparently preparing for an evening out. As the woman heads out the door, she hits her crotch on a table, obviously causing her a great deal of pain.
While I think the French ad isn’t nearly as bad as the first one (which pretty clearly presents trans women as deceitful traps to lure unsuspecting heterosexual men, playing into actual violence that is committed against trans women), it still seems like a low-brow cheap laugh at the expense of trans women’s bodies.
I suppose in theory there might be some kind of scenario in which I could possibly go along with the intended humor in the second ad, if it actually involved a humanized, relatable trans woman character who has some meaningful characteristics to her other than “make-up wearer” and “woman with a penis.” How about some actually sophisticated portrayals of trans women in the media for once? I mean, can’t the people who make these ads (not to mention the tv scripts, etc.) at least come up with a little more clever play on gender roles than this?
(Edit: on further reflection, I think I could even go along with the *intended* humor in the first ad, if it didn’t just cheaply reduce to, “She’s trans, run the other way!!”)
Finally, there is this ad that played in Spain in 2010, which is the one out of the three that actually attempts to portray a positive message. It shows a woman waking up from surgery, who then proceeds home, throws out all of her old clothes, burns her driver’s license with her old name on it, and then of course heads out of IKEA with two handfuls of bags, ready to re-do her apartment for her ‘new life.’
As I said, this is definitely the best ad out of the three, and in fact it was commended by GLAAD as a positive portrayal of a transgender woman. But that having been said, just as the French ad lives in the bathroom where a woman is putting on make-up (another classic media trope about trans women), this ad revolves around surgery in a manner that I find awkward and a bit alienating.
For one thing, not every trans woman has surgery. For another, even for those of us who do have it, life does not break up into two easily definable pieces (‘man’ then ‘woman’) on either side of surgery. (Edit: I want to make clear that I am not claiming that the Spanish language IKEA ad is necessarily problematic. I merely intend to describe that it didn’t connect strongly with my own personal experiences.)
However, here below is another Spanish language ad, which represents the one and only commercial containing a trans woman character that I genuinely like (that I am aware of, at least).
The ad is for the Argentina-based Bank, Banco Provincia and begins when a man and his wife drive up to where a woman is standing outside of her business. The man asks her whether the bank that provided her a loan to open a beauty salon realized she was trans. She acknowledges that they did. He states that the bank also provided him a loan to buy his car, which caused him to think back on his past relations with this woman. He acknowledges that in the past he had been cruel to her because she was trans. He then offers her a gift and apologizes. She thanks him for the gift and shares a friendly wave with the man’s wife in the car before they drive off.
The reason I like this ad so much is because it doesn’t live in the surgery room or the bathroom, it doesn’t obsess over a trans woman’s appearance, or her body. It does involve the woman opening a beauty salon, which is a bit of a stereotype, but totally forgivable in this context (and anyways, it is true that many trans women work in this profession).
Instead, it shows her as a woman, simply relating to other human beings, and doing so in a manner that accepts her as a woman and as human.
It’s that simple really. To all those who choose to represent trans women in media, I would just ask that you stop obsessing over our bodies and simply treat as relatable human beings like anyone else.