News & Views

Opinion / Let’s Talk About Trans

by Kate Hollowood

We hear about a lot of supposed ‘world firsts’ at Contagious, but last Friday we may have come across a genuine front runner in the form of a transgender, non-binary beer. No Label, a brew by UK craft ale brand BrewDog, is made from bines that have changed sex, or rather female hops that have grown male flowers. The beer aims to celebrate diversity and was developed in partnership with London-based LGBT charity Queerest of the Queer, to which all No Label profits will be donated.

However, despite the beer brands good intentions, the new beverage has been met with criticism. A spokesperson from LGBT rights charity Stonewall told the Independent, ‘We’re concerned about the language. The trans community is diverse -- many trans people do not transition, or identify with binary genders, and BrewDog’s language undermines that.’ The backlash in spite of BrewDog's careful efforts begs us to question if it is even worth brands trying to champion the trans community? 

But I would argue that it is. Stonewall’s statement suggests that the main issue with No Label is semantic. The mistake came from a place of ignorance and a lack of education and experience. Sadly I don’t think many people have the vocabulary to describe the diversity of gender identities and expressions correctly. This ignorance is at least partly caused by the fact it is not talked about enough. And I think in many cases it’s not talked about because people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, creating a vicious cycle.

While I believe we are responsible as individuals for finding out about transgender experiences and the correct terminology ourselves (Stonewall has a great online guide as place to start), noone is going to learn anything unless we talk about it. This is where brands can come in. By starting the conversation, they can help educate people or give them a kick up the arse to find out more themselves. And that’s why I think BrewDog should be applauded. As a post in the brand's newsroom clearly states, 'BrewDog hopes the transgender beer will generate conversation and dispel myths surrounding gender identity'. Yes, BrewDog may have used the wrong words, but it was brave to approach a sensitive subject that deserves our attention and conversation.

At its best, advertising can be a positive influence society and help encourage inclusive attitudes. ‘Better representation of LGBT people in branding and marketing can act as a catalyst to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and move towards a society where all people, everywhere, are accepted without exception,’ Matt Horwood, communications officer at Stonewall told the Drum. Brands can make a difference and weve seen lots of companies successfully champion the trans community this year. One impactful example is when transgender 14-year-old Jazz Jennings became the face of Clean & Clear. Her story demonstrated that transgender isn’t a ‘choice’ and that children as young as two can be afflicted with gender dysphoria. Jennings’ story has given young people facing gender identity issues vital support and encouragement and even prevented one suicide.

The companies getting inclusivity right approach everything they do with equality and diversity in mind, not just the stars of their ads. For example, H&M-owned fashion label & Other Stories decided diversity in front of the camera in the form of their transgender models wasn’t enough and hired a whole team of trans creatives to work behind the scenes, including makeup artists, photographers and stylists. ‘We couldn’t help to ask ourselves how the traditional fashion gaze can change if we keep the same normative crew behind the camera. So we invited five amazing creatives, all transgender, to make our latest story,’ said Sara Hilden, & Other Stories’ creative director in Time magazine.

For society to progress and become more inclusive we must all start talking and learning about the trans community. And what better way to do so than over a pint?