To continue the historic march of progress, President Trump yesterday rolled back President Obama’s guidelines regarding transgender students’ rights to use the school restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. However one may feel about this particular development, the gender genie is not going back into the bottle and a growing number of brands and media companies seem to have gotten the memo.
Recently, gender identity and how it is understood and treated has evolved dramatically. It’s been almost two years since Bruce Jenner came out as a trans woman. In the ensuing years there has been a cascade of cultural shifts that have made the world a more welcoming place for people identifying with non-birth certificate defined genders. At least in theory.
An early sign of a brand questioning the stereotypical view of gender was Target’s decision, in the summer of 2015, to stop identifying toys as being for boys or girls. This move raised eyebrows — and hackles — but it was only a sign of things to come. A year later Target went a step further by allowing employees and customers to use the restrooms of their choice. A bold move from which the company eventually backed down by installing single-user bathrooms in all its stores following a customer boycott.
Businesses are one thing but schools feel differently. If you’re a teenager struggling with gender identity, shouldn’t schools be doing everything they can to make life just a little easier? If someone identifies as a boy and looks like a boy, why prohibit them from using the boys’ bathroom? If a boy identifies as a girl and presents as a girl, will there be someone checking IDs at the bathroom door to make sure the right restroom is being used? That just seems like an extra burden that serves no legitimate purpose.
Obama’s direction seemed to acknowledge this fact and made an attempt to address the struggle these teens face. Not so for Trump. If anything, his decision will exacerbate the challenge by forcing teens to use a restroom for which they may — based on identity and appearances — not belong.
I get it that change is hard and that fear is easy. As you get older, things that are different can seems strange and scary. And I know, I know: Bible, Bible, Bible, Sin, Sin, Sin, Hell, Hell, Hell. But rather than making these teens’ lives a living hell, why not offer some small sign of validation and acceptance?
Thankfully, several brands have been willing to step up and recognize what may be an unfamiliar reality to some.
One of the first was Johnson & Johnson, which selected trans activist Jazz Jennings to be a part of the company’s #seetherealme campaign. Young Jazz was back in the headlines again this week for being the inspiration for the first trans doll.
Other brands followed suit. Covergirl’s decision, for example, to introduce its first CoverBoy, James Charles. Sadly, this once cute-as-a-button tomboy tarnished his rising star with recent racist tweets regarding a school trip to Africa. Not to be outdone, Maybelline recently introduced their own #beautyboy brand ambassador — Manny “@mannymua733” Gutierrez — who, as of this writing, has not done anything untoward.
In France, Vogue featured the Brazilian trans beauty Valentina Sampaio on its cover earlier this year. Elle has also featured trans models on their covers. Closer to home, Starbucks employees can wear badges that specify their preferred pronoun. Not long ago such a thing would have been unthinkable.
In an apparently rising tide of oppression, focusing more disparagement on gender-questioning teens just seems wrong. Seriously, what is the upside to harassing people? Does it seriously harm others for someone to use the bathroom they’re most comfortable using? Sure, some people may fly the fearful and false flag of crossing-dressing restroom gropers but, come on, that’s just nonsense. (Unlike the president’s admitted past behaviors.)
Trans people — especially young people — are letting themselves be themselves. They are a part of life and it’s troubling to see their already hard paths be made even harder. Not every brand can start using trans models — nor should they — but all brands can use their clout to let every customer know that no matter their race or gender or sexual orientation they are a welcome and valuable customer.