Truth in Advertising is a non-profit organization committed to fact-checking advertisements across all forms of media, reading the fine print and helping consumers understand the claims made in the ads. But, the organization’s own recently released advertisement, part of a campaign called “The Truth’s Not Always Easy,” features a misleading and offensive portrayal of a transgender woman.
The ad features various individuals honestly sharing what they’re thinking, admitting guilt for their rude thoughts, offensive actions, and crimes. Among the people portrayed is a woman with a deep voice who tells her imminent sexual partner, “You should know I’m a man before this goes too far.” Watch it:
Bonnie Patten, executive director for Truth in Advertising, responded to a ThinkProgress inquiry about the ad, apologizing for the offense and committing to reviewing the ad:
While we attempted to use humor in our ad to engage consumers on the serious issue of misleading marketing, it was truly not our intention to negatively portray a transgender person. We sincerely apologize and are reviewing it now.
The ad promotes several negative stereotypes about transgender women. First, it reinforces the notion that gender identity is defined by a person’s genitalia, instead of by their actual gender. Though there is a broad diversity of gender identities, it is unlikely that an individual who presents herself as a woman would think of herself as a “man,” particularly because of her genitalia. As trans activist Janet Mock tried to explain to CNN’s Piers Morgan, she never identified as a boy, and though her decision to undergo sex reassignment surgery was an important step in her journey, it did not define when she began identifying as a woman. Moreover, many trans people do not actually pursue surgery as part of their transition. Some cannot afford it, some wish to retain their reproductive ability, and others simply do not feel it is a step they need to take to realize their gender identity.
The ad also contributes to a false narrative that trans people are inherently deceptive. In particular, the woman’s disclosure of her identity is juxtaposed against other admissions of guilt and wrong-doing, suggesting that she has similarly been dishonest with her soon-to-be sexual partner. This was one of the core problems in Grantland’s report on “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” which implied that a person’s desire to hide her transgender identity was somehow indicative of otherwise deceitful intentions. The “deceptive” portrayal of trans people negates the rampant discrimination — in employment, housing, education, health care, etc. — they can experience when they disclose their identities and the mental health complications they often suffer as a result.
Lastly, the ad trivializes the actual vulnerability — fear of both rejection and violence — that trans people face when they disclose their identities to a potential sexual partner. Mock, in her recently published memoir Redefining Realness, shared what it was like in the moment when she came out to her boyfriend:
I had presented Aaron a distorted me, and I couldn’t give him me while wrapped in secrets — stories I’ve never told. They trap you, and you become so wound up in your own story, in the pain inflicted on you in the past that you’ve worked hard to keep at bay, and the people and actions and all the things you’ve been running away from, that you don’t know what to believe anymore. Most important, you lose touch with yourself: The self you know, the you deep inside, is obscured by a stack of untold stories. And I had been groomed to believe that they were all I had in this world, and the keeping of them was vital to my survival. I felt I had endured enough. From some cavernous place, I reached inside myself and grabbed the courage to take a long trip back to a place I never thought I’d revisit. I took a deep breath and exhaled. “I have to tell you something.”
Since this post was published, Truth In Advertising has hidden the video on the organization’s own YouTube account. According to executive director Bonnie Patten’s brief note on the organization’s blog, they are continuing to “consider the issue.”