Today I was sent this advert to review, the new Nike advert. It features athlete Chris Mosier who has been accepted onto the USA national team. He also happens to be trans.
People have touted this as a huge step forward for trans* visibility, for breaking barriers and challenging assumptions on gender. However, all it does is serve to put trans* people in the spotlight while reinforcing the age old narrative that trans people are not "real" men or women.
Because the voice over asks questions such as: "Chris, How'd you know you'd be fast enough to compete against men?....or strong enough? ....". And yes, they may be valid questions, how did you know you were strong enough *full stop*. But it doesn't need to be followed by "against men", because he is a man. You wouldn't ask that to any other male athlete, assuming that they had grown up wondering if they could compete in their gender category. The fact that these questions are asked to Chris imply that he is not in fact a man and therein lies the problem.
Society has a huge problem with transphobia, not that you would always know it. Often it is hidden in the little snide remarks (you're taller than I expected!), at the end of sentences (You're pretty..for a trans girl). This advert reinforces these transphobic ideas by it's implication that Chris runs fast, for a trans* guy, and thereby its implication that Chris is not a "real" man. This narrative, that trans* people are "in disguise" is the one that has led to things such as the bathroom bill in some states in America that seeks to limit bathroom access by transgender people to their designated sex at birth, not their chosen gender. This bill has prompted such images as:
This is the the view that trans* people are in fact just dressing as their chosen gender in order to gain access to rest rooms, attack people, fool people or just generally gain something. It is something I discussed previously, in my blog when a talk show debated whether trans women were men in disguise trying to win gold medals. Although generally this discussion tends to focus on trans women, in the form of trans misogyny, it is universal in its discrimination of trans* people.
Back to the advert. It basically says that Chris Mosier is not a man, or not a real man at least. An advert by such a prominent and respected company, one that puts its name to international stars and sports, that's logo is recognisible across the world, is obviously going to be view millions of times on hundreds of platforms.
Nike has a responsibility to its clients, its partners and the public who will view this and form their opinions from it. Their blatant disregard for trans* people make it ok for others to behave this way. Nike have let themselves, and the trans* community they presume to support down.
They reinforce the damaging and transphobic view that trans* people are, somehow, less. That a trans man is, somehow, less deserving of his spot on a national men's team. That a trans man is in fact a woman who has run fast enough, become strong enough, to compete with the real men. It is not up to me, or anyone else, to comment on another person's transition and it does not matter what interventions a person has had, their gender identity is still valid. However, hormone therapies mean that trans* people will have the same hormone levels as a cis person, therefore there is absolutely no reason to think a trans man can't compete and keep up with other men (or vice versa with trans women).
It is sad that in a time when politicians, media outlets and papers shout loudly about equality, we can still praise such an advert for its "forward thinking" without ever seeing the inherent transphobia in it. It's sad that we more readily accept an athlete with a history of performance enhancing drug us, than a trans athlete.
On an aside it is also true that in America many people worry that trans women will use their *disguise* to prey on vulnerable women in bathrooms (something that has never happened), yet a convicted rapist walked free from jail after just 6 months.
So, no I will not be applauding Nike on their so called inclusive advert. I will not be cheering for the trans* visibility it claims to give, when it is on the terms on a cisnormative society and upholding their views. I will continue to stand up for what is right, for the equal and fair representation of trans* people in sports, the media, books and films. I hope that Nike will hear this, will hear the outcry of trans* people who are not happy with this poor show of support, and do something. I hope that the next advert with a trans* person doesn't include the tagline *for a trans man/woman*.
If you agree, please share this, comment, tweet Nike...demand fair representation. Demand REAL equality. Demand BETTER.