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New Zealand tampon ad causes latest trans uproar

BY ROB SALERNO – At the risk of beating a dead horse, today’s column will again take a look at a recent bit of hysteria brewed up over a supposedly transphobic piece of pop culture trash.

Last week, a New Zealand tampon company came under fire for a commercial in which a woman and a drag queen have an encounter in a washroom.

In the commercial, the drag queen mimics what the woman does in front of the mirror — applying mascara, touching up her lip gloss, adjusting her boobs. Then the woman pulls out a tampon. A look crosses her face as if to say “your turn.” The drag queen, presumably not carrying a tampon, leaves in a huff.

Some people called the ad transphobic because they read the drag queen to be a trans woman and because they see the ad as depicting a competition where the trans woman loses a femininity competition because she doesn’t menstruate. 

A few things here. First, that’s obviously a drag queen, not a trans woman. I mean, I don’t have perfect transdar — I’ve been known to be completely oblivious to the fact that the person sitting next to me in a bar is trans, and I once laboured for years under the mistaken belief that a prominent community member was a trans woman (I won’t say who, but she was actually a straight woman). But there are a few telling visual clues that lead me to believe that the person on the left in the video is a drag queen: the garish makeup, the glitter, the slight bit of stubble, the blog entry that the drag queen (who performs under the name Sandee Crack) wrote about the incident in which she criticizes people who read her as trans.

Now some people think it’s odd that the drag queen is using a women’s washroom, which couldn’t possibly happen in the cinéma vérité style that we normally expect from 30-second commercial documentaries about feminine hygeine products. But did anyone stop to consider that it was a unisex bathroom? Or that the establishment was so progressive that neither it nor its clients cared if a drag queen was in the women’s washroom?

Second, femininity contest? Who says they’re competing at being feminine? It looks like a monkey-see-monkey-do competition to me. Even the woman’s first glance over at the drag queen almost reads as if she’s thinking, “How can I be that fabulous?"

Third, having to menstruate makes you the winner? Okay, I get that they’re not selling tampons to gay guys, drag queens or, for that matter, to trans women. But does the fact that trans women don’t need to buy tampons really piss off trans people? If someone seriously believes that spending 30 to 40 years shoving plastic up her twat five days per month to stop it from bleeding makes her a winner, let her be happy. I’ll take the surgical vagina (or my own penis) over that any day. 

With the money I save on not buying tampons, I bought this hot wig, bitch.  

There is legitimate transphobia out there. The idea that drag is inherently transphobic is, frankly, ridiculous. And so is papering over the lived experiences of drag queens, gay men and people on all parts of the gender and sexuality spectrums to accomodate the ever-shifting sands that the transphobia debate seems to be based on.

I guess I just choose to not jump to offence at every opportunity. It helps me save my outrage for things that are truly offensive.

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