Transmissions: Your opinion is not worth my life
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Recently, Heineken released an online advertisement and accompanying website, titled "Worlds Apart." The premise: set up two people with strong, diametrically-opposed viewpoints, have them work together on a project, reveal their opinions to each other, and then, see if they'd agree to sit down and share a frosty beer with each other. The results of three such experiments are in the advert.
Of course, it is well produced, and I'm sure carefully crafted to show just the stories that went well on the screen. I'm under no illusion that this is exactly how every attempt they shot went, or that the trio of stories presented wasn't cut to focus on the best moments. Such is the nature of entertainment media.
The featured stories show two guys who disagree on climate change, a feminist woman paired with an anti-feminist male, and a transphobe with a trans woman. All of them get beyond their differences of opinion and find common ground – while enjoying a bottle of beer.
The ad was largely praised, with many immediately contrasting it with Pepsi's recent commercial showing Kendall Jenner as part of an ersatz street protest, "winning over" an attractive street cop with a bubbly carbonated beverage. There's really little comparison between the two, save their both coming out within a week or so of each other.
I initially wanted to praise the Heineken commercial, but the more I thought about it, the more I pondered an obvious flaw – and one that underpins so much of the way our society seems to frame the so-called transgender debate.
The two fellows presented in the Heineken ad, discussing climate change? They're both on an equal footing. They both have differing opinions. Yes, one of those opinions is science fact and the other isn't, but they are still both sharing their own opinion on climate change.
The feminist and the anti-feminist are also largely on equal sides of an argument, but here's where it starts to get murky. They both have opinions on the rights of women, and on the feminist movement, but one of the two of them is far more personally invested in feminism. It is the feminist who is going to be far more impacted by misogyny and anti-feminist beliefs.
This brings us to the trans story. This story isn't just two people sharing opinions. Sure, he has an opinion, but she has an identity. That isn't equal. This feels akin to, oh, an anti-Semite sitting down with a Jewish person for that German lager, or perhaps a skinhead and an African-American sharing their opinions on blacks over some suds.
Heineken wants you to believe this is equal to the climate change segment, but it simply isn't. The transphobe's argument is that transgender people simply do not exist. Or, in his words, "You're a man, be a man."
Meanwhile, when asked for terms to describe her, the trans woman says that she feels "attacked" and "misunderstood."
And then we have the reveal: they both get to watch videos of each other's opinions. Well, he is shown giving his opinions. She gets to be outed, and outed in front of a man who has just literally said that she can't be herself.
This is the sort of thing that can get transgender people killed. This is the sort of thing that causes transgender people to be denied of their rights. Surely this isn't on par with the climate change pairing.
Sure, we get that happy ending with the two of them, even a snippet of their conversation at the end about keeping in touch, and how the transphobic guy will have to tell his girlfriend he's corresponding with another woman.
As transgender people have become more visible, and as we face an era of increased debate over the very rights of transgender people to partake of society in some of the most basic ways, we are seeing these sorts of debates come up. It's a cliche of cable news to present "both sides" of arguments as equals – false equivalence – even when they are not.
Yet when you pair up a trans person with someone who is claiming that transgender people can't or don't exist, it takes things to a whole different level. Again, one side may be sharing an opinion, but it's being countered with one's identity. One's existence is being offered up for debate. You can't – or at least shouldn't – debate the very nature of a person in this way.
Transgender people face huge hurdles just to live. We've already heard of 10 known anti-transgender murders just this year in the United States, and it is only the middle of May. We're watching our federal government roll back and remove transgender rights and protections. We're still seeing states such as Texas try to bar transgender people from restrooms and other public accommodations.
In the face of this, trans folks still exist, because being transgender is not just "an opinion." It's not as if we can decide not to be transgender because the government has barred us from restrooms, or medical care, or anything else. Further, we don't wink out of existence because someone says we can't be who we are.
I've said it before, and I will keep saying it: you are welcome to your opinions about my existence, but no matter your stance, I will continue to exist. As to Heineken's advertisement, well, as "uplifting" as its message is, it remains deeply flawed.
It is still, however, better than that Pepsi commercial.
Gwen Smith would choose a Stone Woot Stout over a Heineken any day. You can find her at http://www.gwensmith.com.