Zack at 16

by Shaker Caitiecat, who really was the boy who got her period, when she was 10, and it wasn't anywhere near as low-key, amusing, or easy to deal with as this...(intersexed ftw!) She's much-pleased by Melissa's request to write to this topic, and hopes that her writing her might someday allow her to aspire to the name of Pretty Princess Cunt of Fuck Mountain.

[Be sure to read the first installment of Shaker alexmac's excellent series on Trans 101 Chez Shakesville.]

Liss sent me a link to this site, which shows a series of "viral videos" released by Tampax. And yes, that's really odd. The video purports to follow a kid named Zack, a 16-year-old boy, who wakes up one day with "girl parts down there." So I went to watch it, and grabbed a sheet of paper to keep some notes on.

My first note I can only read part of, but I think it says "version of trans experience," and "safe—when you're only visiting." I stopped trying to take notes after that, because I couldn't write fast enough to write down all the stuff that came to me. So here's me trying to remember it all.

I think this series has some things that could have gone really, really well, and I do give them a bit of credit for that. But I think this is an important point: this is a bit like grabbing some shoe polish, and after a day of blackface, declaring you understand the black experience. Some of the dysphoria that Zack's experiencing definitely sounds familiar. But he's only visiting: He's dropping in as a teenager, and finding that having a body that doesn't agree with one's mental construct of oneself is, in short, sucktacular. Welcome to my world, dudebro.

But he gets to do the power version: Because he's an "innocent," in a way (he didn't want this, it just happened to him, and he can show all kinds of proof that he's really a boy despite his genitalia; compare to the reactions people had to people living with HIV, who would go out of their way to make the point that they weren't some dirty drug addict or homosexual, y'know, they'd gotten it like nice people do, by having a blood transfusion). He has many, many ways of asserting his male identity, despite his female genitals, and he really doesn't even need to assert it: No one's calling him by the wrong pronouns, no one's denying his identity, no one's calling him by the wrong name or forcing him to wear clothes that don't match his gender, he still goes to the prom and has a girlfriend and so on and so on and so on).

And before it's mentioned that this is a subtle trans-positive video, let me point out a few things:

1) He refers repeatedly to his inability to be a "real boyfriend" to his girlfriend anymore (because, as we all know, Real Men Have Flesh Penises As Original Equipment, and Trans Men Don't Exist). This is about as anti-feminist as you can get: pure, 100% weapons-grade genital-essentialism, right there: You are what you have in your pants.

2) In that very first commercial, we see him talking with his best friend, whom he characterizes as an idiot—but whose friendship he retains anyway, casting some doubt on that declaration, I'd say. This friend, by way of an insult, calls him "a little girl." The insult is unremarked upon, and Zack doesn't even disagree: In fact, he's willing to be labeled that because, hey, genital-essentialism—he's got girl bits, so of course it's appropriate to deride him by calling him a girl. It's not insulting to women at all! By his acceptance of it, the campaign tacitly agrees: Being a little girl is a bad thing.

3) There's a subtext when he talks about his penis: He says it "disappeared," and it certainly gave me the impression that we're to think of male genitalia as a positive, and female as the absence of that positive.

4) There's a not-at-all subtle thread of "girls are inherently weepy, emotional, chick-flick-loving people."

But I think what bothers me the most about it is how easy it all is for him. He's not depressed, or suicidal, or self-hating, or raging at the world for its unfairness, or many of the other reactions I've seen from a huge number of trans folk I've known over the years. Because of his unassailable masculinity, his "problem" is, for him, more of an opportunity. Not like some lazy woman, y'know, who wouldn't know how to properly exploit her girl-bits. He's not uncertain, not self-doubting, not self-harming, he's not drinking or doing drugs or any other type of escapism to get away from his body.

It sort of frames the trans experience as one of a bunch of whiny drama-seekers: Look, if a white straight man got into this situation, he'd just use his innate superiority to handle it perfectly, and be sure that it wouldn't affect his life, not like those whiny freaks who actually choose this life. Hell, he'd probably do it while tossing back shots of Chivas Regal or bottles of Dos Equis and feeling up sexually assaulting pageant-winners.

If this were more like real life, when he changed, everyone would know he'd changed. And they'd all refuse to use masculine pronouns or her boy-name. And her family would throw her out, calling her names. She'd be refused housing, and employment, and maybe even treatment as she lay dying from a car accident. Or beaten up waiting for a bus. And they'd all be insisting she didn't know what she was doing, and aren't women stupid to think they can be men, and she'd get no dates from all the cool kids, and some guys would try to show her how much she wasn't a guy by raping her.

Cause, y'see, that is a lot more like what trans people live with. And it's not making our lives any easier by dismissing our experience, trivializing it, showing us how a good strong white straight man could deal with it so much better than all us whiny pervs.

Throw in the various grimly misogynist elements, and this is...well, kinda what we've come to expect from the industry which brought us "Have a Happy Period."

I think one other thing needs to be looked at, and here I'm asking questions, rather than answering them:

What's the point here? Why are they trying this to sell us their over-processed, possibly-toxic-shock-inducing products?

Why did it seem to be a good idea to use a 16-year-old boy to sell tampons to women?

In some ways, I think this is one of those things where the sexism is just like smog: We don't see it, cause we're breathing it. Because the only ways I can see any value to them in choosing this path are these:

1) Bog-standard sexism path: "Ah, a man endorses this brand, it must be good."

2) Hipster: "I'm down with transgenderedist folk, some of my best friends are..."

3) Humour: "Ha ha, it's funny because it's not a penis!"

Can anyone see a reason why this might have seemed like a good idea? I admit, I'm stumped. I can't figure out how someone looked at this pitch and thought, "Yes, that's it! Exactly what we need to sell tampons: We'll get the teenage girls to identify with a teenage boy ridiculing their bodies! Surely that'll boost our sales!"



* Being a geek, this feels like an urgent moment to use the old trope: "Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?" And before I found out what a douchebag fuckneck retrojackhole turd Ben Stein is, I probably would have used it. Now it makes me think of the aforementioned d.b.f.n.r.j.h.turd, and that makes me annoyed, so it's taken all the fun out of it.

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