Irish bookmakers Paddy Power have a rather distasteful publicity stunt coming up. The company’s latest advert, broadcast on BSkyB, has upset the transgender community by asking viewers to “spot the transgendered [sic] ladies”. Today, I can exclusively reveal that Paddy Power hopes to ‘plant’ trans women at Cheltenham Festival on Ladies Day, so that race-goers can try to spot them in real life. Nice, huh?
The problem with “spot the trans lady” though is that, for one person in the game, it’s really not that fun. Ask any trans woman. Most of us, at some stage, have faced the humiliation of strangers playing it on us, (I use “on” as it’s something that’s done to you, not with you, and rarely with permission). You know it’s coming, as you walk down the street, like any other member of the public, on your way to buy milk. You see the curious look in a stranger’s eye, the excitement as they wonder if it could truly be – if they could really have found someone as laughable and as exotic as you. You note their lack of subtlety as they nudge the person next to them. They walk by. Seconds pass. And, no matter how you try to prepare for the certainty of what comes next, the phrase “Is that a tranny?” stabs like a dagger every time.
It was fear of those four words which kept me in the house for the best part of three years as a student. During this period, I spent huge amounts of money on taxis and I never walked anywhere if it could be avoided. 24 hour supermarkets allowed me to do my shopping at 3am. What a laugh life was.
Occasionally, if I was feeling bold, I would take public transport. I remember catching the bus once and noticing that the driver appeared to be trans. Halfway through the journey, we paused at the depot and she got off to the next driver board. As she walked along the side of the carriage, the people in front of me began pointing at her while laughing and chatting in loud, animated Spanish. Imagine my rage as the man next to me aimed a camera at her. I won’t bore you with details of my reaction but, needless to say, no photo was taken.
Paddy Power may think its advert is just a bit of harmless fun, but it feeds into an environment which dehumanises trans people, adding to the struggles of an already vulnerable minority. It’s not the first time the company has been accused of this either, and my source tells me that staff there are unhappy with the nastiness of recent marketing campaigns. Indeed, not only is this particular clip transphobic, it’s also sexist and personally insulting, referring to someone as a dog, in addition to “spot the stallions from the mares” horse comparisons.
You could, of course, complain to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), and I strongly advise you do. The problem with this though is that Paddy Power treats ASA bannings like some sort of special award. After all, why worry about upsetting people when you’re making money? If we really want to strike back, we’ll need the following:
1) Political disapproval. Cross party would be best, and politicians should ask if Paddy Power is fit to own betting shops in UK.
2) Loss of revenue. Get as many Paddy Power customers to ditch accounts as possible.
It’s simple and it’s already begun. LGBT Lib Dems Northern Ireland said that Paddy Power has brought “shame on itself” and that using the subject of transgender “in such a degrading and mocking way is a clear-cut case of transphobia”. I’ve had a number of people message me to say they’ve cancelled their account with Paddy Power, and I’ve also suggested they contact their MPs.
While you’re at it, why not get in touch with Patrick Kennedy? He’s the Chief Executive at Paddy Power, and the bloke who hired the maker of the ad. Let him know how you feel by emailing: Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.
Imagine how uncomfortable a trans woman will now feel if she’’s planning to attend any of this year’s various ladies days. If Paddy Power goes ahead with the Cheltenham races stunt, perhaps we should organise some counter activity. Despite the saying, there is such a thing as bad publicity. If we hijack the event, it would be important to align transphobia with other forms of prejudice like ableism, racism, sexism and homophobia. We can easily knock up some placards to read: “Spot the bigot? It’s you, Paddy Power!”
I’m not a gambling girl, but I’m willing to bet they won’t like that.
Paris Lees is editor of META and project manager at Trans Media Watch.