Sexuality for The Straight Eye- Inclusivity or Commodification?

Is all visibility encouraging? Or are we faced with faux queerness that solidifies the existing patriarchy, all while pretending to dismantle it? One word pieces it all back together- commodification.

Millennials are subject to a new wave a of LGBTQ marketing. At first glance, it appears to introduce a non-heteronormative narrative into the regressive world of advertising. Good news, one might think. Refreshing in a world where femininity is synonymous with passivity, marriage and motherhood. Definitely images many young adults used to long for.

Urban Decay Pride campaign

On one hand, images like these may be an efficient campaign championing the cause of a long suppressed community. Its also a way to raise a finger against ancient patriarchal norms. On the other hand, its important to peel away the first layer to get to the root of the more serious drawbacks.

Sexuality for The Straight Male Gaze

The ‘DTF’ campaign for ‘Ok Cupid’

Two things that go hand in hand to up the appeal for lesbians- advertisement and pornography. That would explain why 1 in every 5 straight men watch lesbian porn. LGBTQ women are often positioned in advertisements to exude male sexual tension. All while fueling a false sense of self-hood among women and queer persons. Ideally, people who identify as homosexuals shouldn’t be fetishized. This is so often the standard beauty criteria. The focus should be more on the women themselves rather than their bodies or positions.

Trans Model Jari Jones for Calvin Klein
Trans model Jari Jones for Calvin Klein.

This trend is more blatant when it comes to representing trans-women in advertising. Featuring women like Jari Jones in beauty campaigns is a powerful move towards inclusivity. But how does one ensure that the iconography doesn’t take the form of ancient exoticizing? To what extent do they sustain a ‘men’acing fantasy referred to on some dating websites as “trans-amorous” or “trans-attracted?” This suggests an inherently trans-misogynistic difference between trans women and ‘real’ women.

Commodification and The ‘DINK’ Dollar

Pascal Monfort, French fashion consultant says, “this is known as DINK, ‘Double Income No Kids,’ an enormous buying power that vaguely adapts the dominant offer for an upmarket gay customer.”

The LGBTQ centered market was estimated in the United States to be at a staggering 790 billion dollars in 2012. This may well be the core issue. A privileged gay man who experiences less oppression than other queer groups might strengthen other forms of systematic oppression. “An ad featuring a gay, white, heteronormative, successful Western couple means it is shutting out any question of intersectionality, all notions of race, gender. This type of gay visibility betrays its own because it claims to represent by reinforcing every other dominant norm”, says Ari de B, Paris-based queer militant, specialized in questions of intersectionality.

LGBTQ, Neil patrick harris
Neil Patrick Harris on the December issue of Modern Luxury

The bottom line is that gay doesn’t mean always queer. Gay is a sexual preference. Queer is the questioning of a system and choosing to think around its means of production, utilization, gender. Advertising, propelled by commodification (which thinks in terms of trends and sales numbers) can never achieve this.

6,576 replies on “Sexuality for The Straight Eye- Inclusivity or Commodification?”

Very relevant piece. Especially at this time when the show business seems to have run out of ideas to sell sexuality. Its high time we realised focusing on and selling gay women bodies are as hateful as straight ones

I love the alternate lens used in this article. Very thought provoking and upholds a view point that escapes most.

Certainly, advertising has come a long way in terms of allowing LGBTQ people to be represented in ways that are not not always negative or ridiculous. Having said that while advertising may herald increased acceptability of certain types of queerness, it always represents one thing first and foremost and that is money. Very well thoughtful and insightful article by Madirekshana.

Very insightful, particularly as a straight woman, accepting of the entire spectrum of sexualities and gender identities…. it’s never occurred to me to look beyond the obvious, literal representation, up until now. It’s a real eye-opener, thank you.

I wonder though, if at this nascent stage, the negatives you have touched upon here are outweighed by the benefit of normalising their representation in media. Is it a necessary, unavoidable part of the cycle of our evolution into a truly equitable society?

Thank you so much for your feedback!

While most companies, particularly those who engage with beauty, fashion and lifestyle (including dating apps and sites) reduce sexuality to a commodity, some companies also celebrate it. Advertisements for Colgate, Kodak and even style brands like Tiffany and Diesel have set an example for how LGBTQ persons should be visually portrayed and acknowledged by the larger media.

Given the above examples, I feel with a little more sensitization it’s possible to avoid the use of such surface-level-empowering images. I really enjoyed your question, its definitely something to think about!

Ms. Boo, very impressed with your blog, I would like to add to what Amita, says its a process, that will ultimately play out in ultimately creating a definitive space.

Plus there is black and white what about the grey you haven’t dwelled on that, have a think about how within the larger societal group beauty, fairness, physicality are used in the same lens by the advertising world.

Depending on what the purpose or end goal is, advertising will lead to commoditisation in order to meet the outcomes of the clients etc, plus come to think of it who is directing these ads is there a slant there to,begin with?

Anyways loved your articulation and perspective.

Hi Amit uncle, loved your feedback! I’m glad you enjoyed reading this.

There is so much left to explore within the realm of marketing! And yes, due to its inherent nature, advertisement inevitably leads to commodification. However, I feel it should be done with a certain degree of sensitivity, especially when it comes to portraying people and victim groups who haven’t been represented and have been discriminated against in the past. I feel there’s other ways of going about it rather than provoking sexual tension and creating allure about LGBTQ persons, or anyone for that matter. Let’s take a few home grown examples. A Hindustan Unilever tea company helped launch a musical act featuring transgender singers for an advertisement, giving them a platform to express themselves while also meeting their end goal of selling their products. One might argue that since there is nothing overtly sexual about tea, it was easy to portray queer persons in a non-sexual light. However, even fashion companies (which directly deal with body image and how that expresses one’s personality and sexuality), like the Indian brand Anouk, came up an online ad realistically depicting a lesbian couple instead of sexualizing them.

There’s no denying that there are undoubtedly grey areas here. Perhaps I’ll dwell on them in my next post 🙂

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