To date, there is no record on how big the global trans community is. The UK's ONS doesn't include the question in its census, although this decision is being reconsidered. The word transgender is an umbrella term for those individuals whose gender identity is different to that which they were assigned at birth. The word itself, and our modern definition of it, only came into use in the late 20th century but there have been 'trans' presenting individuals existing in every culture throughout history.
For brands, engaging with underrepresented communities is essential to them staying relevant and often palatable to their audience. Some 41% of consumers would feel more positively about a brand which openly supports LGBT+ rights issues, with the figure rising to 50% among 25 to 34-year-olds and 63% of 18 to 24-year-olds.
But it can’t simply be about brand profile. It has to be about accuracy and willingness. When it comes to brands getting involved and telling the trans community's stories, what's essential is that they speak to, or at least gain insights from, people who actually experience a life led outside what society deems to be the norm. This means turning to trans charities such as Mermaids or individual focus groups for truthful, honest insights.
Representation is about giving a voice to the previously voiceless and giving space to stories that have never been told before. It's about acknowledging people's right to difference and to their identification. This is something Rich Miles, Creative Director at Therapy, wanted to address with the launch of a new app, The Right Pronoun, designed to make for more inclusive, representative communication. It places a value on people's identity, and the way they choose to identify.
The fundamental reason for the app's existence is, according to Miles, to start a conversation. It's about respect and inclusivity; something that Mastercard recently announced they'll be considering when they launch their True Name cards in early 2020. The cards have been designed for the brand's non-binary and transgender customers whose chosen names can differ to those assigned at birth. Mastercard found that, by law, consumers’ cards don't need to show their legal name. This is a clear example of a brand acknowledging their LGBTQ consumers and introducing a service that will make people's lives that bit better.
And we're starting to see more acceptance and a greater focus on trans rights across culture. ITV's drama Butterfly told the story of a transgender child and the family's struggle with the transition. According to initial figures, the opening episode was watched by 2.8 million viewers. Many people expressed concern about using such emotive subject matter on primetime TV but, film, TV and movies are often the best space to tell as yet untold stories. Drama can enhance understanding, even if it doesn’t always result in total empathy from the audience.
As with the wider conversation around brand purpose, the story being told must align with what the brand is looking to say. If not, their audience, their consumers, will call them out, especially the next generation. The need for representation is there, as Getty Images revealed in recent statistics; searches for ‘gender change’ imagery are up 2,100% while ‘transsexual’ is up by 125%. Audiences are looking for broader, more inclusive representation, for non-binary, nuanced ways of looking at gender. And what they want is for brands to understand this.
When done well, brands can help shape an understanding of an experience which many people are going through every day. These stories can help foster empathy in an audience and ultimately, help move the needle towards even more inclusive representation.