It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when consumerism is equated with love, with family, with home, with safety, with proof of connection. And, you know, also with... heteronormativity and, more often than not, with whiteness.
All to say, where are the holiday ads that offer queer and non-normative gender representation?
In spite of the stratospheric growth of support for LGBTQ+ rights—including the fact that fashion corporations have started jumping on the Pride bandwagon, sponsoring Pride events, and releasing Pride collections during the month of June—the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in advertising the rest of the year is notable. Particularly during the holidays, the most important advertising time of the year, it is interesting to see how safe these brands play it—including those with decades-long commitments to the LGBTQ+ community.
Even brands who launched significant Pride campaigns this year have failed to indicate substantive LGBTQ+ inclusivity in their holiday advertising. Of course, holiday advertising traditionally features heteronormative, mostly white nuclear families in the tradition of the Cleavers no matter what's being sold—clothing, shoes, cars, home goods. If it's something you want, you can guarantee a white family, with a mom and a dad who look like they belong on a TV sitcom in the '70s, is going to be the one convincing you to buy it.
The reasons for this are obvious: In the United States, heteronormativity is associated with safety, with family, with traditional values. Cis het people get to be the representative—and, in many ways, the guardians—of the holidays, a time of year which is itself a signifier of long-held cultural traditions. All of this is reflected by aspirational advertising. This is who you want to be, the ads say. Even if it's not who you are.
On the one hand, of course, it's important to point out that “you can’t tell by looking” that the people we see in ads are straight, cisgender, or even white. But that's certainly how the majority of them are being presented. And, within advertising, there are ways to signal LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and in the time of Trump, that signaling feels important on a fundamental level. Whether it’s featuring LGBTQ+ couples amongst other couples at a holiday gathering or models dressed more androgynously, there are clear ways to communicate queer-friendliness to a brand’s audience.
For this holiday season, I looked at the holiday campaigns and current websites of brands that ran major Pride campaigns in 2017, to see how LGBTQ+ friendly they were committed to being year-round.
Doc Martens wins the Holiday Pride competition by a landslide, by putting two women with very gay body language front and center on its website homepage. I look at this and see two women flirting at a party (and, let’s be honest, one of them is me).
Of course, this is the kind of image that is likely to go above straight people’s heads, since it’s just feet, but I can’t knock Doc Martens on that front—pretty much all of their imagery is foot-centric. They rarely do full body shots. Also, it’s not my fault that straight people don’t know that Doc Martens are basically a queer closet staple.