Ikea ad angers transgender group

The title of this Ikea ad, "Forgetting to stay hidden", offers a tip-off to its content—Reuters reports that a transgender group called it "negative and stereotypical" and "a gross violation of human rights". Ikea is "drafting its response".


      1. I found it impossible to decipher the relationship between the two.  Lovers?  Father and daughter?  Or is he an employee?

    1. “TV THAILAND” in the intro titles might be a hint as to the language spoken in the ad? or do you mean that you speak Thai and the actors’ pronunciation was just terrible?

    2. OK, so I read the linked article and I can’t put the description with the clip. The girl spots pillows and her voice drops several octaves?
      More like girl spots pillows and some dodgy editing goes on.
      Then boyfriend runs away?
      No, boyfriend hangs around until girl buys a huge pile of boxes, then runs away. Which is what I’d normally do when my wife picked up a large pile of boxes in Ikea. Run away when she wasn’t looking and go and find a sofa and wish they had beer and real TVs in Ikea. Hope her arms would get tired so she put it all down and I didn’t have to load it into the car / onto the car / buy a new roofbox for the car and load it into the roof box / hire a van for the afternoon.
      If the transgender lobby are saying it’s offensive then I’d say they are more offensive to women in assuming that a lady couldn’t pick up a large pile of boxes on her own and making the conclusion that she must actually be a man. Or something like that.

      1. What I think is offensive is the implication that transgendered people are merely putting on a façade which they unintentionally drop when excited.

        Having said that I think your take on it–running away when your wife isn’t looking to go find a comfortable sofa–is hilarious. I think a lot of people have had that experience with their spouse, partner, or significant other.

      2. You must be such fun at parties.

        Also: “the transgender lobby”. I laughed at that one. In the same way one laughs at ignorance.

      3. I think the ad is viewed as offensive because it’s perpetuating stereotypes of transsexual women in Thailand.  It’s being treated as if it’s just an act with them having to stay “in character”.  In the case of this commercial, it’s as if her excitement makes her forget that she’s “playing” a woman.

        1. Would we ever even see such an ad in the US?  Are there any transgender characters on US TV?  I know there are many playing gay parts.

          Also, does the tone of a transgender male’s voice increase in frequency with hormone treatments (or whatever is used in the transformation process)?

          1. I don’t know if we’d see such an ad in the US or not.  Probably not here because trans people are still seen as very “other” in this country.

            I also don’t know that there are many transgender or transsexual characters on TV, unless it’s a one off in a movie, crime drama, or something to that effect.  Usually trans people in those roles are played by cisgender people.

            As far as hormones go, no, a trans woman’s voice does not change with hormones.  If she’s on hormones early enough (and blocking testosterone) she won’t develop a deeper voice, but, that’s gotta be pretty young to prevent that.  Most trans women that desire a more “feminine” voice would work to achieve it by training their voice.

            Now trans men, on the other hand, will usually develop much deeper voices if they’re taking testosterone.

      4. Watch it again. He’s surprised when her voice drops, and then he starts hanging back while she gestures for him to follow her. 

        I’m thinking there’s a bit that’s skipped over near the beginning that might make things clearer. 

        1. Yeah, I think that’s the point of the commercial.  For some reason, he didn’t know she was a kathoey.

          I believe there is something similar in the Philippines where I believe they are called girly boys or something like that.  There were stories of USAF personnel stationed there going out to the bars and coming home with beautiful women with unexpected naughty bits.

    1. It is very funny until you learn that trans people (mostly trans women) get systematically killed and one of the reasons (some argue that the main reason for the transphobia) is that they are perceived as “imposters” trying to deceive others. Pretty much like this ad.

      Here’s an incomplete list. Worth noting: “It is claimed that around the world, one transgender person is murdered every three days.”

      1.  There are a lot of transsexuals in Thailand.  There are called Katoheys, are very accepted and even have beauty contests that are televised.  So maybe, just maybe, since the ad was a Thai ad,context would be relevant in this case.

        1. Except that the trans organizations in Thailand, Thai Transgender Alliance, are the ones leading the protest against the ad? You would perhaps have a point if it wasn’t the locals themselves campaigning against it.

          ETA: Here’s a list of murdered trans people in Thailand in the past few years. Yeah… no. The “acceptance” is certainly not such.

          1. @UnderachievingSheep Could you fix your link? You seem to have forgotten to add the actual url. I am quite interested in your reference. Thx!

          2. @boingboing-0ae444bcc39cbfb377925f6dfa5826af:disqus is right, but there’s more to it.

            I spent half a year in Thailand, and caught a lot of TV (it’s often quite interesting even though they speak too fast for my limited grasp of the language to keep up with). 

            Transexuals are pretty common on TV, and in the society at large obviously. But they’re not really accepted in the way that solstice2005 is implying – they are almost always the butt of jokes on TV, not treated as equals, and thought of as “others” – to an extreme in many cases – in the minds of average-joe Thais, day-to-day.

            It’s different from homophobia as it’s expressed in the west – there isn’t really deep-seated hatred, or even disgust. As per your link, there are of course actual haters, but it’s not part of the culture as it is in many parts of the US. 

            So – back to TV – as I said transexuals are featured on TV programs and advertisements all the time. You don’t realize it, necessarily, until you learn to tell (and in many cases you simply can’t tell), and it’s suddenly very surprising.

            I think last year there was a woman who sang beautifully on a Thailand’s Got Talent type show… and who then walked out and talked in a male voice, revealing herself to be transexual. I’m pretty sure it was on BoingBoing. She was enthusiastically and positively accepted on the show, and among the population at large (can you imagine this in the US?) – but that’s far from representative of how transexuals are normally portrayed. It’s a good sign though.

            Anyway, the difference here is that a foreign multi-national corporation is doing it – not nearly as bad as locally-made stuff, but that’s hardly the point – so they are a much better target. If they just went after every egregious slight toward transexuals in Thai-produced stuff, nobody either in or out of Thailand would pay as much attention.

          3. Except most of the people on that list were murdered due to jealousy, other partners, etc., rather than targeted for being trans-.  Even in the rural areas in Thailand you’ll come across trans- people working in regular places.  Maybe made fun of in Thai TV, but not targeted like they would be in US/UK/Europe.

          4. “Except most of the people on that list were murdered due to jealousy, other partners, etc., rather than targeted for being trans-.”

            Seeing as that’s not the case in the US and elsewhere in the world, I find your assumptions doubtful.

      2. That’s very sad. It also has fuckall to do with the commercial. If anything, showing a trans person doing normal things like going to Ikea helps to promote a more positive image. Not a freak, just a normal person.

        1. If anything, showing a trans person doing normal things like going to Ikea helps to promote a more positive image. Not a freak, just a normal person.

          Did we watch the same clip?  Because the criticism is based on the fact that she’s presented as a freak rather than as a woman.

      3. Your statement smacks of lunacy. What does rape and murder have to do with the advert? Are people going to watch the ad and then suddenly get the urge to rape and murder transgendered people? Women get raped and murdered too, but if you make light jokes about them that’s not going to cause an uptick in all the murders and rapings. Talk about going off on a tangent.

        1. I think the post and associated link were meant to illustrate the point that while transgender and transsexual people are often more open in Thailand, they’re still persecuted, harassed, discriminated against, and killed simply for being transgender or transsexual.  Since the advertisement in question seems to be parodying trans people, and the voice change would make it known that the woman in question is trans, in some areas of Thailand (and even the United States) that could easily lead to her being killed.  Since the OP said the commercial was funny, well, sure, it’s funny until you consider the real world implications of such a mistake for many, many trans people around the globe.

  1. Its rude and insensitive – but I think calling it a “a gross violation of human rights” is a bit absurd. What “Human Rights” are alleged to be violated by the advert?

    1. I think it all depends on what one conceives as Human Rights. Cruel depictions in pop culture that enforce stereotypes that lead to violence of a group due to their gender do contribute to violations of rights so, they might have a point no? 

      And seeing how trans people are systematically raped, abused, beaten, murdered and generally have to deal with being considered disposable, I’d say that pop culture artifacts that somewhat enforce these stereotypes *are* a violation of their rights.

      1. If by “violation of their rights” you mean that comments which are in insultingly bad taste should be legally actionable, you’re going to have to build a lot more jails.

    2. It says something about the world we live in that “rude and insensitive” is not considered negative enough – it has to be a human rights violation to get attention. 

    3. It is a gross violation of human rights. Once you offend people with your jokes you are violating human rights.

    1. Though for many people it does involve an element of performance. The world being a stage and all….

      I wonder if the actor was transgendered?

      1. I think you’re referring to the more theatrical aspects of playing with gender like drag queens and drag kings.  That is entirely different.

        1. No. No I’m not.

          “All the world’s a stage,
          And all the men and women merely players:
          They have their exits and their entrances;”

          1. Socialisation has it’s effect. Whatever our gender we are told we are and whatever gender we believe we are we will find ourselves performing certain actions to satisfy the expectations of others.

            I didn’t mean to imply that this was a phenomenon unique to transgendered people, I’ve posted a more completed version of the quote I paraphrased to elucidate my statement.

          2. There’s definitely something to be said for questioning which behaviors are “natural” and which are imposed on us by society.  I think that’s a really big discussion in and of itself.  As it pertains to the ad, though, I think the controversy is less about what behavior society expects from women, and more about the ad implying that trans women are “playing” (in a disingenuous, deceitful, or entertaining manner) at being women.

          3. All the world’s a stage,
            And all the men and women merely players

            So you’re only acting clueless?

      2. That goes for any of us. How much of human behaviour is ‘natural’ (devoid of all cultural bias) and how much is ‘performance’? Either way if people want excuses to hate they can invent them.
        If any behaviour is seen as natural and unavoidable it can be medicalised in negative ways and psychiatrised. If any behaviour is seen as a free choice it can be criminalised.
        It can only ever be a lose/lose situation unless the cause and justification are not relevant. It is then a win/win for all.

      3. “Though for many people it does involve an element of performance. The world being a stage and all….”

        You are conflating two different types of persons.

        Straight/gay transvestites may perform, may or may not have this as a lifestyle, and transsexuals may perform as well, but they are not necessarily the same, and singing songs as their gender is not “performing sexuality” or whatever the implication you’re making is.

  2. I didn’t realize transgendered folks were getting their hips reworked these days.  If ‘she’ is really a man, I was completely fooled.

     If there’s something to complain about, perhaps it’s about a strong woman (who incidentally likes to assemble furniture) feeling like she has to play dainty in public.  Except when Ikea gets her so worked up she forgets the pretence and acts like herself.  I took it as a mild criticism of societal expectations of women in trade for the ‘awesomeness’ of Ikea. 

    Did I miss something that pegged this as a transgendered woman, or are ‘they’ perhaps finding an insult where none exists?

    1. Unfortunately, I think your post actually highlights the problem with this commercial and the stereotypes it propagates.

      1) All kinds of people have all kinds of hips.  It’s much more apparent if you have a narrow waist, and women’s bodies tend to store fat around the hips, buttocks, etc., due to estrogen.

      2) By putting she in scare quotes, you’ve basically summed up the whole reason this commercial is offensive.  Because her alleged facade broke, she’s no longer a woman.  You also say you were fooled, as if her identity exists to fool you and trick you.

      3) See above 2.  This is back to the facade problem.  Aside from drag kings and drag queens, people who are transgender or transsexual are not playing a part.  That’s who they are.  It’s not performance, it’s them being themselves.  The fact that their biology sometimes betrays them isn’t funny nor does it mean they’re faking.

      4) Trans people are very prevalent in Thailand.  The biggest giveaway that this is supposed to be a transgender person is the male sounding voice, which she promptly “corrects” once realizing she “forgot” to stay in character.  That’s the offensive part, because it trivializes the struggles trans people face, makes them appear to be faking/pretending/acting, and somehow it’s okay to make fun of them when things don’t work as planned.

      1. 1)  That’s simply untrue.  Women have morphologically different hips than men.  They can stand against a wall and touch their toes.  Men will fall forward.  It’s just the way humans develop and it causes different walking patterns that can’t be completely imitated by the other genetic gender.

        2) Nope.  Those are claim-quotes, not scare quotes.  The transgender people seem to be claiming that the subject is a male taking the role of a female.  I disagree.  The quotes ambiguate the claim without taking a position on it – that’s the standard use of the punctuation in English.

        3)  Again, see 2.  I doubt the claim that this is a male.  I think it’s a female with a poorly dubbed voice.

        4) There are women with naturally deep voices.  Yes, some of them ‘put on’ a higher voice in public.  Perhaps within Thai culture there exist cultural signals that this is a trans-gendered person, but to an outside person it looks more like a woman who has a naturally deep voice.  If transgendered people are very common in Thailand, Ikea could have used one in the commercial.
        4a) perhaps trying to interpret intended slights based on a short video clip across cultures is simply folly.

        1. 1) I think you overstate the morphological differences in bone structure.  While it’s true that yes, there can be some rather large differences, men and women have variable bone structures across the spectrum.  Musculature, fat distribution, etc., plays a huge part in how one’s body appears.  You also don’t see under her clothes where she may or may not have padding to accentuate her hips, may have had body sculpting to reduce the size of her waist, etc.  I don’t know how familiar you are with people in the transgender and transsexual communities, but her appearance would not be at all uncommon.

          2) In this case, I choose to defer to the people who live in Thailand, are transgender, know their own culture, and are best equipped to determine whether or not this advertisement is problematic.

          3) See point 2.

          4) Sure, there are women who have deeper voices.  If you’re familiar with the many parodies of transgender persons in media throughout the world, it’s fairly clear that this advertisement is another parody.  It doesn’t matter whether or not the woman in the commercial is actually transgender or transsexual, although, I think it’s even worse if she’s being paid to basically parody herself, but I understand.  It happens all the time.

          4a) I remind you that the people who brought this advertisement to light are in Thailand and are a transgender advocacy group.  I’m pretty sure their analysis has taken Thai culture into account.

        2. “Women have morphologically different hips than men.”

          And some men have morphologically different hips than others.

          “2) Nope.  Those are claim-quotes, not scare quotes.”They’re the same fucking thing.

    2. Could be a female actor with a male voice dubbed in and not an actual transgendered actor.

      In any case, given the commercial is called “forgetting to stay hidden” and it’s set in Thailand, it’s pretty clear she’s supposed to be transgendered, not just a strong woman with a deep voice. I think it’s actually kind of funny, although I understand why the TGA would have issues with it.

      1. Having spent half a year in Thailand, and spending a lot of time making these specific observations just out of curiosity, I’d say with 99% certainty that this is actually a trans actor.

        1. Fair enough. I was just replying to Bill McGonicle’s comment about her hips. I don’t have enough experience with the subject to make the call. ;)

  3. Reposted from Twitter:

    @BoingBoing I see it as a “playing a character” sort of thing, like John Travolta in Hairspray or Bugs Bunny

    @BoingBoing I don’t see it as trying to perpetuate ignorance. With good humour, someone always gets hurt.

    I can understand how this could be considered offensive by individuals, but I also think the reaction to it is overblown. I could also just be an outsider to all of this, in which case, my opinion really doesn’t matter.

  4. One Grundtal’s very like another when your head’s down over your free Alan wrench, brother.

      1. Except that Grundtal (in the ikea catalog) can refer to both a round lidded container or a magnetic knife rack, both of which are distinct from each other. Also, they don’t require any assembly, so no alan wrench needed or provided.

        Personally, I would have gone with Billy, since they do require assembly, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes (just like boys and girls do) and because the name Billy is gender indifferent.

  5. It’s also offensive, because it perpetuates the stereotype that the guy would not be with a transwoman the minute he found out, exhibited by his running away at the end. 

    Also, for some of the posters here, it’s she, not “she”. That’s offensive too. 

    1. The relationship I saw between them was something akin to an “IKEA escort service” with the humour designed specifically to play on people’s expectations of what they are presented with. See ‘Just for Laughs Gags’ for a similar variety of humour. I would wager that the actor playing the ‘transgendered’ woman is exactly that, an actor playing a woman who let his character slip.

      IRL (not IKEA ads) There would be no character to slip as there is no character *or Jungian mask/persona to fall off. In a roundabout way; through discussion in the comments section of a popular blog, we are helping to add normality to transgender identity.

    2. I was baffled by his running away at the end. In the earlier part of the commercial he seems amused by her reaction to the sale. It’s almost as though it’s an inside joke between them.

      I still find the commercial offensive, but also irritating in its mixed messages. He’s amused by her voice changing, but frightened by her ability to carry heavy loads?

      1. he’s not “running away” from here – he’s sneaking away. it’s playing on the “lazy man” I’m pretty sure, since he let’s her carry the heavy boxes and then takes off. 

      2. Looking at it from the offended viewpoint (that she’s ‘breaking character’ with her voice changing), it could be that she’s breaking character by lifting the heavy items and he’s embarrassed and running away, just as he was embarrassed earlier by her voice dropping (which was momentary and not as obvious).

  6. I doubt the intent was to be offensive. Trans lady gets excited about a sale and forgets to keep her voice feminine. Her uptight boyfriend gets uncomfortable. I see it as a play on the heterosexual male discomfort with finding trans ladies alluring. Speaking as a heterosexual male who has experienced discomfort with finding trans ladies alluring.

    I don’t know enough about trans women to know if they have to make a conscious effort to keep their voice feminine. If they have to make an effort to have a voice that matches their gender identity I wouldn’t necessarily call that an act.

    1. “I see it as a play on the heterosexual male discomfort with finding trans ladies alluring”

      Homophobia is hilarious! Good job finding the humor in bigotry.

      1. I think Mitch_M is saying that he thinks the humor is that the date is being shown as a clod, a biggot. They do that kind of thing all the time in movies, especially kids movies, where the person who is racist or who is intolerant or afraid of women/fat people/gay people/children/animals is shown, humorously, as a kind of ham-fisted villain.

  7. They’re chit-chatting, she spots a sale, her voice drops and she says “SALE!”, giggle, cut-shot, “SALE!”, she coughs, her voice goes up and she says something like “I forgot”, cut-shot, she waves back at him and says “come on!” In a dropped voice.

    The stuff she’s saying at the beginning is some sort of gossip about someone else, she’s all “I don’t know what’s up with him.” – The kind of thing a young woman says about her recently-jettisoned suitor.

    The implication is that this is some kind of first or second or third date, and they’re getting to know one another, and the gentleman is utterly surprised by her voice breaking.

    Imnsho – it’s exploitative. The idiom plays on “forgetting to keep your excitement hidden”, which is an actual thing in Thailand (conservative sticks-in-mud versus exuberant youth culture), painting IKEA as the hip, youthful, cool thing, but also using her gender identity / transgender identity in general to sell flat packs.

  8. Certainly disrespectful, but even the Thai TGA seems to be going through the motions on this one. Their website only says the ad was stereotypical and offensive, but I can’t find the human rights comment. I get the feeling that some bad translating is the problem here.

    Ad is typical stupid ad meant to target idiots who giggle at this stuff. I imagine the “A Haunted House” crowd would enjoy this.

  9. I have not even the slightest grasp of Thai, nor Thai culture.  I suspect it is possible the same applies to decision makers at Ikea.

    Without knowing the language it was impossible to have any idea of the story of the content of the ad – you could write a hundred different stories onto that ad, like that silly Hitler tantrum video that people keep redoing.

    That said, trans people have to deal with a lot of shit in Canada, and I don’t doubt that happens everywhere else as well.  If Thai trans folks don’t like it then I’m willing to accept that.  If it’s a debate or there are multiple possible interpretations then I can accept that too.  I really have no way to know.

    1. “trans people have to deal with a lot of shit in Canada”

      They are completely entitled to not have to deal with “shit” such as being beaten, raped or killed.  As are we all.

      Entitled to not have to deal with hearing anything that they find hurtful or insulting?  Not so much. 

      Not because they’ve done anything to deserve insults, but because speech which does not specifically provoke violence is legal in any country purporting to be free.

      1. Not because they’ve done anything to deserve insults, but because speech which does not specifically provoke violence is legal in any country purporting to be free.

        But in the world outside your brain, speech that doesn’t constitute proximate cause for acts of violence does create a climate in which violence thrives. And transgender people live and die in that reality.

    2. “Without knowing the language it was impossible to have any idea of the story of the content of the ad ”

      Did you not read that the protesters are Thai? Someone so concerned with “context” should perhaps read before crapping out ignorant statements.

  10. Where is the line with both femininity and masculinity, between act and reality? They are external constructions that we try to recreate with our appearance and behavior, based on our concept of who we are or want to be. 

    We use tools like wigs, makeup, steroids, hormones, pectoral implants, toupees, teeth whitening, body forming garments, etc… to reform our appearance to match those external definitions. (Advertising is the major factor in creating those definitions, which is exploitive by definition.)

    So essentially being feminine/masculine -is- an act. Much more so when we are trying to overcome the qualities of the gender and the genes we are born with when they contradict our personal definition of self. You may take issue with my use of the word act but it is what it is: trying to present ourselves as different from what we physically are.

    The unfunny thing is the abusive powerful hyper-masculine and the beautiful fragile hyper-feminine are two sides of the same coin. 

  11. This is not an offensive commercial.  People get offended whenever any minority group is identified in any way in media. Transgender people are probably more integrated into Thai society than any other country, and less stigmatized there as well.  This commercial is showing a slapstick situation that most Thais would relate to.  It’s like a commercial in the US where a black person gets excited about something. Part of being integrated into society is being allowed to be human, rather than caricature, and being OK with that. 

      1. I don’t have a right to draw a conclusion because i’m not a female identifying trangendered Thai person?

        I feel like the woman in the commercial isn’t shown in a disrespectful light.  She’s a character in a fictional story in a 20 second commercial.  An unexpected even happens which doesn’t objectify her, and has a humorous outcome. It’s called a commercial, and I think its a pretty effective one and that they deserve credit for including transgendered people in their advertising.  What other company or country has had the (avoiding gender specific expression here) “courage” to do that?

        I don’t think it advances anybody’s rights if we get Ikea to re-shoot the commercial where the woman’s voice doesn’t crack, and she doesn’t pick up the box, and her boyfriend doesn’t notice anything, and instead she expresses her opinion with calm repose and the commercial ends. 

        Transgendered people on TV in Thailand aren’t there solely to be the butt of jokes, they full fledged personalities of equal status to everyone else. 

        1. Of course you have the right to draw your own conclusions.  But since you apparently aren’t part of the affected group, your conclusion is likely to be wrong.  Seriously, this sounds like a white person saying blackface isn’t insulting because the black people depicted were upper class businessmen.

          Also, you do realize that it’s a transgender group IN THAILAND that’s complaining?  I’d imagine they likely are quite familiar with Thai culture and know how trans people are treated in Thailand.

          As many of the other posts here have stated, trans people in Thailand are not considered equal.  Trans women are not recognized as women, they’re not treated the same as other people, they’re frequently the target of violence and discrimination, and they have a really difficult time living their lives.  The only difference is that it’s generally more accepted that they exist in Thailand, so they’re somewhat more open about it.

    1. Michael Garber, the never-die demographic for racist jokes, stupid enough to confuse dehumanization for “integration”.

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