A snapshot of a Costa Express cafe featuring a cartoon illustration of a blue-haired character, bearing top surgery scars while sipping coffee, has sparked widespread social media outrage. Detractors, mainly from the “gender-critical” camp threatened to boycott the coffee chain, leading to the hashtag #BoycottCostaCoffee being widely shared.
Anti-trans activist Maya Forstater linked the illustration to promoting “self-harm,” despite evidence showing top surgery improves the life quality of young trans individuals. Forstater, a known figure for winning a 2022 employment tribunal on grounds of discrimination for her “gender-critical” views, accused the image of promoting self-harm and the notion of young women undergoing breast removal.
LGBWithTheT, a trans-supportive group, quickly countered this narrative. They explained the ad reflects the growing support for the trans community, which is becoming “increasingly evident.”
As a trans masculine individual, I understand the importance of representation, particularly within my own community. Over the years I’ve created successful LGBTQIA+ campaigns with Bloom & Wild, IKEA and Durex and I was one of the artists invited to pitch for this great project with Costa.
“These scars are symbols of liberation, a testament to our self-love and bodily autonomy”
The illustrated pride campaign went to another artist within my community. The decision to feature a trans masculine person sipping their coffee was a breath of fresh air in an industry that often overlooks or misrepresents the LGBTQIA+ community, and particularly the trans community.
For those unfamiliar with the trans experience, the sight of top surgery scars might seem shocking. However, for those of us who have undergone this journey, these scars are symbols of liberation. They’re a testament to our self-love and bodily autonomy. Almost 12 years ago, I embraced this act of self-love, undergoing top surgery. Each day, I am reminded of this life enhancing decision as I pull on a t-shirt without the need for a binder, a daily dose of euphoria that I cherish.
It’s crucial for others to understand the trans experience is not contingent on external opinions. We are who we say we are. No amount of criticism or misunderstanding will change that. While we don’t expect everyone to fully comprehend our individual journeys, their support can make a significant difference.
“I encourage brands to involve the trans community from the start”
When massive chains like Costa Coffee take a stand to represent under-represented and mis-represented communities, they help break down stigmas and prejudices. The impact of these campaigns goes beyond the surface, fostering understanding, empathy, and inclusivity.
Sadly, the outrage sparked by Costa’s campaign is a stark reminder of a loud minority’s resistance towards understanding and accepting the trans community. They cannot stand seeing trans people existing in public, let alone being celebrated by major brands.
That is all more reason for companies to continue their support to underrepresented communities, especially in the face of backlash, and not let themselves be deterred by those that are driven by prejudice, ignorance and hatred.
In my experience, the key to successful representation is involving the trans community from inception. Don’t tailor a campaign and then seek our input. Include us from the start, allow us to shape your narrative authentically. Otherwise you’ll probably end up enforcing old tropes and causing a backlash that could’ve been avoided. That ultimately harms those you seek to represent.
“Representation matters. It is integral to fostering understanding, empathy, and acceptance”
But brands should not stop at representation. They should also actively contribute to organisations fighting for our rights. Supporting us when we need it the most goes beyond featuring us in your campaigns. It involves making tangible efforts to better our lives and advocate for our rights, by donating proceeds to our efforts and actively making your own workplace a safe place for us to be ourselves.
Representation matters. It is integral to fostering understanding, empathy, and acceptance. As a trans masculine person, seeing myself and my community authentically represented in advertising fills me with pride. It signals a shift towards inclusivity. It’s shows a step toward a world where everyone is seen, heard, and valued for who they truly are.
As we continue to navigate through the complex landscape of representation, I encourage brands to involve the trans community from the start. Let us tell our own stories. Stand by us in the face of criticism and contribute to organisations that champion our rights. Together, we can break down barriers and create a more reflective and inclusive world.
Fox Fisher is a brown, queer, bisexual, non-binary, trans masculine artist, author, filmmaker and campaigner. Fox has created successful LGBTQIA+ campaigns for Durex, Bloom & Wild and IKEA.