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Letters from the Front: US Edition – Part VI “Target on Your Back – Part One”

It’s Pride month but this year is different. Dylan Mulvaney has awakened a nation, and the Bud Light and Target boycotts are persisting, with corporate losses running in the billions. The phrase “The Bud Light Treatment” is now being used by everyday people who recognize that genderism had gone too far. Attempts at damage control by panicked CEOs have resulted in accusations from trans activists and the media of “capitulation to Right Wing terrorism”, with the result that they are now facing a boycott from both sides of the debate. The truth is that Americans tolerated the Pride displays for years. It’s a mystery to the left leaning media why anyone would suddenly object to a baby onesie that says “Queer” on it, not seeing that the baby onesie wasn’t offered last year when men in lingerie weren’t so adamant about reading to kids.

We have to start with Dylan Mulvaney. As big of a pest as he is, it’s how we got here.

Dylan Mulvaney was the annoying thorn in every American feminist’s side for a quite some time before he rose to national fame when he sipped from a personalized can of Bud Light – a beer typically associated with redneck culture – while lying in a luxuriant bubble bath with full make-up on. Bud Light created the limited edition cans with his face on them to commemorate his “365 days of girlhood”.

No one really seemed to mind when he was schilling a natural brand of women’s deodorant, women’s face cream, women’s sporting apparel, women’s cosmetics, women’s menstrual products, you get the idea. It was when Mulvaney dared to schill a brand and product that was historically and culturally for men that all hell broke loose. I can promise you that if Dylan had looked up seductively from a chilled glass of Arbor Mist Strawberry White Zinfandel, we wouldn’t be here. Or at least not as deeply as we are.

While I had simply added another product to my “do not buy” list (don’t judge, it all does the same thing), others decided to go a step further. There were several videos of rabid men tossing cases of Bud Light or whatever they thought was Bud Light onto store floors. There were accounts of delivery drivers getting harassed, and bars in southern towns turning away shipments.

When Bud Light’s CEO repeatedly emphasized that the influencer’s Instagram video was a single post and not a formal campaign, they were accused of capitulation to the boycott, and so gay bars began turning away shipments. Progressives, who likely never even drank Bud Light and probably made jokes about the people who did, declared Anheuser Busch to be cultural traitors and decided to boycott everything made by the parent company.

AnBev is now being boycotted by both sides of the debate, all over a dozen or so specially printed cans to commemorate three hundred and sixty-five days of a man pretending to be a girl.

If anyone wasn’t aware of the gender debate up until this point, they were now. Suddenly there was this terrifying slender man all over the news wearing a tight dress, pinching his pouty painted lips in dismay and clutching a purse in his white gloved hands. This was an obvious man pretending to be a woman getting corporate backing and a commemorative can while the media were all over themselves to say just how much “she” had been hurt by the entire affair. If the men in lingerie reading to kids hadn’t hit the sleepy byways of Rural Town America, Dylan certainly did. Dylan primed the pump for Pride month in June.

The Pride display now comes after the Easter display and before the Back To School display, and after that we get a cardboard turkey and cornucopia display that’s rapidly crowded out by Santa and a disgorgement of red and green manufactured cheer.

The cynics like my son call it “rainbow washing,” that plastering of rainbows all over everything for the month of June. Suddenly every corporate logo is emptied out of the typical black or navy void and refilled with a rainbow stripe.

Companies said they were doing their part to support Pride month, and the cynics who said it was just marketing were drowned out by the flood of graphic tees with cute slogans, rainbow tutus, pink and blue leggings, rainbow sunglasses and an endless array of jewelry, towels, baby onesies and socks. This year there is a scented candle called “Gender Euphoria”.

Supporters of Pride said that retailers who offered the rainbow belching of merchandise were showing their support for the LGB community, with the TQ having recently been added on. They were doing their civic duty and should be supported.

Corporations do have a degree of responsibility to the communities they serve. They have a responsibility to not dump toxic chemicals into waterways, to get their garbage taken out or recycled, and to pay a decent wage to people who work for them. They have a responsibility to treat their workers decently, and provide good merchandise at a fair price.

But what is a corporation’s responsibility to the culture of the community they serve?

With Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney fresh in everyone’s minds, a video circulated on the internet. It was a woman going through a Pride display at Target, where she rummaged through some racks and implied that the “tuck friendly” swimsuits were for children.

It seemed unbelievable, but with such internet proof as teachers loudly saying they would lie to parents, the availability of obvious pornographic material available to students in schools, the children’s hospitals saying they aren’t really giving surgeries to kids despite advertising them to kids, and rumors of litter boxes in classrooms, it was plausible. The activists like me wouldn’t put it past Target to get a leg up on the cottage market that already exists for such things.

The phrase, “The Bud Light Treatment” was already circulating on Twitter, not by right wingers but by everyday people who said that genderism had gone too far. Target says they moved the Pride displays to the back of the store due to random acts of violence where displays were being knocked over and threats were being made against store employees. Target was acting to defend its workers, which is indeed an objective responsibility of corporations.

TQ activists and the media immediately cast this as “capitulation” to “Right Wing terrorism”. While I do not doubt that there were some angry customers in Red states who took it upon themselves to knock over a swimsuit display or impart some angry words to a hapless employee who was forced into the position of defending their boss’s politics, I found it odd that I hadn’t seen any video of anything like that. The videos of men slamming cases of Bud Light were pretty widespread. As of this writing, I still haven’t seen a “viral video” of anyone doing anything terrible in Target.

Typically, cringey videos of “Karens” indiscriminately screaming at people make their way around the internet pretty quickly. In a society where everyone has a camera in their pocket, one would think that evidence of Target employees getting harassed would have been seen by the general public. A lot. The video capture of an “anti-trans Karen” losing her mind in Target would seem to be the gilded Pokemon card of the progressive deck. But the only video I saw was the original video where a woman claimed that the famous “tuck friendly” swimsuit was for kids, when it wasn’t. Frankly, something seems off.

Article after article, op-ed after op-ed is about strident Right Wingers waging a literal war on Target with their boycotts of rainbow print merchandise. One writer said it was just like the Islamophobia after 9/11, another said the Right Wing Target Boycott was foreshadowing some deeper nefarious GOP Goal of “erasing the existence” of certain people.

I was, and am, baffled. I’ve been on a low key boycott of Target ever since the gender neutral bathroom policy went into effect a year earlier. If boycott is an acceptable means of peaceful protest, why was this boycott now being framed as an act of Right Wing Economic and Domestic Terrorism, on par with actively hating the idea of anything Pride?

Was I being judged on the fact I had never in my life purchased anything rainbow print with pink and blue Chevron? I’m bisexual, my son is gay, I have every right to, really. But like my son, I feel it’s a hollow gesture. Performative. We have everything we need.

“The Bud Light Treatment” is indeed an apt phrase, for like the beermaker, Target was accused of giving in and not properly standing for the LGBTQIAHPNRIWEVWOLDCNWOGN+ community, and is now facing a boycott from the kids who would otherwise indulge in rainbow print for thirty days and thirty nights.

While media hosts are likening the boycotts to terrorism, I can’t help but be entertained when the actual terrorism of males attacking women at “Let Women Speak” rallies is painted as a harmless little “Culture War”. If it’s even talked about at all.

June is still a few days away at the time of writing. Already the plans for the local Youth Pride March have been announced and the route posted. I have my stickers and my alarm clock ready. But this year feels markedly different than years past. Dylan and his beer drinking episode only served to make people aware of how deep this has gone. The Target controversy is another layer on top of more and more Red States passing Child Protection Bills designed to curb the influence of gender ideology on medicine. Some of those bills are overreaching, but it’s only recently that the extent of the damage of gender ideology has come to light. It’s only natural that there be a knee-jerk reaction on the part of policymakers trying to stick a proverbial finger in the dam.

Several trans organizations are posting heartfelt messages about carrying on “despite the current wave of anti-LGBT hate”. More and more, people are being asked to pick sides, because only two sides are being offered from which to choose. Target never offered a t-shirt that said, “Adult Human Female.” It was rainbow print only.

I thought of the Greengrocer from Valclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” essay, and how he put the sign in his window because it had been delivered to him, because everyone else was displaying it, and because if he didn’t, “There could be trouble.”

The Greengrocer put the sign in his window because it was just easier than answering questions from his neighbors if he didn’t. Because nobody really thinks about the slogans they hang in their windows, and they don’t use them to express their real opinions.

Designer Abprallen (Erik Carnell), who had some of her designs removed from Target due to the controversy over her “Satan respects pronouns” pin (which was not offered at Target), offers the handy catchphrase, “Wear your Truth”. She also sells pins such as a “Time’s up for Transphobes” with a skull and boney hands, a “Bury Cis Feelings” printed on a headstone, and a “We Bash Back” printed with a Mace.

Perhaps it’s just easier to hang up the baby pink and baby blue rather than find yourself on the wrong end of such hostile sentiment. It’s not a big ask to put on a rainbow shirt or lapel pin for a few days in June, is it?

The follow-up to the famous quotes about the greengrocer is the passage, “if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,’ he would not be nearly as indifferent to semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth.”

Americans tolerated the Pride displays for years. It’s a mystery to the left leaning media why anyone would suddenly object to a baby onesie that says “Queer” on it, not seeing that baby onesie wasn’t offered last year when men in lingerie weren’t so adamant about reading to kids. The fact is that the majority of Americans were fine with same sex marriage and treating homosexuals like people. No one in the media seems to be making the connection between the sudden visibility of men in dresses, the men’s insistence on being around or mimicking children, William Thomas in women’s swimming, questionable TikToks of men encouraging children to contact them and keep it a secret from parents, the inappropriate books in school libraries and the newfound objection to anything rainbow print. Honest, good faith objections and invitations to discuss are being simply cast as “Right Wing,” “bigotry,” and “Proud Boys” thrown in for good measure. The innocuous phrase, “parental rights” has become shadowed with associations to far right conspiracy theories.

I can speak freely to a few people in my life, and many of them say they are just too confused by the whole thing, and they don’t know how to fight it. Decades of “no discussion, no debate” has had the intended effect of removing people’s ability to argue. They were too afraid to try, really. Now they truly are mute.

The Target Pride displays bring a new dimension to the debate. Will we be judged if we aren’t wearing something rainbow or baby pink and baby blue? Will it be my civic obligation to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race so I can have something to discuss at work the next day?

If I refuse to wear anything rainbow print, am I advertising my politics in a way I hadn’t before? And would that necessarily be a bad thing? If objection becomes as simple as refusing to buy, then I would be simply living my truth as I normally do. Living my truth is more difficult than wearing it, since it requires a bit more than a few bucks. The first time I walked into a grocery store with shorts on and hairy legs, I thought I’d get stopped for indecency.

Feminism automatically stands in objection to consumerism. Being a feminist is as simple as NOT buying the makeup, NOT buying the shoes, NOT getting the razor. Declining to participate in performative femininity is an automatic objection, and by not shaving my underarms, I’m making a quiet statement already.

Perhaps by NOT wearing rainbow splatter with baby pink and baby blue, there’s a chance at a peaceful objection that all the “Stab TERFs” t-shirts simply can’t overwhelm. If people are going to be forced to wear their politics, might we finally be given some sort of voice? Or will that pin “We Bash Back” threat with a Mace be realized simply because we weren’t sporting the proper amount of rainbows?

The Star Bellied Sneetches never had it so bad.

“It can be said, therefore,” writes Havel, “that ideology, as that instrument of internal communication which assures the power structure of inner cohesion is, in the post-totalitarian system, something that transcends the physical aspect of power, something that dominates it to a considerable degree, and therefore, tends to assure its continuity as well. It is one of the pillars of the systems’ external stability. This pillar, however, is built on a very unstable foundation. It works only as long as people are willing to live within the lie.”

As I was researching for this article, I read aloud a headline where the retailer Kohl’s was facing “A Target style boycott” over a baby onesie featuring a rainbow flag with the baby pink and baby blue chevron on it. My husband looked up and said, “People still go to Kohl’s?”

June may well be a long month.