Issue 10: Bi-ing Power 🏳️🌈
Brands and Pride and Brands and Pride and Brands and Pride and Brands and Pride and Brands
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It feels like each issue of my newsletter comes out later and later, and now here we are, on the last day of June. Though maybe that’s a good thing? At least it means I get to reflect on the preceding 30 days (and since this happened to be Pride month, there’s a lot to say 😈).
I’m also aware that I typically begin every newsletter with scheduling concerns. If you feel like calendars and procrastination are all we talk about, this should give you a sense of what it’s like to date me. (Shoutout to Brinley, who actually does date me—can’t wait to hang in our own house tonight for 2.94 hours at exactly 8:06 PM EST!)
I’m so incredibly grateful for all of you who’ve tolerated my newsletter wonkiness—the ever-shifting dates, the inconsistent length, the variety of subjects, etc. I know lots of Substack authors are out there cranking out newsletters every Friday, but do those people have incapacitating ADHD? Do those people have day jobs? And if they do, can they please pivot their content strategy to include hosting time management seminars? (I’m too busy to attend, but I’ll like the post!!!)
Anyway. Before we get into the Pride stuff, I wanted to give y’all something I haven’t done in a while, and that’s recommendations! Last time someone asked what unified my suggestions, and the answer is simple: I like all these things. The below reccos are not necessarily bisexual in nature, but I do tend to gravitate toward queer/inclusive content, so hopefully your beautiful fluid mind won’t be disappointed.
Vanishing Twins by Leah Dieterich: I just finished this incredible memoir and I truly couldn’t put it down. The book chronicles an open marriage, bisexuality, and what it means to hold onto ones’ self in a relationship, and Leah does it through gorgeous metaphors about everything from ballet to advertising (the theme of this issue! How apropos). Highly, highly recommend.
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang: I just started reading this unbelievable book by Julie, who I’m so proud to call a new friend! Gorgeous prose about what it means to grow up in the U.S. undocumented. It comes out in September, but you can (and should!) preorder now—I have no doubt that everyone will be talking about this book in the fall.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: I finished this wonderful book in March and will recommend it for the rest of my life. I honestly haven’t read a novel whose characters felt so vivid since college, when The Corrections allegedly changed my life (we all had a Franzen phase, don’t act like you’re better than me). At least I’m sure this book will age much better, since its characters were bisexual trans people and the themes were self-acceptance / queerness / what family means.
The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy: Full disclosure that I haven’t read this…yet. It’s currently sitting on top of my “to read” pile and I’ve heard so many great things—how could I ask for more than a queer satire of tech, gender, and modernity itself? The cover is sick, and as a massive bonus, it’s published by Atria (who also publishes yours truly, tehe)! 💁🏻♀️
A Swim in A Pond in the Rain by George Saunders: I’m not exactly done with this book yet—mostly because I’m listening to it on Audible, and play only a few minutes at a time while I do the dishes. But god, it’s SO relaxing to have George Saunders’s voice in your ears, especially when he’s talking about his favorite Russian short stories.
Greedy by Jen Winston: Oh, how did this get in here? Silly me. I guess while you’re here, you might as well preorder?
Generation (HBO) — Hopefully y’all already know I love this show (or better yet, maybe you love it too!). I obsessively follow the whole cast on IG but somehow was still surprised last week when several new episodes dropped on HBO Max. In addition to being v funny and making me feel connected to the Zoomers, this show has a fabulous bisexual storyline, and they handle all discussions of bisexuality just about as well as media can.
Hacks (HBO) — My favorite show on TV, 2021. Jean Smart is, in my dad’s words, “having a renaissance,” and she crushes it playing a strong female comedian who came into her own prior to the #MeToo era. I’m not sure if this was a mini series but god, I hope not. I need more.
Mare of Easttown (HBO) — Speaking of Jean Smart, you’ve watched Mare, right? If not, a seamless plot and Kate Winslet’s range make it worth the hype.
The Americans (FX once upon a time, now Amazon Prime) — Been rewatching one of my all-time favorite shows and wow, it holds up and then some. I think most people don’t realize this show is actually about marriage—it focuses on the daily work of commitment, tackling age-old questions like, “which of us will sleep with the senator’s aide to put a bug in his office, and which will drive the kids to school?”
Wrath of Man (Amazon Prime): A revenge thriller with Jason Statham, directed by Guy Ritchie—either the least queer or the most queer thing on this list. Brinley loves action dramas (the lower on Rotten Tomatoes, the better) and when they brought this up I laughed at the masculinity of it all, but it turned out this movie was p badass. Perfect for taking your mind off the world—there’s something about a jacked up bald man in a stressful scenario that manages to make it all okay.
Inside by Bo Burnham (Netflix): Honestly, I almost wrote my entire newsletter about how much I loved this special. I can’t get over Burham’s comedic brilliance, but also am still fascinated by his incredible production work, from his self-operated lights to the complexities of his edit. My fave songs were the meta “Unpaid Intern,” the timeless “White Woman’s Instagram,” and the deeply poignant “That Funny Feeling.” Big CW for casual mentions of depression and s*icide.
A Quiet Place 2 (IRL?): A week after Brinley made me watch the first one, we saw this sequel in a theater (!!!) and it delivered exactly what we needed. I underestimated the Quiet Place franchise until recently, but can now safely say run, don’t walk. (Just as long as you step softly, amirite?!)
Brands & Pride: A Match Made in Hell
…but can it ever be a Montero-esque, good kind of hell? Let’s discuss.
NOTE: The following are 100% personal opinions with no relation to any company that currently employs me or has ever employed me.
We’re nearing the end of Pride Month©™️®️ aka Dawn of the Rainbow Listerine aka that time of year when brands decide they care about queer people and queer people embrace being “cared about” because every single one of us has attachment issues and you would do it too for a check!
I’ve only been out for two years and I’m already sick of the Brands + Pride conversation. But I’ve worked in marketing for ten years, thus am grimly aware that my personal ennui isn’t enough to bring capitalism or the Gregorian calendar to a screeching halt. That means the B + P convo will remain relevant every June, regardless of how I feel about it.
Like it or not, brands exist. Like it or not, they have money. And like it or not, once a year they get excited to superficially throw that money toward “the LGBT.”
Maybe it’s my Sagittarius moon, but I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve built a career in marketing because—as gross as this sounds—I low-key believe in marketing. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Feel free to unsubscribe.)
I should clarify that what I believe in is marketing’s ideological power—not necessarily the OOH and print ads that said ideology tends to manifest. Despite a lifelong appreciation for the craft of Art & Copy, I’ve grown to abhor the thing most commonly known as “advertising”—billboards, commercials, and banners that, more often than not, seek to sell by lying/omitting/twisting the truth. (Even mediocre marketers know that manipulative messages hurt everyone, including brands themselves. As David Ogilvy said, “Advertising can sell a bad product, but only once.”)
I also definitely don’t mean to imply that heightened consumption of goods and/or services will cure our existential dread. (It can’t, nothing can, we’re doomed.)
But as neoliberal as this renders me, I feel obligated to acknowledge that we currently live in a capitalist reality. As the world grows progressively more image-obsessed, interconnected, and alas, sales-driven, branding is a hell of a drug. And in 2021, that means a company who wants to get in with Gen Z (or even lowly millennials like moi) needs to show up looking RIGHT.
These audiences aren’t like other target audiences—we’re COOL target audiences. We’re informed consumers with activist mindsets. We google ingredients. We share infographics. We skim headlines, dammit! For us, strong branding requires more than a sleek sans serif—it requires ethical labor practices and recurring donations. If these corporations want to be adored (or at least avoid boycott-driven shutdowns), they’d better get their shit together and become a force for good.
Is such a thing possible? Unfortunately my optimism makes me a bad gambler, so I’d wager that yes, it is. In the “free market” (one of my favorite oxymorons), Gen Z and millennials still dangle a massive carrot: our buying power, which will only increases throughout the course of our lives. As disgusting as it is to value an entire age group based on their spending capacity, on a practical level it means that 18-45 year olds have far too much leverage for brands to pretend our politics don’t exist.
That’s where marketing comes in. As brands compete for the love and affection (read: money) of these “woke” audiences, marketing departments steadily gain power, including jurisdiction over decisions outside their go-to-market plan. At most companies, CMOs now have the capacity to influence everything from product design (“Is our software accessible?”) to user experience (“Is it necessary to ask for people’s gender in this form?”). Good CEOs aren’t shy about giving marketing this power—they want progressive young people to notice them, and they know it starts with brand storytelling (eye roll all you want, but it’s true). They’re willing to do whatever it takes for Gen Z and Millennials to pay attention.
But “whatever it takes”—let’s unpack that. Even my sanguine ass acknowledges that capitalism is by nature at odds with global equality, and thus profit-driven corporate leaders won’t be able to do socially responsible work without a significant amount of effort and self-reflection. But IMO, the secret ingredient—the thing that’s been missing, especially from Pride Month conversations thus far—is something even harder to come by: imagination.
There are plenty of resources about what brands should avoid, and some of these guides do offer suggestions for how brands can “get it right.” (Donate! Hire actual queer people! Show up literally any other month too!) But infographics often wind up serving as checklists—a to-do list that marketing teams can tape onto a whiteboard to tell themselves they’re doing it right.
Based on my time in the industry (unclear if this a humblebrag or a self-own), I see the problem as a lack of creative inspiration. Brands often look to the Cannes Lions or similar award shows for examples of excellent work, but even most award-winning Pride-related work falls short of being accepted by the community as “good.”
Of course, part of the problem is that queerness is not a moment. It’s a movement. An identity. An orientation toward collective liberation. So what kind of month-long marketing push could transcend campaign status and actually be a force for good? I often think about this campaign from Boost Mobile, where the company turned their low-income area stores into polling places to help make voting equality a reality. I love it because it looked at the problem, then looked at the brand’s resources and asked “how can we help?” It focused on change rather than the bottom line.
What would a good Pride campaign look like? I’m not sure, but I do have some hunches. Here’s some of those in the form of free ideas:
FREE IDEA 1: Brand celebrates Pride by fighting the anti-trans bills unfolding across the country. They put invest significant lobbying $$$, host support groups for trans kids and their families, and use their ad space to make their consumers more politically aware. 🥊
FREE IDEA 2: Brand celebrates Pride with a limited edition product that, instead of being rainbow, is mesh and/or leather and/or somehow acknowledges the sexual history of much of the LGBTQ+ movement. They use their platform to talk with queer SWers about stigma and match all donations to SW-led orgs. 💋
FREE IDEA 3: Brand celebrates Pride by giving all queer employees June off (except for Juneteenth, when only Black and Black queer employees get to skip work). 📆
FREE IDEA 4: Brand celebrates Pride by giving several queer/trans visual artists substantial grants and housing, allowing artists to live comfortably while they create work for a year. (Bonus: Idea transcends the confines of June!) At the end of the residency, brand hosts massive gallery and matches all sales of pieces with donations to orgs of the artists’ choice. 🎨
FREE IDEA 5: Brand celebrates Pride by hiring queer director & production team to make a documentary on behalf of a queer-led nonprofit (for example: partner with House of GG to focus on trans and GNC people living in the American South). Brand donates all royalties from documentary and also takes an action (ex: commits to having staff be 20% trans by 2025, then creates gender inclusivity pipeline in Southern states to nurture talent as well as inclusion training program for existing employees). 🤠
FREE IDEA 6: Brand celebrates Pride by letting employees continue working remotely and turning the unused office space into housing for unhoused LGBTQ+ people. (Overall donation value would be like 50-100k/year—NBD for most Fortune 500 companies.) Brand also offers scholarships to residents, and creates mentorship program where current employees educate residents about the industry. 🏡
FREE IDEA 7: Brand celebrates Pride by spotlighting intersex creators and announcing multi-year plan to be more intersex inclusive.
FREE IDEA 8: If Brand isn’t willing to do any of the above or commit in a different but similar way, Brand celebrates Pride by giving up on allyship and owning being part of the problem instead. 🤷♀️
Regardless, happy June 30. I thought we were in the clear, and then IKEA announced their couch collabs. Protect your energy, bbs.
FOLLOW THIS BISEXUAL: Jenna Teacake!
This section of the newsletter was written & compiled by my amazing new intern, Macy Harder! Macy (she/her) is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota—not to mention another bisexual you should follow!
Jenna Teacake (she/they) is a bi educator and content creator. They focus on promoting bi-positivity and providing resources specifically for bi+ people, and also encourage conversation around bi+ issues via aesthetically pleasing infographics and the latest TikTok trends. Not to mention their adorable bi-themed art!
Read on to get to know Jenna a little better through her own words!
What’s something you wish more people understood about bisexuality?
J: For many bi people, being bi has more to do with personal identity and less to do with romantic and/or sexual relationships. I’m exhausted by comments like, “Why do you need to tell the world who you like to sleep with!?” It’s extremely common for people to reduce bi identity to something that’s only relevant in the areas of sex and love, and that interpretation is an oversimplification.
I know you love bi literature. Do you have an all-time favorite?
J: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli. It’s the bi coming-of-age story I would’ve loved to have had as a teen. I saw a lot of myself in that book. It made me so emotional!
Has becoming comfortable with your bisexuality helped you better understand your gender identity?
J: Realizing that I was bi was the first moment where I began to understand that the world wasn’t as binary as I’d been taught to believe. After becoming aware of how sexuality can fall outside the binary, it was a natural next step for me to understand how gender and sex can also do just that. However, I didn’t realize that my own gender fell outside the binary until I had time to think about it during the pandemic. Now I’m open about exploring my gender, and I think my bisexuality plays a big role in my ability to explore gender without it feeling like a big deal.
What’s your favorite meme?
J: It’ll always be the Kirby plushie with the knife. I want to frame it and put it in my house.
Thank you so much for reading and subscribing to The Bi Monthly! I love you and I’m so grateful you’re here!
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