Transphobia and MeUndies: Being an ally isn’t a trophy, it’s a commitment.

Actions of a company should always be open to criticism when they allow the influence of bigots to infiltrate their spaces.

It’s easy to see the situation of a poorly timed product launch lingering with ties to transphobia as one big misunderstanding or a perfect example of a major lack of foresight a company had with a release of product, especially being a small business. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s free from criticism, despite what the company has followed up with. Just because you’re not transphobic doesn’t mean you can’t commit acts of transphobia.

Time and time again, those among the LGBT community see companies turn their icons on social media to Pride icons and saying “we love lgbt people! see, our icons say we do!” during June then immediately revert come July 1st, as if it never happened. However, there’s been companies that devote their efforts to supporting the community and making it clear they support LGBT people, including members of the transgender community such as myself. MeUndies, an underwear company, is one of the few supportive small companies that had kept me coming back as a member because of their continued shown support. Every June, MeUndies has made effort to support inclusivity, donating to a number of LGBT charities and often not, make it clear where they stand on their beliefs. That’s why this entire situation really feels like a knife in the back to me and many other previous customers.

MeUndies’s Harry Potter Collection

What’s the deal with everything?

On October 26, MeUndies sent all their subscribed members the preview to the newest print, hoping to give everyone a surprise, their Harry Potter collection. Due to the series of very unfortunate events from earlier this year however, J.K. Rowling became a full mask off TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) in a downward spiral that had everyone asking “is it okay to support any Harry Potter merchandise or media?” and it became a resounding no from many trans people. The short and skinny of it all is that no matter what, J.K. Rowling still profits off the franchise, even in just royalties. Any money she gets is enough to say enough of a message. Putting aside the other racist and anti-Semitic attitudes “subtly” placed in the books, she has continued to tweet about the franchise past its end in a way to have attached her name to it and in it, her views become intertwined with her work.

Faced with heavy disappointment, many users voiced their concerns online, asking about J.K.’s involvement and trying to communicate to the staff that this is a problematic release due to the author’s previous actions and statements. For naught though, there were no replies or responses at all. The next day, October 27, at 12:32 pm ET, they officially announced the collection publicly. To say that people were simply upset would be understating what many felt. More customers, current and potential, expressed frustration and what could be called betrayal, leading to many cancelling their subscriptions and reiterating to the twitter MeUndies team that this was, yet again, a bad idea. Some even tried to contact customer service to directly discuss this issue and a lot of users, myself included, got the same copy and pasted response, which was one of the last straws for many. I’m personally saddened to drop them myself but coming at a time that I also needed to save some money, it was the perfect time to do so and while you can choose to simply skip a month as an option for your membership, cancelling is more effective in sending a message.

My email with Ro. (J.K. Rolling??)

The email I got was the exact same a friend got as well, both from Ro. There were multiple replies with the exact same copy and paste response asking for answers too. This dawned a realization for me and worried me that they knew this is the response they were gonna get to this collection. After all, a Harry Potter collection JUST months after Rowling came off swinging at the hornet’s nest about how “only womyn menstruate” is a horrible look. The rabbit hole of J.K. Rowling’s transphobia went further as she doubled down, making it seem like she was facing persecution for being a “real womyn” and posting a long blog post essentially doubling down on all her views, only would start a wildfire of a response. One might just ask themselves why would one such as MeUndies, who shown positive support towards the LGBT community in the past, continue their plans to release a Harry Potter collection after this all came to light?

Soon enough came the MeUndies statement on their collection on October 30th, 2020. For those who can’t openthe link to the statement, I’ll be posting their statement for a text based version (weird that they didn’t post the statement itself on twitter at all, hm).

Harry Potter x MeUndies

This week we launched our Harry Potter collection. We received many questions from our community about the details of our partnership and we want you to know that we are listening. Following are the answers to your most asked questions.
[Please know that it was never our intent to hurt or offend anyone.]

Is J.K. Rowling associated with this collection?
J.K. Rowling is not directly involved in the creation of this MeUndies collection, however, her body of writing is the foundation of all projects in the Wizarding World.

To whom does MeUndies pay royalties?
Our partnership is with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, we pay all our royalties to Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

Is J.K. Rowling profiting off of your purchase?
Our partnership is with Warner Bros. Consumer Products so we are not privy to their deals with the author.

Given J.K. Rowling’s tweets, why did you make this product in the first place?
Back in 2018, we did consumer research to determine which prints you would like to see — Harry Potter was at the top of the list. Because of this, we began talks with Warner Bros. Consumer Products that very same year to develop this product. Developing a print takes almost a year on its own and coupling with several other factors, this particular collection took over 2 years to develop. The decision to move forward with the print was primarily based on feedback from our community. Today, MeUndies is dedicated to ensuring that each of our future projects align with our own values and our community’s values. We have already set up an internal Diversity & Equity Board to not only help vet potential partners moving forward but to help educate our internal team on how we do better at practicing our own values.

Okay, so you developed it awhile ago. Why did you still decide to release this product?
While we have plenty of successes to celebrate, we are still a relatively small company. Our Harry Potter collection was slated to be our biggest release of 2020. Given our investment and the revenue we initially planned from this release, pulling this collection would have been devastating to our company and had significant implications for the future.

What is MeUndies’ stance on J.K. Rowling’s tweets?
From our own perspective, we as a brand strongly disagree with her comments and as a brand that promotes self-expression and inclusivity above all things, we’ve made it a priority to empower marginalized communities whose self-expression is hindered by systemic oppression-this includes the trans community.

Will you be donating profits to an organization that supports the trans community?
There are a couple of reasons why we are unable to donate the profits of this collection.
First, similarly to why we are unable to cancel the collection entirely, the blow to our business would be far too severe given the size of this launch.
Secondly, it is very rare that we donate the entire profits of a particular collection. Our business is set up so that everything we sell can be used to make year-round donations to the causes we care most about through our MeUndies Gives initiative. Supporting charitable organizations that align with our values is extremely important to us-this includes organizations that support the trans community. Over the past 4 years, we have donated to incredible organizations that support the trans community including: The LA LGBT Center, The True Colors Fund, The Happy Hippie Foundation, and It Gets Better Project.

Are there any plans for a future Harry Potter print?
At this time, we have no future plans to release any more Harry Potter products.

Why did you donate profits of your American Flag print, but not this collection?
After releasing our American Flag print, we did make an exception to our typical strategy and donated its profits to the Brennan Center for Justice. Unlike our Harry Potter collection, this was a small enough collection, and we decided that our business could afford the financial hit.
I don’t care about your timelines or your business decisions. You ultimately decided to release a product that goes against my values. Why should I continue to support MeUndies?
We hope that you do but understand if you don’t. It was honestly a very difficult decision to release this product. Ultimately, we chose to move forward and hoped the values of the Harry Potter story (acceptance, diversity, equality) would shine through.

Let’s break this entire statement down on what really shines and what doesn’t work at all. Starting with the good, you can pinpoint when into account a timeframe of everything involving the situation between development and when things begun with Rowling, her mask falling off around very early June of this year. There have been signs of transphobic activity when she was caught favoriting tweets made by transphobes for a while now, but the issue of that never came up until she doubled down on her transphobia. By finding out that the collection been in development since early 2019 means we have a time frame of development and that this was very late in production that it might have been impossible to not go forward with this.

Other good points include them attempting to reassure their consumers with “yeah, we don’t agree with her” and that’s something I can sincerely believe given how they do promote the LGBT community and tries to uplift them often through models and showcasing them in advertisements. They also say that they’ve already brought in an internal Diversity & Equity team to prevent another situation like this to make sure that both our values as consumers and their values as a company are met. This is all the positives that they mentioned though.

The bad is basically the ugly; let’s talk about the elephant in the room. How they end this entire statement, saying “we get it if you don’t, but maybe pwease do buy our stuff 🥺”, is one of the worst ways to “explain” your product to people who’ve felt betrayed by this reveal. Even if it’s not what they intended, it reads as such. Reading the last point’s question, it is phrased in a manner that makes it come off very scathing to it reading like a “tantrum” rather than have it be more tempered. One way they could have wrote their last question would be as so: “The release of this collection has actively made me uncomfortable to support MeUndies, regardless of intent and situation. Why should I support MeUndies in the coming future?” Between the question and the response, the last question is the biggest red flag of this all. You don’t make your consumers sound like crying children not getting what they want. People are not as sensitive as you’d think and can just simply cancel and move on, as many already have.

Adding to the salt in the wound is their decision to include in the statement that they donate to LGBT charities to say “we’re not bigoted, we do good things” and it wouldn’t be another red flag if they hadn’t pointed it out. Pair that with comparing it with the Brennan Center of Justice sudden donation shift, it just reads like they’re trying to dodge the point of what’s being pointed out and hiding behind their good deeds. Funnily enough, omitting it would make for a stronger statement and they even had the perfect excuse! With their partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, they had the perfect opportunity to say “due to terms in our contract, we were unable to donate/stop the project at this time.” Not only would it have alleviate them of some responsibility and passed it onto WBCP, it would at least keep a sense of consumer trust they were aiming for. I’m not the one to make excuses for or give corporations a pass though and MeUndies is no different, despite being small.

Where do we go from here?

You’ve made this far and you might be asking yourself “but what about this is transphobic? Spending money for clothing isn’t doing any harm!” but it’s not about buying clothes is transphobic, it’s is about who profits off you buying this particular set of clothes. To fully understand, let’s jump back to royalties. J.K. Rowling still profits off anything that is produced under Harry Potter because of royalties. She still owns the franchise, still holds rights to the books, games, amusement parks, and many other deals, which includes clothing. If it has the Wizarding World on it, it’s under her thumb and any sale pockets her money.

The point of this is by willingly spending money to support a transphobe, you are committing an action that is transphobic. It’s not that you have to be a transphobe too! Anyone can perform acts of transphobia unconsciously, from acts of accidental misgendering to enforcing gender roles without realizing. Accidently spending money on a transphobe can legitimately happen. You do not have to be a transphobe to perform any act of transphobia, no matter how incidental.

However, no matter how much of “too late” it was that this collection was in development, MeUndies made the decision to attempt to make money off this without any kind of reassurance and believing that their consumer base would trust them after having been burnt by other companies before. They actively decided the money was more important than their values and, to an extent, we don’t know how big the blow would be if they didn’t follow through. Would they face penalties from Warner Bros. Consumer Products for not going the full way through? We will simply never know. All we do know is that:
1. MeUndies saw this collection as a big break for big sales, regardless of what happened earlier this year.
2. Despite saying they don’t agree with Rowling, they decided to release this product anyways, saying that their deal is with WBCP and not Rowling, while dodging the questions of if it’s connected to Rowling when it’s clear she still own the franchise.
3. They released way too many copy & pasted statements to people who did send in anything on both twitter and e-mail as if they were prepared and aimed to pacify their audience than communicating.

It does seem like they do want to aim to get better, their statement does reflect that, but then again, it reflects not wanting to be held accountable for what they did with that last part and the e-mail. The idea they keep asserting “the values of the Harry Potter story (acceptance, diversity, equality)” among the statement and responses sent would be enough to secure their own safety when the story of Harry Potter doesn’t fully even reflect those qualities, especially when the author herself doesn’t and you cannot use death of the author, an argument that claims author holds no weight in their works, to try to justify this when she has tweeted far long after about how “Dumbledore is gay” and many other facts after the stories have closed, going forward to work on other linked projects such as Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. You cannot actively argue for a point that doesn’t reflect its own values and that’s what makes this a moot point to try to convey to others.

You can’t claim to be for the trans community when you are actively supporting a product, that in the end, is funding someone who actively holds contempt and disgust against us. Holding the fact you supported LGBT charities as a trophy of proof that you’re an ally doesn’t make you an ally. Claiming you can do something good doesn’t make you good. A lot of us in the LGBT community have hard trust issues with capitalism taking advantage of us as many of us had been before. This is the first real issue that MeUndies has had from my knowledge so all I can say for now is this: do better. Do not just tell your consumers when we ask why should we support you as a company “we hope that you do but understand if you don’t” and that you hoped the values of the product would overcome the actual problem at hand, sidestepping the entirety of J.K. Rowling herself. Your words are empty unless we see more proof of actions and for myself, I’m giving you time, but I’m not giving you my money until I see improvement.

What can I do now if I was planning to buy some MeUndies but don’t feel comfortable doing so at this point?

If you considered spending money on MeUndies and don’t feel comfortable anymore doing so, there’s a thread of inclusive underwear brands that can give you more options. Especially during COVID-19, smaller businesses need the support to stay afloat through this time when others may not be able to afford their product. By taking time to throw money towards these small businesses, you’re helping brands that support and care about trans people at this time and that goes a long way.

If you feel like you want to help support the community instead, then redirect that energy and support trans people, especially Black trans people. Put your money into supporting trans folk as myself and others who have been faced with violence from the US President and his Cabinet here and those affected in other countries who may need it. Support Black lives as well, especially now. They face more injustices and by reading up on everything happening, educating yourself, finding out what you can do, even if it’s just spreading word, donating where you can, or emailing your state government (if you live in the US), you can do something to help. Using that money you were going to own on Black owned and trans owned businesses do a lot more than a company that “supports LGBT people” but doesn’t put it back into the community. By supporting Black owned and LGBT owned businesses directly, you’re letting your money speak for you where your values lie.

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