Ellen Degeneres once asked, “Do we have to know who’s gay and who’s straight? Can’t we just love everybody and judge them by the car they drive?” Apparently not. Earlier this year, Infiniti released an ad drawing a parallel between the process of coming out, often one that denotes pain and societal rejection, and choosing a different luxury car model. The ad, titled “Legacy” opens with a young man pulling up to the driveway of his elaborate childhood home, taking a deep breath as he anxiously prepares to meet his father. We see the man with his arms crossed, reminiscing over pictures of himself and his father, while dramatic music filled with regret looms in the background. When his father, a serious, conservative looking older man joins him in the living room, the young man takes one final glance at a picture of the two of them at his graduation and confesses, “look, this isn’t easy for me either.” Stammering, he continues, “I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but it just feels right,” leaving readers anticipating for the young man to come out. Immediately the scene intercuts to the young man racing down the highway in an Infiniti, and we learn that “it” actually refers to his decision to pursue one luxury car instead of another. Panning back to the living room the disapproving father remarks, “This isn’t how we raised you.” The young man pleads with his father, asking him “Didn’t you ever want to try it,” posing a dangerous double entendre. Cutting him off, the father declares “enough.” In their final interactions, the young man pleads, “you must have known I was a little different.” Having the last word, the father remarks, “this isn’t how we raised you.” The final scene of the ad shows the young man racing off in his sports car, with a message from Infiniti encouraging viewers to “start your own legacy.”
However, this pseudo-coming out narrative is problematic for many reasons. For instance, the experience of coming out isn’t marked by the privilege of driving a sports car. Despite the disapproval of his father, the young man can drive off in his sports car and “start his own legacy.” Unfortunately, for many LGBTQ+ individuals, the legacy of coming out results in homeless youth, countless suicides, and overall societal rejection. The reality is that individuals who do not confine to heterosexuality suffer from socio-economic injustices, and constructing an ad that commercializes homosexual identities is deeply, morally troubling. Encouraging viewers to “create their own legacy” reveals an assumption underlying the ad’s creation that being gay is analogous to a break in tradition. The luxurious Infiniti provides an escape for the young man, signifying his privilege in remaining unaffected socio-economic and cultural degradation. This proves to be extremely disrespectful to countless LGBTQ+ individuals who encounter reduced job prospects or remain impoverished after being shunned by their family; for these individuals, purchasing a luxury car is not an option. Gay and transgender workers are increasingly subjected to high rates of discrimination regarding hiring, firing, and wages, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. The Williams Institute found that gay and bisexual men are positioned to earn ten to thirty-two percent less than their heterosexual male counterparts. As a result of increased workforce discrimination, a gay and transgender pay gap transcends the work place, further rendering the privileged portrayal of homosexuality far-fetched from reality. Likening the experience of coming out to the decision to forgo a luxury car not only posits sexuality as a choice, but also associates the intolerance facing individuals who fall outside heterosexuality with privilege.
Additionally, the ad frames the coming out experience within wealthy White American home also, reveals an underlying assumption of homonormativity undergirding the makers of the ad. Ignoring the intersectionality surrounding homosexuality dismisses the racial dimensions of power and privilege in coming out narratives. To the same extent that heteronormativity has subjugated homosexuality, homonormativity has associated changes in societal perceptions of “coming out,” ignoring the lack of progress experienced by minorities. While the coming out narrative is becoming more frequently associated with societal normalization, the experience of individuals not privileged by race is ignored. In this way, the coming out narrative has evolved to exclude the discriminations faced by those who cross intersectional boundaries. Unfolding the pseudo-coming out narrative in a traditional WASP household, with a brick mansion and manicured lawn, the ad perpetuates notions of homonormativity and diminishes the experiences of minorities whom, belonging to two marginalized groups, face intense discrimination and prejudice. As a result, the stories of minorities, who struggle with racial and homophobic discrimination are made invisible, which perpetuates the failure of society to recognize, validate, and empathize with the experiences of the “not so traditional gay.”
The makers of the add create a double entendre underlying question “Didn’t you ever want to try it” portrays the desire to transcend heteronormative boundaries as tempting and rebellious, which simply is unreflective of the reality of crossing these norms. While the young man is portrayed as rebellious and exciting in his decision to “try it,” identifying as homosexual in a disapproving, unaccepting family is far from attractive. Findings from the Williams institute indicate that 40% of homeless youth served by housing programs and youth shelters identify as LGBTQ+. Consequently, many young LGBTQ+ individuals refrain from expressing, out of fear of isolation and rejection from their families.
If Infiniti was trying to brand itself as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, it failed. If executives constructed this ad off the notion that society has normalized homosexuality, then they are very wrong. While the ad makers may see modern America as post gay, the reality facing gender queer and homosexual individuals is one of discrimination, violence, social rejection, and often suicide. Creating a framework that claims to see all forms of sexual orientation equal ignores the social reality that heterosexuality is so embedded in society that queer individuals continue to face overt discrimination. The media is a powerful tool that should be used to dismantle social constructions that discriminate against marginalized groups, and Infiniti could have used their corporate power to construct an ad underscoring the pain of coming out or enlightening viewers on the intersectionality that transcends homosexuality. Instead, the makers of the ad decided to appropriate the coming out narrative in order to increase car sales, which is deeply upsetting in a society where LGBTQ+ individuals are targeted, marginalized, and subjugated daily. Unfortunately, as long as the reality among queer individuals is one of lived discrimination, we can’t pretend to not see or be affected by sexuality.