This week, British craft beer company BrewDog launched a “non-binary transgender beer.”
In their own words, the “No Label” brew uses “hops that have changed sex from female to male flowers prior to harvest.” These were used to “emphasise that just like humans, beer can be whatever the hell it wants to be.”
Let’s stop right there.
Beer cannot “be whatever the hell it wants to be.” Beer can only be beer. It can’t grow legs and decide it wants to compete in the Olympics. It can’t run for President of the United States. All it can really do is cause a chemical imbalance in people that leads either to violent human interaction outside pubs, or intimate human interaction inside bedrooms.
Equally, transgender people cannot be whatever the hell they want to be. They can only try their damndest to be who they are without Germaine Greer telling them they just want to fuck Kanye West.
Another thing the BrewDog marketing team fails to realise is that transpeople do not “change sex.” A transwoman, for example, is born a woman but with outward signs of the wrong gender. She often seeks to redress this with gender reassignment surgery, so that her genitalia matches the sex she actually is.
For this reason, a plant that can self-pollinate can’t be compared to transgender people, just as insects who asexually reproduce can’t be compared to transgender people. This misunderstanding of human beings’ ability to change sex is at the crux of much transphobia.
Of course, BrewDog’s “non-binary” beer is really a gimmick intended to placate people angry over the company’s recent transphobic promotional video, which managed to mock transpeople, sex workers, and the homeless in one fell swoop. Presumably, it’s only a matter of time before we’re drinking “sex worker beers” shaped like dildos and a “homeless beer” you can only drink from a paper bag.
I asked Ottilie Ratcliffe from the BrewDog press office to tell me more about No Label. She said: “We’ve wanted to create a transgender beer for a while now but it was meeting with [LGBT events group] Queerest of the Queer and chatting with them about the LGBTQI+ community that led us to create one. We’re well aware that transgender [sic] is a highly sensitive subject, and we were keen not to cause offence to anyone, so wanted to work with a transgender group to ensure we got the language right—hence why we’ve been careful to use the term ‘non-binary transgender.’”
Beer cannot “be whatever the hell it wants to be.” Beer can only be beer. It can’t grow legs and decide it wants to compete in the Olympics. It can’t run for President of the United States.
Does that make it OK to compare transgender people to beer hops or proclaim that they can “be whoever they want to be,” despite being murdered and driven to suicide in far higher numbers than the cis population?
Sadly, in the same way people believe being gay is something you choose, all BrewDog’s beer does is perpetuate the myth that such issues are lifestyle choices. In reality, it’s the difficulty in obtaining a true sense of self that leads to astronomical levels of depression, suicide, ridicule, and bankruptcy among transpeople. A “transgender beer” mocks the seriousness of their plight.
No Label isn’t BrewDog’s first attempt at getting involved with LGBTQ campaigns. Last year, they concocted the “Hello My Name is Vladimir” beer in response to Putin’s anti-gay laws, with 50 percent of proceeds going to LGBT rights charity Stonewall (not to gay organisations in Russia, mind).
But for No Label—the profits from which will go to Queerest of the Queer to distribute among transgender youth charities—Stonewall has been less receptive. A spokesperson from the organisation said: “While it’s encouraging to see BrewDog raising money for trans youth communities and we like the ‘No Label’ concept, we’re concerned about the language. The trans community is diverse—many trans people do not transition or identify with binary genders, and BrewDog’s language undermines that.”
It also trivialises it. As Twitter user @S0phieH points out: “Beer wasn’t gendered until you gendered it. You are the least transpositive thing that could happen to beer.” @adultmomband adds: “Transphobia is the creation of transbeer made by punk cis bros who commodify trans people and erase/ignore and perpetuate trans violence.”
But perhaps we’re underestimating BrewDog. Perhaps hordes of transpeople will flock to their outlets and down pints of No Label and feel better. Perhaps cis people will see the error of their often transphobic views after putting away enough of the 4.6 percent volume good stuff and decide that, on second thoughts, Julie Burchill calling trans women “big white blokes who have cut their cocks off” was pretty disgraceful, after all.
My bet is that people will buy No Label once, make jokes about how they grew tits after drinking it, and BrewDog will feel righteous when they send their pitifully tiny cheque to Queerest of the Queer.
Cheers to that.