A Trump Ad Used Her To ‘Demonize’ Trans People. Now, She’s Speaking Out 

Lifestyle

When trans content creator and activist James Rose woke up on a Monday in mid-May, she didn’t expect her normal day prepping for a regional stage production to end with a call-out from the former President of the United States. But Rose, who uses she/they pronouns, tells Rolling Stone that on her way to rehearsal, her phone began to blow up with texts. 

In a new ad, paid for by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, a clip of James and her friend, fellow TikToker and trans activist Dylan Mulvaney, is featured among stark images of war, crime, and nuclear explosions — all threats the ad says can only be stopped by Trump. 

“I’m doing Cabaret at Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts, which feels like the perfect show to be doing right now given that it’s about the rise of fascism — and what are we currently living through politically right now,” Rose says. “I was on my way to rehearsal and I looked at [the link] and I had a breakdown in my friend’s car. I just started crying.” 

In an emotional video she posted on TikTok, which now has 1.3 million views, Rose revealed that the video was one of the first times she had experienced shame over being trans, not because she wasn’t proud of who she was, but because she felt like she had failed her community. Now, with some distance, she says that while being featured in the ad, and targeted by right-wing extremists wasn’t pleasant, the experience emphasized to her how important trans activism is — and told her that her content is working. 

“The beauty of not having a monolithic community is that there are so many ways to be trans and not one is more right than the other,” Rose says. “What the ad reaffirmed for me is that my joy is working. And I use joy as an act of political resistance. If I have somehow become a threat to the 45th President of the United States, I must be doing something right.” 

What were some of the emotions going through your head once you saw the ad? 

I was able to laugh within 24 hours about it, which is, I think, a good turnaround time, but unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of practice. This is not my first time being targeted by influential people on the right, but I have never been targeted so specifically by somebody of such high power — unpredictable, bully-like power — before. My first thought was the safety of myself and the people around me. And then the second thing I said was ‘God, I can’t wait to laugh about this. At some point I’m gonna get to the point where this is funny.’

With the ongoing political focus on trans issues, were you surprised to see your image being used by the former President? What do you think the purpose of the ad was? 

This was a moment of trans joy between me and my friend Dylan. And for somebody to weaponize that moment felt very intentional. It is very important to see people who are young and new to their transition celebrating their transness, especially publicly when there is such ridicule, and Donald Trump and his team were using that. The rest of the video was stock images of war and then, James and Dylan are the next villains. That was intentional and dangerous because it emboldens people to continue to target and attack transgender people.

As a content creator who is also an activist, how do you balance such intense levels of hate with what you consider to be such an important message and goal? 

As long as we’ve had history, we’ve had trans people. So I am not the face of the movement. But for a political party to try to use me and Dylan as such shows that we’re a very powerful community. I am somebody who does my best to, metaphorically, hold the hands of people who are coming into themselves as transgender and say, ‘You are deserving and worthy of love,’ and, ‘You deserve to be honored and respected for your identity.’ 

How did Dylan take the ad? Were you two able to commiserate?

Yes, we have this saying, ‘Protect your peace.’ I always tell her I love her and she’s always wonderfully supportive. At the end of the day, all we have is community. We look similar but we are different people with different hurdles that we’re facing right now. She has my support and I have her support. 

We had a friendship before we started really taking off online and I’m grateful for that. But I have talked to her and I’m grateful for her friendship and for her support. She sent me a picture of her in her author era and I sent her a picture of me on a kayak and we were like ‘We’re gonna get through this.’

How has this year felt different for the trans community, being at the center of this ongoing culture war? 

The Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU have both [said] that 2023 is already the worst year on record legislatively for transgender people. We have over 500 bills that are circulating our legislature at multiple levels, whether it’s state or federal and the attacks are targeted. My identity has become a political ping-pong ball. A few years ago, when I came out, everybody just wanted to understand what it was, but it felt like they were coming from a place of genuine curiosity and care. Now, it comes from a place of demonization and villainization. The Republican Party and alt-right extremists have labeled us as societal menaces, falsely, and they’ve labeled us as a bigger threat. So I think that’s what we have to be very careful of. It’s about more than just me being used in an ad. It could have been me but it could have been anybody else. This is about an attempt to demonize a minority population, that isn’t bothering anybody. We’re just asking for equal rights. 

Have situations like Target pulling Pride merch changed how you or other content creators are approaching collabs and partnerships this season? 

For me, something that I’ve always negotiated into my contracts is protection. So if there is pushback from this on a massive platform, I want the company to come out and make a statement in solidarity with transgender people. And if you’re not willing to do that, then you can’t use my face and my image and my likeness. I think brands need to look at what Anheuser Busch did and do the exact opposite. You can’t use transgender or LGBTQ people right now without knowing there’s going to be pushback. You have to decide what hills you’re going to die on. And the hill that I want brands to die on is the hill of equality. If you’re going to be using trans people to further your brand and to make money off of us, then you better support us while you do it. If not, then it is simply another act of violence. 

Do you think the heightened anger and outrage surrounding LGBTQ voices and Pride month will change how much you or other trans influencers choose to share online? 

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It’s very scary because there are many conversations amongst us that are very visible in the trans community online. And the fear is, is this the rest of our lives? For some people, that’s a fear that they don’t feel like they can maintain and there will be an endpoint for their activism. I think of a quote from Qween Jean, one of the leaders of the Black trans liberation movement. She always says, ‘I’m not tired yet.’ And I think about that all the time. I am not tired yet. 

Because there are still more people to love, not more people to fight. And that’s what’s very important to me. If I were wiped off the face of the earth right now, there would be another trans person that would take this place, and they would continue the fight. And that means that as long as I have this platform, I’m going to love my community as much as I possibly can. Sometimes that means fighting the bigots, but mostly to me, that means loving my community. Until every trans person feels as loved as they possibly can, and until we have changed the tide of our society towards a positive one around trans people, I will continue to love. 

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