The social media age isn't really designed for nuance, and this is a big frustration when trying to understand, or even educate, around things that are by nature nuanced, like gender identity and sexuality. One of the more odious frustrations about conversations related to sex involves the fact that people fixate on genitals. Which ones were you born with? What junk do you have now? Have you changed them?
Creepy questions, really, and an especially fraught topic to navigate for trans people, who know intimately that the act of becoming is not solely physical. It's emotional, social, and also liminal; there are all sorts of strange initiations to traverse, some cultural and some spiritual.
There are, perhaps, name changes, choices to make when faced with gendered spaces, and a whole renegotiation of personal style and ways of being. A second adolescence, and who wants another one of those?
Diesel's "Francesca," brought to you by Publicis Italy, explores these nuances nicely.
"Francesca" follows someone who was assigned male at birth, and follows her transition with delicacy from start to finish.
You feel the difficulty of the road ahead in that first scene, when she gazes at herself and silently measures where she is against where she's headed. There are triumphs, like the moment she loses herself dancing alone in a body she's beginning to align with. There's the everyday work, tiny markers in a long road—like taking hormone pills. And of course there's denouement, which is unique to Francesca, even if we thought, all this time, that we understood what she wanted.
One thing we've always enjoyed about Diesel is its tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the slogan "For Successful Living," and that serves the brand well here. It sounds like capitalism, but it's bent to accommodate personal agency in ways unrelated to financial "success" (though, to be fair, Diesel jeans are pricey).
Usually the heroes are people on the fringes of "acceptable" culture: "Go with the Flaw" is a breathless celebration of what others may shun in you. "Be a Follower" makes it feel cool to opt out of aspirational influencer culture. "Hate Couture" had celebrities reappropriate some of the worst insults they receive on social media, literally by wearing them. And to really drive the point home, a spot in early February depicts a man who, like Superman, is born super but pretends to be more mediocre than he is, because that's all this lame culture can bear.
"Francesca" is in keeping with these kaleidoscopic stories of success. But our favorite thing lies in how "successful living" is defined specifically for her: The process of "becoming" a woman in the ways we understand is only one part of Francesca's journey, a step toward a larger, and pretty unique, dream: Francesca becomes a nun.
The realization of that ambition—exchanging jeans for a wimple, in a religion that isn't historically known for propagating progressive values, often at the expense of women or people outside the cishet box—is Francesca's definition of successful living. It doesn't really matter what you think.
That her story is depicted without a word from her is also important. Plenty's been said about how minorities are asked to perform the labor of explaining themselves in minute detail to people who aren't necessarily prepared to understand (or even those who are), again and again. There is a privacy to Francesca's journey that refutes that. She is not here to be the Joan of Arc of the trans experience. It is our job to watch, make the necessary empathic connections, and internalize this tale through the connectivity inherent to truly projecting into a single experience, versus relying on its capacity to argue.
That's what makes this piece great: It doesn't try to generalize the experience of all trans people. Sometimes brands do that, and it feels like simpering, victim-villain caricature. And one of the difficulties of being a minority is dealing with the fact that people sometimes treat you, a single person, like a representative or authority for a massive and diverse group.
It's not all trans stories. Instead, it's one: Francesca's story. And hopefully it's one among many others that trickle into the mainstream, nuancing our understanding of the trans experience so we can finally feel in our bones what is so obvious: Transition is the only certainty anybody gets. We are experiencing it now, collectively. It is always a little scary, always a little chaotic, and at its beginning, the road feels long and a bit depressing. All this can be brought to bear when trying to understand the trans experience. And when it is, we come to understand that the right to live in alignment with what's inside is a collective fight, one we are forever engaged in.
"Francesca" features model/activist Harlow Monroe, a trans woman. It was written by Silvia Serreli, with art direction from Mattia Mingardo and directed by Division's François Rousselet. Diversity, an Italian association that promotes social inclusion, was consulted for campaign development.
It marks the launch of Diesel's Pride-focused 2020 capsule collection, with imagery and collateral designed with social distancing considerations in mind, and alongside LGBTQI+ people around the world—Sofia Malamute, Stella Lucia, Saro and Ian Isiah, and Kai Isiah Jamal. Per FuckingYoung.es, each of them created assets from their perspective and in their own homes or spaces, which has become something of a Covid-19 production norm.
The brand's seasonal campaign will include a partnership with Club Quarantine to host a 24-hour global rave in late June, via Zoom. And along with the OTB Foundation, created by its parent company, Diesel will support the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, and Transgender Europe.