I gave some thought to titling this post “Should translators encourage their clients to be more gay-friendly?”, but the issue I’m mulling over is really about whether we should encourage our clients to be more inclusive in general. I should also say that although I’m not gay, I have a close family member who is, and I live in one of America’s most gay-friendly cities, so I might be more aware of this issue than some translators are.
With the identifying details removed, here’s the story: I’ve recently translated several corporate communications pieces (one was a questionnaire for a medical study and the other was a marketing piece for a line of luxury goods) that were written in a way that assumed that the target reader was straight. For example these pieces used expressions such as “his and hers,” “the patient’s mother and father,” etc. As mentioned above, I think that this type of phrasing jumps out at me because of the English documents that I’m used to reading. Case in point: the forms that my daughter’s school sends home now say “Parent or Guardian #1″ and Parent or Guardian #2” instead of “Mother” and “Father” because so many students have two parents of the same gender. But then again here in Boulder we can’t even refer to pet “owners”: we’re legally required to say pet guardians, so maybe it’s just us!
At any rate, when I went to prepare my page of client comments for each of these projects, I wondered how to phrase this issue. My objection to language such as “his and hers” when referring to an unidentified couple isn’t political; it’s based on my impression that the client risks offending some of their potential target market. Here in the U.S., it seems to be more common for mainstream companies to either produce gay-targeted ads, or ads for the general public that happen to include gay themes. This undoubtedly makes good business sense since gay men are some of America’s highest-spending consumers. When even mainstream companies like Johnson and Johnson (“for the go-go boy in all of us”…who knew?) and Campari are producing gay-targeted ads and American Express has a directory of gay and gay-friendly travel agents, it seems counterproductive not to alert a client to the potential business implications of assuming that all of their clients are heterosexual.
Unfortunately I can’t go into the specifics of the solution that I suggested for each client without saying more than I want to about the specifics of these projects. But I’m interested to hear from other translators about this topic in general: when a client has you translate a communications piece that makes assumptions about the target reader’s religion, race, sexual orientation or other “sensitive” characteristics, do you offer advice or leave it to the client to decide?
Another interesting point: when doing some research for the projects referenced above, I found that mainstream companies are producing gay-themed ads in other countries, and some of them are more overt than what we’re used to seeing in the U.S. market. For example this gay-themed ad for French McDonald’s (which uses the English slogan “come as you are” and even references the tension between a gay teen and his father) struck me as something we’d be unlikely to see on U.S. television.