I’m trying to get involved in stuff here in the Netherlands. It’s hard. The Dutch seem private, and you know, 30’s—our tribes are set. Thus, I still have a large digital presence. There’s Facebook which shows me what my friends are eating, or which beach they’re laying on on the far side of the earth. Similarly useless seems to be all the discussion boards or community spaces that just seem to bring out the worst in people. Trolling, bad behaviour, a lack of general ability to formulate ideas, what’s the point? We connect to people who reflect our own basic ideas about the world, and when we aren’t masturbating into a mirror, then we are screaming at each other. I really dislike that the following idea aligns to the alt-right, and I think that they are totally misusing it, but we really can’t seem to hear the antithesis of ourselves in public/digital spaces. The alt-right means by this that PC culture is allergic to opinions that are not their own, which there is some truth in; but, what they want is space to vent their hate speech, which is not really the kind of two-sided dialogue they are pretending to seek. Honestly, both sides can’t stomach hearing the other. The alt-right is just beating their drum harder about it at the moment. Essentially I see the internet as a means for us to shutdown, to engage in our own confirmation biases, and generally forget civility—both sides of the political spectrum aren’t immune to this.
Reddit has been really important to me. It’s not free of trolling, in fact, I’ve had some thrown at me, nothing bad. But if I tow the line and don’t go against the grain I can eek out some answers. But I can’t get beyond the feeling that it’s not really a community. People generally do well to respond to people in crisis, but beyond that, there are two other post types that get a lot of attention: sensational posts such as “do you still like pegging after HRT,” or images. I’m okay with the first, who doesn’t want to read about being fucked in the ass? It’s so much less messy to read about…I’m concerned about the other type of post, images. While I get a thrill from likes in r/transpassing or whatever, I’ve been thinking about something someone said in passing recently. I think they were talking about a ftm friend who is transitioning in their late 30’s and that they found it so unhealthy to be in online trans spaces—we were discussing blogs as a form to convey trans narratives. I must say, I agree.
If you look at Tumblr or r/transtimelines or r/transpassing, the people who get the likes are the people who most adhere to heteronormative beauty ideals. Which is fine, I want to look like a cis female too! But it’s a problem when we only celebrate these kinds of trans narratives. I think this article about Playboy is a good example of a bad trend. Ines Rau is now Play Boy’s first trans playmate. Oh goodie. Also, I think Caroline Cossey owns that crown, or did she not get it because of lexical evolution: “transsexual” v “transgender.” Anyway, I saw this on Reddit this morning and almost everyone said something good about it. I almost said something against it but didn’t because I could imagine the responses I’d get. But people are seriously excited about this. So why is this a bad thing? And who cares if hot trans boys and girls get lots of likes.
Well, these are examples of trans upholding the status quo, the heteronormative gender hierarchy, i.e. the patriarchy. This is transnormativity. Despite Hefner being lauded with regards to his LGBT activism, he was a misogynist. And no, I am not being moralistic with regards to polyamorous relationships. Hefner exploited women. He paid 500 dollars for Monroe’s nudes, which she sold earlier for 50 bucks to help pay some bills. She died from a drug overdose and he built an empire on her images, which she never saw a penny from. That’s exploitation. So why are we celebrating this system?
At the end of the day, I have to wonder about the internet—this thing that I’ve seen grow with me through my life (I was six when it launched publicly). Does it make us smarter? It radically enhances our access to information, but without the critical thinking skills to shift through the shit, what good is that? Does it not just reinforce our biases? I always look up where a source is coming from so I can try to understand its political biases. I try to teach my students this. To what avail? I don’t know. Just as my teenage students are susceptible to the negative impact of social media and repetitive images of what they “should” look like, do, like, be, etc., the internet similarly enforces negative and restrictive conceptualization of trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary folks. Sandy Stone in her seminal “Posttranssexual Manifesto” called for “trans people” to take control of their own narratives because they had radically anti-normative capabilities. The internet has so much potential for this (it occasionally achieves it), but like so many other potentialities of the internet, I doubt its efficacy. The internet also has radical potential to reassert dominant narratives. And I fear this is the internet we have, unless you’re willing to dig below the surface.
I will finish by pointing out that my posts could potentially be read as an agent of transnormativity. I hope that my international transition and my frank discussion of the nonlinear nature of it potentially breaks this mold. My partner and I have also discussed the less than heteronormative nature of our relationship and I would describe both of us as queer. I also try to convey a sense that gender is complex, stemming from environmental, biological, and cultural factors. I will aspire to be more radically queer as I navigate this strange cultural milieu I find myself wrapped in. Especially in digital spaces.