Ever since the rumours first started about a year ago that Elon Musk was planning to buy Twitter, many of its users have been looking for a viable alternative to the social media platform. For trans Twitter users in particular, the need to migrate elsewhere feels urgent.
Trans people have long used the internet to meet each other, establish needed social connections and work on organizing. At some point along the information superhighway’s journey, Twitter became one of the primary outlets for many trans people to build community.
With Musk taking over leadership of the company, however, many of us openly wondered about the safety of our future on the platform. These days my own Twitter mentions are overrun with transphobes, TERFs and the seemingly ubiquitous porn bots that have sprung up on the platform of late. The need for a Twitter replacement has never been more pressing. It’s not just me: according to a recent study, hate speech on the site has nearly doubled since Musk’s takeover.
In recent weeks, though, a new social media outlet has allowed its trans members to flourish. While it’s currently small at 80,000 users —and accessible by invite only—Bluesky is a new platform started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey that has been attracting many trans users. The key to safety for its trans members, at least for now, is its invitation-only system of access. In order to open an account on the site, you need to be directly invited by an existing user, meaning someone has to vouch for you before you can start sharing your thoughts. And invites are hard to come by: most users only get one invite code to share every two weeks.
Trans people, as is often the case with new technology, have been early adopters of the site, and have built a culture of equal parts funny and notoriously sexy. I joined Bluesky a few weeks ago and have started reconnecting with many of my friends from Twitter. Unlike on Twitter, though, I haven’t once been called a slur or a man or made to feel subhuman.
Being on Bluesky feels like the better days of trans Twitter, like when we all came together to mock and celebrate Eddie Redmayne’s loss for his Oscar-bait performance of a trans woman in The Danish Girl at the Academy Awards, or when we would joyfully post transition timeline photos without concern that some creepy TERF would steal them to create anti-trans propaganda.
Bluesky is reminding trans people what social media can be without the constant spectre of abuse from those who hate us. We used to have that freedom before hatred of trans people became a constant conservative obsession and before allegedly liberal media outlets decided that our healthcare and livelihood was grist for their content.
I didn’t realize just how worn down and jaded Twitter had made me until I logged on to Bluesky and took in the welcoming atmosphere on the site. There’s no brigades of transphobes ready to descend on your account if you speak slightly out of line, there are no loser pundits screeching about how democracy will die if people aren’t allowed to call others slurs. It’s just normal people talking about their day or the news without the excessive harassment that comes with Twitter.
Some people joke there that transsexuals run the place. I think that’s a slight exaggeration. It’s more that trans people are talented at creating culture and can thrive—when we aren’t constantly fending off hate. Trans people have a unique view on how the world works, particularly when it comes to gender, and we frequently use humour to weather the many uncomfortable or weird situations we find each other in. It makes for good social media posting.
For years, the internet has been one of the few legitimate places where trans people can truly exist. The internet’s anonymity has also given trans people a safe space to explore their own gender identities. Hell, my first Twitter username was @closettransgirl because I needed a place to express my identity as a woman, but couldn’t ever imagine myself ever having the guts to pursue a medical or social transition. Seeing trans people flourish and meeting other trans people on Twitter gave me the courage I needed to pursue my true identity back in 2016.
Transphobes, in turn, seek to infiltrate and disrupt these friendly spaces. In order to prevent more of us from transitioning—or to prevent us from living comfortably as openly trans—they understand that they need to hit closeted trans people early and often with hate and make them live in fear of ever coming out. That’s why they work so relentlessly at harassing us wherever we exist. They need that access to us; it is critical to their mission. We as trans people don’t really need them for any purpose at all.
Being a space away from the exceedingly high levels of transphobic harassment found on other sites is what sets Bluesky apart from its counterparts, especially Musk’s Twitter.
There have been some cases of transphobia on the site, but so far, the site’s moderation system has moved quickly to ban users spreading hate. My worry is that the site’s ability to move quickly is due not to good, robust moderation systems, but to the fact that there’s a relatively small number of total users on the platform. BlueSky higher-ups have announced that they’re planning on going with decentralized moderation rather than the centralized system where one internal team handles all moderation decisions on their own. Specifically, Bluesky is developing a labelling system that lets any user or service on the platform set custom and personalized boundaries for individual posts. That will allow users to filter out posts with specific labels so they never hit their skyline (the Bluesky equivalent of a Twitter timeline) to begin with.
But therein lies the danger. Eventually, Bluesky will open up its membership to the public, effectively ending the invitation-only system that has so far protected its trans users. Once that happens, the blue skies may start to look a little cloudier. But trans people on the platform will likely have to go back through and self-censor old posts and photos to keep them away from the obsessive eyes of our transphobic interlopers.
I just hope that Bluesky is able to build out a robust moderation system before it jumps at adding the millions of users already on its waiting list. Trans people’s safety on the platform depends on it.