My life changed a lot during the pandemic. Before March 2020, I was travelling every other week on a reporting assignment or to speak on a conference panel. During my off-time, I was meeting friends at the local queer bar every Tuesday night, and going to D.C. United soccer games. And then suddenly all of it was brought to a halt. These days, my life consists of me sitting at home, writing articles or Xtra columns, and spending most of my social time online.
The pandemic furthered our dependence on social media for what used to be everyday social interactions. Without in-person work, and public third places like bars and cafés, we as a society became more online than ever before, and that goes for trans people as well.
The internet, and social media, have long provided an escape for trans people who face discrimination every day. But lately online spaces have felt more fraught. Headlines about the dozens of conservative states that have moved to criminalize trans healthcare dominate the news cycle, and far-right pundits seem to be calling for our eradication or even public executions increasingly regularly.
With Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, and escalating transphobia being spread across many other large platforms, social media feels like an actively hostile place for trans people—even though it’s historically been a space where we find community and comradeship.
One of the beautiful things about the online world is that it allows us a little control over our surrounding environment, so we can curate spaces safe from the kind of street-level violence often visited upon gender nonconforming people.
But with all the political doom and gloom and harassment lately, social media has lost its shine for many trans people, myself included. It feels important to stay informed, but the constant cycle of doomposting, even from fellow trans people, about the various political statements and proposed laws threatening our livelihood has introduced a predictable pattern of depression to me and many of my closest friends.
Some trans journalists have built up large followings by constantly prognosticating the worst possible outcome of every little political machination. I agree we need to be ready and alert, but I question what consuming so much doomerism will do to us as a community over the long term—and I want us to make more space for the trans joy we can all experience on a day-to-day basis.
In a recent article for WIRED, Katherine Cross, a PhD candidate in information science at the University of Washington, described the current state of trans social media. “When you vent your anger and despair, it feels like you’re shouting into the compliant void, the digital equivalent of screaming into a pillow,” she wrote. “Who cares about ‘organizing strategies’? You’re in pain, damn it, screw everyone else, you just need to yell, cry, scream. The trouble is that you’re not exclaiming into a void, you’re screaming where everyone else can hear it. And your words will affect them.”
Trans people now need to have an escape from the place we’ve long used to escape from the real world.
The counter to doom is joy, and trans joy specifically can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Recently, for example, I stayed with my cousin, helping her recover from surgery and chatting away all day over episodes of Ted Lasso and The Mandalorian.
On that same trip, I met a trans journalist and gaming friend of mine in person for the first time. We had known one another through Twitter for years, and had recently started playing the online shooting game Valorant together with a larger group of friends. That deepening of our friendship, from online colleagues, to gaming friends, to now hanging out in person, has been a massive source of joy for me. Over drinks and chicken tenders, we talked a little about the scary state of the world for trans people, but soon found ourselves gossiping about journalism and recalling our funniest experiences of hunting the enemy together in Valorant.
None of these experiences are explicitly trans, but they are all examples of me, a trans person, finding joy in life. Being trans is just another state of being.
Our collective identities as trans people are no doubt threatened by the worst people in society right now, but we don’t win by miring in the slop they throw at us over social media. We win by living and being ourselves. We win by finding joy in a world where so many powers that be tell us we shouldn’t.