Tag Archives: identity

From the Editors: Perpetual Ennui Edition

Since it’s been more than a month since we’ve released anything, I’d like to take a moment to discuss what has been happening and what plans are in the works. The month of April has been stressful for both duckie and myself. We’ve both been struggling with poverty and financial issues. Because of that, neither of us had time to prepare a large topic to discuss. That said, things are looking slightly better for the near future at least so we may be able to start producing content again.

I really want to start focusing on the resources section. This has been something we’ve promised from the outset and haven’t delivered on. For the next quarter my focus may shift from writing articles to collating and curating helpful links as well as creating resources pages.

That said, I do want to start soliciting more discussion topics from the community. If you have any leads, pitches, or resources you wish to see on the website, you can send them to my email [email protected] or send me a DM on twitter @FluffyPira.

Lastly, in terms of our finances, Inatri is nowhere near sustainable yet. You can donate to Inatri via PayPal or to our Patreon. I have my own PayPal and my own Patreon if you wish to make a personal donation. As always, if you like what you’ve read here please retweet, reblog, or link to us. Thank you so much for your continued support

Reconciling The Past

I have a problematic relationship with my past. This is not just in the sense that I have a good memory, and those memories often find themselves in my focus at the most inopportune times. Nor is it necessarily in the sense that I’ve done horrible things I’m not willing to admit. My problems with the past stem from the fact that the past exists, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It evokes the need to flee or to reconcile, and that is immensely problematic for me.

A few weekends ago I went to Hamilton for the bridal shower of a friend I’ve had since high school, and it made me think a lot about the past. I wouldn’t say I’m a stranger to Hamilton, I go back at least once a month, but I tend to stick to places that were never really associated with my childhood, and I tend to hang out with friends who grew with me as people. Having to go to this event and potentially see people I haven’t seen for more than 3 years meant that I would need to reconcile these two points in time and explain the gap, which means having to explain my transition.

I’ve often thought I would love to erase the past. Take the good, bad, and mediocre elements of my upbringing and just throw it all into a shredder. It’s extra weight I can’t seem to shake free, and as a trans woman this is simply a huge extra burden I have to deal with. No matter how hard you run, how well you can disappear, your past will be always be just another weapon that transphobes will try to use against you at every opportunity. Hate groups like TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and MRAs (“Men’s Rights Activists”) revel in attempting to dehumanize you by trying to throw your past in your face. This is something that weighs heavily on me and many other trans women I know. There were times when I lied, denied, or covered up to prevent my identity and activities from being known. Times when I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t who I am, that I was normal, whatever the fuck that even entails.

I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school throughout my entire education. Though I made some lifelong friends, Catholic school made me hate myself. If you are lgbt, Catholicism will try its hardest to change you. After a few years of listening to anti-gay rhetoric, attending mass, guest speakers, and mandatory theology courses, you’ll try to hide your identity from your peers and from yourself. This is exactly what I did for nearly a decade. I started dressing en femme in grade 7 and by grade 10 I had quit that not because I felt comfortable in my assigned gender but because I feared all the things I was told would happen to me.

There’s a lot of nostalgia for childhood in western culture. If you were to watch coming of age movies, you’d think that high-school was the most important time of your life. To me, high-school is a mixed bag. I’m so happy I met my friends, they’re fucking wonderful in every damn way, but it’s an institution that made me hate myself in a very vulnerable and suggestible time of my life. Because of this, I’m completely torn. Part of me would like to burn the whole damn thing to the ground, but without it I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. Despite the hardship, or maybe because of it, I turned out to be someone I’m immensely proud of.

As much as I want to forget those 4 years ever existed, I also want to send a selfie to every jerk-ass little shit I ran into in the hallways. I’d love to see the look on my uptight teachers’ faces. I’d love to find out that there were other people like me who were just living under the radar and I’d love to hear their stories. There were at least a couple thousand students enrolled at my high-school, so it’s statistically likely that at least 50-100 of them were gay and maybe 5 or 6 were trans. Coming to terms with my past instead of running away means I could swap stories and learn about the experiences of my peers. Finding others who share your struggle is often cathartic.

My past is painful, but it’s my past. While hate groups will always attempt to weaponize it against me, it could also be something that builds community, provides perspective, and helps me connect with others I may have not connected with before. I still dread events like the bridal shower, but I’ve accepted that some good could come of it. There are still things I can gain from connecting with my past provided I don’t let the bastards get me down.

Our Heroes Are Garbage People And We Are Too

I have a problem with heroes, and I bet you do too. Whether or not you pay attention to someone’s Twitter, Facebook, or their interviews, someone you like is invariably saying shitty things about you.

I used to be able to willfully ignore my heroes missteps, but they continued talking trash, especially on topics they know very little about. When I came out as transgender, it got worse. As much as I looked up to these people or enjoyed their work, they constantly insulted and offended me and individuals like me. It was completely disheartening. My so called heroes began to show their true selves, and their true selves were trash.

Maybe It’s Just Me

When I was younger, I often believed that my getting offended at individuals dehumanizing me was the result of my own sensitivity. I believed myself to be weak because I couldn’t roll with the punches. I know now that this was simply not the case, and the individuals I looked up to simply reframed the controversy to make it about me and individuals like myself. Framing in communication is an important tool, it allows us to utilize rhetoric without changing the facts, to promote certain interpretations of events and discourage others. In essence, it’s a means of steering the conversation towards one conclusion.

What often happens when someone in a position of relative power is attacked is that they will shift the blame and communicatively construct a reality where the victim is at fault. “I was making a joke.” “You’re just being overly sensitive.” “Hey, it’s just my opinion.” While the facts remain that someone made a mistake or used language that was harmful to an individual or group, the conversation shifts to be about the victim. Often time the victim’s only action is to point out that the individual made a mistake; sometimes the victim has had no action. If the internal logic is consistent, someone could basically reframe any issue and convince people that they’re right and the victims are wrong. “You are reacting to something I said so you’re the one at fault.”

Whether intentional or not, this often results in a skewed reality where an influential person has changed the conversation and minds of several of their followers. It often incites a hate mob, specially targeted at the victims of the initial comment. Furthermore, it promotes the internalization of oppression. When reality is skewed to be against a victim, they may begin to believe that they are actually at fault. If our understandings of reality shape what we believe, and reality is skewed against us, we take in, rationalize, and internalize that reality. The reality where victims are just weaklings becomes our own. This just leads to the further marginalization of people, simply because someone in a position of power can’t accept their mistake or understand the gravity of the situation.

What needs to be understood by individuals in power is that power dynamics play an important role. Being in a position of power shouldn’t make an individual infallible, and while everyone is entitled to an opinion, when all eyes are on you your opinion can have serious repercussions for marginalized individuals.

The Problem with Celebrity

Whether an individual is respected or seen as intelligent is irrelevant. If you’re asking an individual to opine on a random topic out of their breadth of expertise, you’re rolling dice as to whether or not your hero will let you down. This is especially the case when it’s a hotly debated topic and there’s no care and dedication into understanding the problem. Privilege, widely held social beliefs, age, and trust in meritocracy only compound these issues further. So while an individual may be regarded as the pinnacle of their field of expertise, ignorance, privilege, and other social factors, may cause them to share uneducated or harmful opinions.

This is emblematic of a society that values celebrity the way western society does. We still expect that everyone that has elevated in society based on their talent will somehow be a renaissance person. We give individuals a soapbox and a loud speaker, and expect them to tell us how to think, feel, or act, because they’re someone in society. It’s also a society that places the value of personal opinion higher than expertise, that gains enjoyment from shock value, where any mainstream opinion that condemns a minority is lauded by the individuals that do not match that identifier. This is not to excuse who share their terrible, harmful, and often times violent opinions, but the construction of society plays a major role as to how they were given a voice and why they haven’t been driven out yet.

This problem does not solely lie on expertise, however, ignorance and an inability to process new information also contribute to dangerous opinions. Similar to taking a driving test or getting a degree, we often falsely elevate individuals based on solitary achievements and not continued work or relevance. When you’ve made it, you’ve made it, or so they say. Individuals that were once considered groundbreaking, revolutionary, or relevant, are falsely raised above others and given an important voice in a community. Often their contributions are hailed as being so pivotal in the cultural zeitgeist that society begins to see them as infallible leaders. As time goes on and as society becomes less interested in the zeitgeist they stood for, their opinions begin to clash harder and harder especially if their opinions come from a time society has moved past. A once revolutionary, cutting edge, iconoclast can be reduced to just another member of the establishment and no longer concerned with the revolution.

Conclusion

We’re all just living garbage. Every single one of us is guilty of holding a contrarian opinion, having shitty personality traits, and being genuinely ignorant in many ways. However, when we elevate some trash above the rest of the pile because of their accomplishments, we risk creating a monster that can have very real, adverse effects, especially on marginalized individuals. When we give an individual a soap box on which to espouse nonsense and we enforce the lie that this individual is a person of real leadership in the community, we set a dangerous precedent that often reinforces taboo, prejudices, and flagrant ignorance.

Individuals we elevate above us have too great a power to influence discussion and place the blame for their shitty comments directly on their victims. They use reframing as a tactic to skew reality and convince other individuals that their victims are simply weak or too sensitive. They punch down at individuals that they hold in contempt and incite hate mobs to further destroy their victim’s lives and safety.

Furthermore, culture of celebrity treats the opinions of individuals with social power as infallible. We still wrongly believe than any individual who has shown mastery or expertise in one field, is magically endowed with expertise in other fields. We are also constantly disappointed by this fact as if we could not see that an evolutionary biologist might not have the firmest grasps on world affairs, or that an actress and comedienne may not have any understanding of medicine. We wish, that despite creating the exact situation we dread, that somehow this would not happen, that individuals we choose to elevate may meet our lofty expectation of omnipotence as if they were a deity. At least that way the idolatry would make sense.

Never meet your heroes. In fact, its best not to have heroes at all.

On Transition and Unemployment

Today marks the year anniversary since I was laid off. One year ago today, I was given my severance and told to hit the road.

It honestly wasn’t that bad of a day. I talked with my co-workers, wrapped up some loose ends, had an excellent burrito at Mex-I-Can, and had some hope for the future. I had just started a publication with my partners in crime who had stable work themselves, I was going to build an excellent guitar, I’d have some time off of work to lounge around and transition in peace. It honestly looked like it was going to be a good year, but it wasn’t.

Inatri started slow; honestly we were discouraged by the response to the second piece. My guitar came together but was a lot of hassle. My mental health started to change drastically come summer. My transition progress was slow and I wasn’t making the gains I wanted to. Lastly, when I started to look for a job, I found nothing. Most of my responses were instant rejection, or failure to contact.

As the months dragged on, I lost hope. Where before I had looked for jobs in my field of study, now I was just looking for anything. When I thought about commuting, it felt alien and weird to me. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling that normal, ever being one of the nine to five workers again. I began to feel strange and detached, like I was less than others.

Unforgiving Job Market

It’s not a good time to be unemployed, especially when so many are underemployed. In Canada, youth unemployment is 13.9%, but youth underemployment was found to be 26.4%1. Admittedly these are 2013 numbers; however, the unemployment rate in Canada has been a fairly consistent ~7% with a few dips as low as ~5%2. This may not mean much to a lot of people, as the youth bracket is defined as 14-28 years old, but I am at the top end of the bracket and this experience is consistent with my friends and I.

Because of high underemployment, job opportunities that would normally be available for the unemployed are now receiving interest and applications from the underemployed. These individuals are often looking to move up from their current position or to step sideways from a similar position into a new company or environment which would offer full time or higher paid work. We are overqualified for our jobs.

The jobs I was applying for over the last year, were not jobs in my field, nor were they jobs that suit my qualifications. I am a Political Science graduate looking for mostly administrative or secretarial work. I was laid off from an administrative job in finance paying $16 an hour with no benefits and no future. I was part of that underemployment statistic.

There is also a rather worrying shift in Ontario from full-time to part-time work, which dramatically increases underemployment. Furthermore, there is a growing trend of involuntary part time work; extra jobs individuals are taking to make ends meet due to a lack of well paid full time employment3. The shifting ideas of employment in Ontario have done me no favours over the past year. Competition for full time jobs is fierce, and that will not change any time soon.

Let’s be clear: I’m not applying for anything above my reach, I’m applying for entry level jobs. Most of the entry level jobs I’ve found have asked very clearly for experience doing that job. Most of the people I know have assured me that the experience requirement is just there to deter non-confident individuals from applying. More than once in the last year, though, I’ve been rejected on the basis of lacking experience.

One of these rejections was fairly recent. It was for an educational software company looking for QA testers. This is a basic entry level contract job for most developers. The required experience was one year as a QA tester. I did not have that on my CV, but I did make it clear that I have had similar experience with my former employer when our Oracle system went live and we had to create routines, test the limits of the system, and design processes as we were thrown head first into a shark tank. Seven hours later I got a rejection saying I lacked the required experience.

Whether or not my rejection was based on a different reason, the justification being used was the lack of experience. Lack of experience for an entry level job that, in essence, should require little to no experience but rather job training and mentoring. However, with a job market so glutted by capable individuals looking to move up from part-time or unsatisfying work, even in an entry level position experience can matter greatly. To get a job in this market, you need to have a job.

Throwing Trans Into the Mix

Things really get tough when you start throwing any marginalization into the mix. Transgender individuals face higher unemployment and more barriers to employment than cis[gender]4 individuals. As a demographic, 37% of us are employed full time, 15% are employed part time, and 25% are students. Our unemployment rate is 20%5. Bear in mind that’s the overall trans population; trans youth unemployment may skew higher since youth unemployment tends to be higher than the general population.

If finding a job were based on qualifications alone, the statistics would look very different. A study by Trans PULSE found that 71% of trans people in Ontario have post-secondary education6. That’s nearly 3/4 of the trans population who have qualifications and training above and beyond high-school. These are individuals with expertise in their fields, and diplomas to back them up. However, to get a job you often have to do an interview, and this is where being transgender will most likely ruin any chance you have at getting a job. In a TorStar article, a transgender woman noted that no-one would give her a second interview and that occasionally interviewers would make up excuses as to why they couldn’t conduct an interview5. I’ve had similar experiences myself.

There is a certain level of transphobia I’ve experienced in interviews. I am a femme leaning trans woman and because of this I feel immense pressure to conform to cis-normative beauty standards. I’ve only been on HRT for 14 months, my hair has not grown out nearly as long as I’d like, and I still see things I hate about myself when I look in the mirror. I feel like because of these, because of my failure to meet normative beauty standards, that I tend to be judged harshly by hiring managers most of whom only see gender through a binary lens. Since interviews are just as much about appearance as they are about qualifications, trans individuals who do not embody cis-normative beauty standards are often judged harshly.

Being a marginalized individual in any way makes it hard to be confident. Even if there’s no overt vibes of transphobia, I find it very difficult to be put in centre stage and judged on appearance, demeanour, and confidence. I don’t believe I conform to cis-normative standards and I don’t believe that people are taking my identity seriously. This very much hurts my confidence.

I’m very sensitive and care a great deal about what others think of me, so negative comments about my appearance, my gender, my genitals, my height, my weight, my lack of wardrobe, always have a huge impact on me. I take all of these comments to heart, even when I know they’re untrue and even when I know people are just looking to get under my skin. I internalize these thoughts and it completely erodes my confidence. Where I was once assured of the truth, the negative comments will eventually wear away at me where I’m simply full of self doubt, and this is baggage that tends to weigh heavily on me during an interview.

Conclusion

My experience is not unique, and this is a problem. In a generation that is constantly attacked as entitled and lazy7, we sure as fuck don’t seem to have a whole hell of a lot in terms of gainful employment and market power. Most of us are incredibly overqualified for what few jobs are available.

We were sold a narrative that the baby boomers would retire and leave a vacuum in the job market. This is yet to happen; the boomers have yet to retire8. What this means, however, is that we face incredibly high youth unemployment rates, almost double the overall population. It also means that marginalized individuals are more likely to be left out, competing for jobs in a market scarce of employment opportunities.

In a game that rewards confidence and conformity, being different often hinders an applicant’s ability to compete. Especially for trans people, the lack of conformity could become a huge hindrance to the pageant portion of a job application. Trans individuals may find themselves passed up for a cis applicant simply because they do not fit into a strictly binary and cisnormative model of gender, even if they possess similar or greater qualifications to a cis individual. Eventually, the discouragement faced by these individuals becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; when you’ve been turned away so often from interviews because of your appearance, you become less likely to apply in the first place.

I think it’s about time we start to think both about who we have as hiring managers, and how the hiring process is conducted. Hopefully when we’re given the reins of power we can have an honest discussion about hiring and decrease the amount of sway a hiring manager with appearance based prejudices could have on the hiring process.


Endnotes:

  1. Alex Paterson and Claude Dumulon-Lauziere, “It’s not unemployment, it’s underemployment,” Canada 2020.
  2. Canada Unemployment Rate,” Trading Economics.
  3. Robert Benzie, “Ontario’s job market undergoing ‘seismic shift’ from full- to part-time jobs,” Toronto Star.
  4. Cisgender, as opposed to transgender. Individuals whose identity (closely) matches the “sex designation” they were coercively assigned at birth.
  5. Transgender unemployment is a result of discrimination, advocate says,” CBC News.
  6. Helen Wolkowicz, “Transgendered Ontarians struggling with jobs and equality at work,” Toronto Star.
  7. Margaret Wente, “Inside the entitlement generation,” The Globe and Mail.
  8. Lydia Dallett, “Hard-Charging Baby Boomers May Never Leave Their Jobs,” Business Insider.

Interview: Daina, A Former Escort

Preamble

I’ve known Daina for a while. We met while playing a certain MMORPG and quickly hit it off after I recruited her for my guild. A charming conversationalist with opinions on a great deal of things, she would keep me up most nights, and we would just gab on about anything and everything until sunrise.

It came as some surprise to me that she formerly worked as an escort. I’ve known sex workers in the past, but none were from eastern Europe. We started talking about sex work, both her background as an escort, and my fall-back plans of pornography and prostitution. It’s something a lot of unemployed and underemployed women consider, especially when money is tight, so it’s often a very engaging topic.

Almost immediately after meeting her I proposed the idea of an interview and she agreed. The following is a modified transcript of that interview. Hopefully, you find it as engaging as I find her and it sheds light onto the experience of being an escort, the economics of sex work in Ukraine, and remains respectful to both the profession and its clients.

Because I never asked for the basic information in the interview, I’ll write the basics out here. Daina worked for a large escort company based in her home city of Kharkiv. She’s 27, cis, and holds an advanced University degree. She worked as a call centre employee after she stopped working as an escort.

The interview was conducted over the course of 2 hours on January 14th, 2016 via text. There were a few cuts made for information that was shared in confidence and not to be shared in the article. There were also readability changes made by the editor with the interviewee’s consent. The raw transcript will not be made available.

Interview

Elizabeth: How long were you an escort?

Daina: Around 4 years. To be precise: 3 years, 10 months.

Elizabeth: I didn’t know it was that long. Did you work for yourself at all in that period or was the work strictly done with a company?

Daina: Strictly with a company. I was afraid to start my own business of it. [I’d] rather have protection and a secure environment.

Elizabeth: Being a big company, they must have offered a good amount of protection. Was that the case?

Daina: Yes it is. Three to four security [members] at each apartment and a personal driver if client requests to come over or go somewhere. Personal driver waits for you outside at the place ur going into if it is by hour. If it is paid for day or night you can ask him to wait or let him go.

Elizabeth: That sounds like really tight security. Knowing that there was always muscle around, did it make you feel safer working as an escort?

Daina: Yes, especially in the first months.

Elizabeth: Did you ever have to rely on them? Was your safety ever threatened while working?

Daina: I can recall four or five times they had step in, but only one was a really serious case.

Elizabeth: Ah. I can understand if you don’t want me to prod, but may I ask what happened?

Daina: Client on xhimia (Bath Salts) which wouldn’t leave after his time was up. Started screaming, saying he didn’t even cum, that it was 20 minutes not a full hour. When I tried leave room and call for lady in charge grabbed me and tried force me into having sex. I recall my attitude wasn’t quite nice too. I simply hate xhimia and what it does to people. Lady in charge came check just few seconds later to remind me the hour was up and noticed client and called for security.

Elizabeth: That sounds like a dreadful experience.

Daina: Partially my fault as well. My attitude wasn’t professional at all. Kept nagging and stuff. He refused take a shower before we started. Kinda deserved what came to me

Elizabeth: I wouldn’t say that. In my opinion a client should be as professional as the escort. If he didn’t clean up before hand, that’s on him, but I digress.

Daina: There’s a certain way to talk. Lets just say I was in a grouchy mood and it was 5am. Just got woken up by the lady in charge.

Elizabeth: Apart from the dangerous, drug using clients, how was the work? What were you responsibilities to the company and the client?

Daina: Depends on the client choice and how much you can bend rules. Some clients just wanted company or drinking partners, some looking for sex only, and some rare people were looking for love or the rubbish “blah blah” they see in movies.

Elizabeth: The 80s movie cliché of the sex worker with a heart of gold?

Daina: Yea or a girl to save from escorting or “blah blah” which made me pretty sick.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s such a strange narrative to have. What precious metal would you say your heart is?

Daina: I can’t be objective for that, you’d have to ask people around me, but I’m pretty sure it would be something close to gold.

Elizabeth: Having known you I’d probably agree, maybe Platinum. How much were you paid?

Daina: Depends. At first, when I was still new, 45% less than the last time I worked. Also depends on how many clients.

Elizabeth: That’s fair. Would you be able to guesstimate monthly income? Like on an average month how much would you be taking home?

Daina: On good months up to $350 – $400, which is really a lot in my country.

Elizabeth: That’s interesting. How much was your rent/food per month?

Daina: Spent around $140 – $180 a month and saved the rest. Well first I was a VIP (above average) because of my short height and my Arabic ethnicity.

Elizabeth: That’s actually a fairly really nice chunk of savings. In general what were the demographics of the clientèle? (age, ethnicity, poor/rich, etc.)

Daina: Most client either were either rich or foreigners. Foreigners were mostly young, around early 20s. Since Ukraine is mostly known being a huge university [destination] for foreigners, some cities stack up 28k foreign students.

Elizabeth: Was it easy dealing with clients, given the nature of the business?

Daina: Most of time yes, but it was harder with client who were looking for BDSM and extreme stuff

Elizabeth: Ah. I could imagine. That’s more of a speciality thing, isn’t it?

Daina: Yes i did my share of extreme BDSM, but i found my most comfortable space in swingers/couples.

Elizabeth: So you were often employed by couples?

Daina: Not a lot. Most of time I was escorting people to parties or foreign student sex. Foreign students for sure made 70% of my clients during all my escorting days. To them $50-80 a hour is a joke and the most expensive are $80-120 an hour. The cheapest were $15-30 an hour.

Elizabeth: Wow, ordering a pizza costs more over here. Does it ever get boring?

Daina: Boring? How?

Elizabeth: I mean, the sex. There’s this narrative that a lot of people have that sex as work could make sex boring.

Daina: Yes it does. Standard sex, regular foreplay, at a certain point you’re just like laying down on your back, letting him stick his penis and faking joy.

Elizabeth: Did the boring-ness of standard sex make the fetish work more appealing? Enjoyable?

Daina: Yes it did.

Elizabeth: What tips would you have for other women considering sex work?

Daina: Know your employer and its reputation. Have clients shower before sex even if he said he did, condoms at all times, have that water that make dick slip in easily (Don’t know name in English), be creative and most of all do not agree with every type of sex. Set your limits.

Elizabeth: Moving forward, how do we (as a society) promote safe sex work? How do we make sex work sustainable? Change societal opinions?

Daina: Unfortunately we can’t, but safer sex work comes when people realize we are not simply whores. Just like them we need money to live on and that some of us have already received university degrees. Personally I majored in economics, I’m a pro accountant which is equivalent to Economic Engineer. Five years of university. And I know others who had same or better degrees.

Elizabeth: Some of my friends over here have similar qualifications. But yes, I fully agree with you, it must be treated as a valid profession. That was my last question, thank you.

Daina: Hahaha you didn’t even bother ask what I learned from escorting or how it changed my personality.

Elizabeth: I had intended to ask: How did you experience working as an escort change your personality, your opinions, and your character? We were running a bit long on time.

Daina: It ain’t all bad, you know, it forged my personality and made me discover aspects of my self to be true and honest with my soul. Never make me believe in a mist and that some things just happen good or bad. That’s a fitting ending.

Comment: On Words and Assignment

Words are political, there’s no way around this. Unless you’re inventing language on the spot, every time you open your mouth you have to accept that that with the noises your making comes centuries of meaning, use, and history. Try as you may, it’s inescapable even if your intention is not to offend or harken back to historical use.

Because of this, writing articles about trans identity can be difficult. It’s hard to talk about ourselves when so many of the words we use have been used against us by cis people. Language can be a tool of oppression and, for our community, this was often the case. The slurs that have been used against us are obviously terrible, but even cis individuals in the medical community, masquerading as allies or friends, have been equally as shitty and oppressive. Understandably, the majority of the trans community has been pushing hard to move away from these terms, whether slurs or “science”.

While writing about masturbation, the word choices became the hardest part of writing the article. I had conversations with individuals from a very specific subset of the trans community, all with similar genitals, but with different gender identities. To lump them all in the same category would be doing a violent disservice to them, however, to not be able to specify that only certain people were willing to talk to me would also let down the strength of the article. Because of this I made a compromise and used two acronyms that are not without controversy in the trans community: assigned male at birth (amab), and assigned female at birth (afab).

The problem with these terms will be immediately apparent to a large number of trans people but in essence they combine three things I hate: shitty science, assumptions of sex based on genitals, and terms cis people appropriate for us. It is, in essence, the most politically correct way to say “birth sex”, while still being used to justify cis oppression, bigotry, and ignorance. It may be a softer way to say something incredibly shitty, but it’s still saying something incredibly shitty with all the garbage history that terms like “birth sex” and “x-to-x” bring.

That’s not the whole story though, there is a second meaning to unpack. When I first heard amab and afab a few years ago, I heard it as a term trans people were using to describe themselves. In this context it was often used in a more self-deprecating manner. Assignment is dehumanizing, to tell someone they’re something they don’t identify as, against their will, is violent. Assignment is patronizing, unnecessary, is used as a gate-keeping tool, and is a huge hassle to change. When applied to ourselves, it serves as a little tongue in cheek reminder that the our doctors made a mistake we’ll spend the majority of our adult lives correcting, that cisnormativity is pervasive, and that the social construction of sex is a reality.

Obviously, these terms are now more centred around the former than the latter, but it is still something descriptive of a subset of the trans community that had a similar starting point while not explicitly connecting genitals to gender and assuming a similar experience. I reluctantly used these terms however, but with an addition. When my editor suggested using “Coercively” in front of amab or afab, I immediately relished the thought. It was just icing on an already implied “fuck you” cake. Cis people could never re-appropriate the term without having to deal with the baggage calling themselves “coercive,” and implying that they too are continuing the violence.

Hence, I felt justified using those variations of assignment terms in my first article about masturbation. I just wanted to clear up any misgivings I had with the language used in the article and explain why I used the terms I used. As a writer I’m always keenly aware of the use of language and it’s implications, but I’m also aware that this explanation would have been ungainly or irrelevant in the article itself. There’s always the nagging through, every time I publish something, that would I have to mount a defence to justify my word choice. Nobody has actually called me on my shit yet, but I wanted to do good by my sources to pre-emptively publish an explanation as to why I used those particular terms to refer to them, while unpacking and discussing the particular language. My trepidation is always that my words will lead to eventually being ostracised, so I’d rather have a pre-emptive discussion than face a backlash.

To see the article this comment was following up, check out “Deviations in Masturbation in the Transgender Community”

Deviations in Masturbation in the Transgender Community

This time around I want to talk about something taboo, but something that we should be sitting down to discuss. It’s something that most of us have done, and continue to do. Something that alleviates a lot of pressure and (hopefully) gives us pleasure. I’m talking of course about masturbation.

This topic is not an easy topic to tackle, it is a controversial topic with a lot of variation but even more misconceptions and assumptions. There’s a lot of aversion to this topic, it’s immensely personal, and it may provoke feeling of disgust in other individuals. It’s been highly politicized by religions, scarcely talked about in the education system, shown for humour in early 2000s frat-boy comedies. There’s way too much baggage to unpack.

But as a trans woman, it is one of the ways I experience my changing body. It is something that has certainly been affected by hormone replacement therapy but also something that was abnormal long before I came out. Human sexuality, as a whole, has been of great interest to me for a while and this is one of the many facets of sexuality that I’m interested in.

It’s also another area where I want to see the assumptions of cisnormativity destroyed. The large problem I have with these assumptions is that it assumes one masturbates a similar way given the same genitals, a wrong headed assumption that is basically biological determinism for sexuality. Cis people assume that because some trans women and cis men share the same genitalia, that they operate the same, that these two groups masturbate the same. This myth is perpetuated by the porn industry as well as ignorant cis individuals and basically treats both groups as “dick-centric tops”. While this has lessened in recent years thanks to the work of trans femme porn stars, such as Chelsea Poe and Zinnia Jones, many cis people still don’t understand trans sexuality.

Hence, I wanted to use this article to sit down and have a discussion about my sexuality and the sexuality of other pre-operative and non-operative coercively-assigned-male-at-birth (CMAB) transgender, nonbinary, and genderfluid individuals as it relates to our masturbation techniques, how we differ from cis norms, and how masturbation affects how we conceptualize our body.

Methods and Ethics

To accomplish this, I didn’t simply want to get on my soapbox and expound on end about how I touch myself, I wanted to talk to others like me and get a general feel for how we all differ. To this end, I talked to 6 individuals candidly, via direct message on twitter, and asked roughly the same informal interview questions. I’ve never really liked using a formal script, because the answers can feel forced or devoid of subjectivity, thus a more organic, conversational approach was used.

When I put out my request for individuals to talk to about this subject, I received very few responses initially. It took a few requests on twitter, and through contacts, to find individuals willing to talk about this subject. Because of that, the sample size is incredibly small. If I cast a net of about 1500-2000 users, by best guesstimate, receiving only 6 responses from individuals willing to speak to me is slightly worrying. This could speak to how sensitive the topic is to individuals. Given how only two users were willing to put their name on record, this is an easy conclusion to make. Essentially, you’re trusting very personal information to someone who wants to publish this information publicly, and hoping that what you’ve committed to record does not affect you negatively. The sample size is small because the stakes are high.

However, sample size is somewhat a moot point as the purpose of the article is to get a snapshot and start discussion, rather than research behaviours patterns in trans individuals. That type of research would require more time, a larger sample, and probably the backing of an institution that could assure anonymity is maintained and everything is ethical. That’s not to say that I’m not acting towards the best interests of my sources, it’s just that when it’s a writer researching these kind of topics alone, there’s a higher degree of risk.

Trans Identity and Masturbation

Frequency

Of the 6 people I’ve interviewed, I must say that each individual had surprisingly different answers to every question. When asked how often they masturbate, the responses varied. Overall the range was large, between a couple times a day, and a fortnight. However, most reported masturbating at least every other day. Whether the individual was on HRT or not seemed to have very little affect on their masturbation, and everyone interviewed still actively masturbated. However, this could be a slight misrepresentation as I did put out the call for people who wanted to talk about this subject.

Techniques

Importantly, each individual approached self-pleasure in different way and used a variety of techniques to achieve pleasure. One anonymous interviewee reported tickling the underside of her penis head, remarking that it “Actually just fucking tickles a lot. Too much to do more than a a little bit at a time.” She also noted that this was a very mood specific thing, and it had to “strike her.” Bug detailed that xe uses petting, a technique xe stumbled upon as a teen in the shower, as water hit a “particular spot.” Several individuals do report using the “rub and tug” technique, but this is often complimentary to other methods or in absence of certain external criteria.

In addition to these techniques, several of the individuals report anal, prostate, and perineum play. Hailey, for instance, fingered her asshole, but did stipulate that most of that play occurs during bathtime because it’s cleaner. Others find pleasure a bit higher up. Kitty uses a vibrator on her perineum, as it gives her the sensation of a phantom vagina. She also uses her vibrator to stimulate her prostate anally. Similarly, Robyn reported using her vibrator on her perineum while also engaging in anal play, but stated that she had to be in the mood.

Toys and other apparatus factor a great deal into how we masturbate. As mentioned before Kitty and Robyn play with vibrators, but most respondents mentioned at least some kind of toy play. However, a lot of the reported experiences were with make due “toys.” Zoey mentioned having a large old cellphone that “vibrates like a beast” which she likes to put where “the opening for a vagina would be.” In college, Hailey used to use a vibrating razor handle as a vibrator in the shower. She states, “It was a small handle that I wrapped in duct tape and a condom, and hit the on switch. Felt pretty good. And that was before I realized I was trans!” The use of items in play is not limited simply to objects that vibrate either. Bug reported using clothing, and plush toys, to help xem heavy pet. Xe also does this with a partial tuck because “It sometimes helps because, often, I’m visualizing having different parts.” Lastly, both an anonymous respondent and Kitty reported using nipple clamps as a means of heightening the pleasure.

Self-conceptualization

As alluded to above, some of the respondents felt that how they masturbate greatly affected how they see themselves and how they connect to their body. Concerning the nipple clamps, an anonymous respondent said: “I always clamp my nipples with something because it makes me feel better about my breasts, even though I don’t quite *have* any.” Kitty stated that the way she masturbated was tied into her gender identity, and that masturbating from stroking can feel dysphoric. Because of that she mixes up erogenous zones. Robyn stated that the changes that came with HRT also changed her sexual experiences. “I don’t think about sex or masturbating as purely a penis thing, I have to be much more into it mentally and physically.”

In addition to changing conceptions regarding sex, in some cases these techniques helped the respondents to re-imagine their bodies. When asked if her gender identity affected the way she masturbated, Zoey said:

Well, yeah. I’d love to have a vagina and a penis (minus the two nuts they hang with). So… I mean, I’ve gone to some spectacular lengths to keep the phone vibrating while playing with the other bits. Cause it feels more fulfilling, or at least more exhausting in the “Oh my god I just came” way.

Zoey is not the only respondent who imagined fluidity or hybridity between genitalia, Bug described a similar scenario. “It’s probably more often than not that I imagine having clitoris/vagina, and then sometimes i’ll also have a penis.” Lastly, Kitty’s masturbation was also largely affected by how she imagined her body. “I go back and forth between feeling a phantom sensation of a vagina (occasionally very strong) and just accepting my cock, that tends to dictate whether I spend more or less time rubbing and fingering myself as though a vagina is there.”

Not all respondents reported a connection however. Hailey stated that she felt no connection between her gender identity and how she masturbates. “… I am not particularly bothered by my cock. I recognize my ass is just that: an ass. Unless I underwent GRS of some kind, I’ll never have a vagina. It would be nice to have, but I also have accepted my body for what it is.”

Quality of Orgasm

The final thing of note is how techniques and conceptualization can have an affect on how satisfying the orgasm is. I asked the respondents if their gender identity (and self image) had any effect on the quality of their orgasm. As mentioned above, Kitty feels that mixing up her erogenous zones can help her hate her body less and make the orgasm feel better. Zoey reported that sometimes her identity would have an effect on her orgasm and sometimes it would not. Robyn said, “Yes, it’s not so much about cumming anymore. It’s about enjoying the experience and even teasing myself after I’ve cum and enjoying the hyper sensitivity. Sometimes I can’t even tell when I’ve cum because the whole thing can feel like cumming if I have the magic wand in the right spot.”

Discussion

Going into the interviews, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had a, frankly misguided, hunch that because my friend and I masturbated completely differently that perhaps the rest of the community had similar experiences. What I got out of the interviews exceeded expectations. I genuinely did not know how different my 6 interviewees would be in how they masturbate and while there are some similarities between them in body conceptualizations, the means were all very different.

It was important to me to have incredibly candid conversations with individuals about our sexuality, about what gets us off, about how we see ourselves, and how all of this interacts with our gender identities. It’s a very tough conversation to strike up, especially without any level of intimacy prior to having the conversation. Learning about someone’s inner most kinks, desires, and their feeling towards their bodies, is something I will never take for granted.

In the case of most respondents, it was evident that how they masturbated was affected by how they saw their body, as well as aversion to certain elements of their body. This ranged from dysphoria and loss of concentration while orgasming, to intense orgasms. Even in the cases of dysphoria, no respondents ever stated outright that masturbation was a chore. This was something that respondents did willingly in most cases. Although, this is a tough question to ask, so the respondents could very well see it as a chore or a nuisance sometimes and perhaps didn’t mention that to me in the interview.

If there’s a takeaway from this article, from this experience, it’s the complexity of imagining and enjoying your body with a fluid gender identity, or genitals that do not match your gender identity. As someone who is fine either way, I found the notion of stimulating a phantom vagina to be fascinating and interesting. This is something I’ve never thought much about, I make due with my muff and anus in most cases, but a few of the respondents prompted me to consider this. Similarly, imagining and preferring a body with both a penis and a vagina must be difficult, however, it also makes a lot of sense when you begin to think about fluid identity and what that entails.

Conclusion

By interviewing CAMAB transgender, nonbinary, and genderfluid individuals, it’s obvious to me that masturbation is another instance where trans individuals deviate from cis-norms. However, this deviation helps us to understand, imagine, and enjoy our bodies more appropriately to our gender identity. The various techniques we use, the areas we stimulate, are all affected by our concept of gender identity but also may inform that identity as we explore what “feels good.” Since so much of human sexuality is tied into cisgender norms, it is important for trans people to break those norms and establish sexuality of their own. However, there is still a great deal of taboo regarding masturbation and until we can eliminate the taboo, there will still be a great deal of misconceptions regarding masturbation both outside of the trans community and within it.

This discussion then, should serve as a reminder that we are all different, that we think about our bodies differently, and that even though we’re a community it’s more of a mosaic than it is a homogenous blob. It should also serve as an example to individuals discovering their identity for the first time. Try some of the things outlined in the article, see which ones work for you and which ones do not. Masturbation may still be seen as a very personal thing, a journey of body discovery, but it’s a path heavily trodden by individuals just like you.

Admittedly this article is limited by it’s sample. It’s lacks representation from post-op trans women, individuals coercively assigned female at birth (CAFAB), and intersex individuals. I did not seek individuals to interview, but rather, posted on twitter and interviewed only people absolutely willing to talk to me. Perhaps the masturbation techniques of CAFAB trans men, non-binary, and gender fluid individuals could be explored in a future article provided I could find individuals to interview.

The Dead and Missing in the Trans Community

Content Notice: This article discusses murders and suicides of nonbinary, transgender, and gender nonconforming people.

Today, November 20th 2015, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s one of those days I wish didn’t need, you know, its own day.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance memorializes those who have been murdered as a result of hatred or prejudice against transgender and gender nonconforming people. According to the Trans Murder Monitoring TDoR 2015 Update, there have been 271 trans people murdered this year. That’s an average of approximately one trans person every twenty-eight hours.

That information alone should be horrifying to anyone who reads it, but I also wish to talk about something I have mentioned on Twitter many times: nonbinary and transgender people who have died by suicide or gone missing.

The rate of death and people seeming to all but disappear among us is, frankly, horrifying. planettransgender.com collected a list of 27 trans people who died by suicide this year, and I know of ten not on that list. There are also those who simply disappear — either they die and nobody hears of it, or they intentionally hide themselves in an attempt to regain safety. I was unable to find any proper statistics on this sort of thing, but this year alone, 22 nonbinary and trans people I regularly interacted with have disappeared for at least the past two months. Many I only knew online either simply stopped using their public accounts or removed them entirely. One I knew in-person did the same, and has not been seen anywhere in months. A few told me they were planning to disappear, but explicitly refused to tell anybody where they were going or how to contact them.

And I cannot blame any of them. At all.

In a world where our very existence is vilified, and who we are is treated as justification to hate and abuse us, I can’t blame them. In a world where the day before Trans Day of Remembrance, reports came out of a trans woman found dead in a men’s prison, and that kind of thing has happened before, I can’t blame them. I only find myself able to blame those who vilify us, those who use who we are as justification to abuse us, and those who stay quiet while watching this happen.

When the only ones who reliably stay beside us are others who are similarly targeted, it is unsurprising that our progress moves slowly and is paid for with the lives and safety of those who are most vulnerable. Often, this is trans women of color.

Spend today quietly and attentively listening to the nonbinary, transgender, and gender nonconforming people around you. If you can, attend a vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. And, on this incredibly sad day, let’s remember not only those who had their lives taken from them, but also all of the people who are missing. There are so, so many people who should still be with us, but are now gone. Every one of them, and every one of us still around, is loved and important.
There is a list of vigils for the Transgender Day of Remembrance available on tdor.info. Note that some of them occur the weekend after the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Coming Out

A month or so ago I wrote an article about how I found my identity through roleplaying, something extremely personal, and something I thought I should share with the world. It was a story about how I came to know myself and learn to express myself to others; how I came out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase lately, “coming out”. In a sense of the word coming out is learning about your identity, coming to terms with the reality of who you are, and accepting that. However, there is also the more ritualistic aspect of coming out: presenting that identity to others. Both the dealing with the roiling emotions and telling others how you feel require a lot of emotional fortitude. They are both taxing, both will affect you as a person, and both are seen as this solitary moment; an important event to be celebrated.

The common societal understanding of coming out is that it’s a “one and done” kind of event. We are told “It gets better,” we’re told “It’s something we have to do,” we’re told, “Once it’s over, it’s over.” The thing I’ve started to realize is that it’s never over. Not once have I stopped having to tackle my understanding my own identity, not once have I had to stop telling people who I am.

I suppose this may be different if I didn’t embody an identity with such fluidity, or if I had an identity that was slightly more accepted in society. I’m a curiosity and thus being trans, cis people are often confused about my identity and in their curiosity ask a tonne of questions I am made to answer for. Coming out to someone may last several conversations as they inquire into specific questions, cis curiosities, and discussions about surgery. Every new person I meet, every old person I reintroduce myself to, places the role of teacher on me as they learn about what it means to me to be trans.

Because of this, I can no longer see coming out as a solitary event, something I did when I was 25, I see it as something that I need to do daily.

Social Monotony

There are so many anxiety inducing aspects to introducing yourself as trans and coming out to individual. First off, it’s terrifying to worry about whether or not someone may reject you because of your identity. If you’re at the point where you’ve known someone long enough and you care deeply enough about them that rejection would deeply scar you, imagine doing that with a still very divisive identity in a still very transphobic society with laws that still allow a trans-panic defence. Depending on the context this becomes a very dangerous game of Russian roulette, where there’s a good likelihood that people will accept you and love you just as you are, but there’s still a loaded chamber, and a possibility that you will get hurt, emotionally or physically.

Once you get past whether or not you’re rejected outright, people will have a great number of curiosities about you. Since trans identity is thought of by cis people to embody more of a physical identity, a lot of the questions may revolve around surgery, appearance, clothing, styling, and the like. Even people who understand how awkward their line of question is, may still have their curiosities about how you see yourself and what aspects of your body you would like to see changed in comparison to other trans people.

This line of questioning, while offensive, is the basic line of questioning most cis people take. I used to get incredibly pissed off or discouraged when these questions came up, but if the person asking has known me for a long time and there’s a great level of intimacy between us, I concede and often, I answer. As much as it sometimes pains me to get so personal, refusing to answer would put me in another compromising social position. It may alienate individuals who genuinely believe they care about me enough that they’re showing interest in me, and having to console them or explain why that questioning is out of line, requires more effort than simply answering extremely personal questions about my body. It may be boring to repeat the same damn questions over and over again, but it certainly saves effort and saves my mental health.

The amount of effort it takes to explain certain things is absolutely crucial to me now. Having suffered through several weddings, showers, and social events this summer, I’ve learned that it’s far easier to give the same canned answers and it allows me to slightly disassociate as the conversation is happening. This is very important because, after days like the ones I’ve suffered, I tend to break down directly afterwards. It’s stressful, I’m constantly on edge, and it takes its toll on my mental health. Even on the good days, like my cousin’s wedding, I still broke down afterwards. I love my cousin, I love his wife, they’re two of the most supportive and chill people I know. But it’s still a situation I was surrounded by cisnormativity and heteronormativity and after several hours that will take it’s toll on me.

Lastly, a great deal of the anxiety of being out, or introducing yourself to people while trans, is greatly effected by how well you pass. I’m awkwardly trans, I do not pass worth a damn, and that means that rather than being able to address the subject of my identity or even ignoring it entirely, I will be forced to face questions. When you pass, there’s a likelihood that nobody will notice your trans so it won’t be brought up. When you pass, they’ll treat you just as if you were cis and move on. No awkward questions, no fear of violence, no having to explain your identity. Whether or not this reduces your anxiety is a personal thing, however, for me it would totally reduce my anxiety, and make me feel like I could blend better. In that way, passing privilege totally has an effect on both your experience of coming out to someone and being out in social situations.

Internal Turmoil

Let’s set aside the social aspects of coming out, and focus on what most believe to be the core of coming out, discovering yourself and understanding your identity. My coming out journey was briefly discussed in my previous article so it may not surprise some of you to say that I’ve never been 100% sure of exactly where my identity lies. I’ve always been more into experimenting with the boundaries of my identity and although I know I’m in the right neighbourhood when I say I’m a trans woman, I could never come up with a concrete definition of what that means to me.

To be more specific, I can never settle on what my ideal body would be and where I would stop in terms of surgical progression. When my dysphoria and depression is at it’s highest, I desperately wish I were a cis woman. I wish I had that exact body, I wish I could figuratively buy a new body and throw my old one into a combine. The red slew of skin and bone would probably be the ultimate catharsis. When I’m at my most confident and least dysphoric, I’m absolutely fine with my girlcock, with my cute, perky, HRT breasts. If it wasn’t entirely apparent up to this point, I’m writing from a place of depression.

As a trans woman, I believe my identity is as much physical as it is mental, because the construction of femininity in our society is often thought of in terms of physical and emotional traits. Although I would love that to change, since it stems from sexist and misogynist bullshit, it is still the framework that was hammered into my head and thus it’s how I imagine my own identity.

The problem with attempting to pinpoint an identity for me, and the reason I could never say coming out was a thing that *happened*, is that emotional factors and experience affect my identity a great deal, although at a much slower rate. Because it’s so slow, I would never ascribe the identity gender-fluid to myself, nor do I feel like genderqueer or non-binary would be appropriate terms. Who I am and what I aspire to be changes, but not drastically, and if I wake up feeling different it’s because I feel more reserved, or more flamboyant, or more flirty. These differences are enough to be felt, and enough to say that there is no concrete notion of my identity. In six months or a year, I bet my experience will lead me to new concepts, new understandings of my identity, and thus I feel like coming out is an ongoing process.

Conclusion

I’ve been in a constant state of coming out for the past few years and, frankly, there’s no end in sight. So long as I am learning new things about my own identity, about my place in the world, and meeting new people, the cycle will never end. I may get better at it, it may affect me less as time goes on, but as it stands, coming out is a very anxiety inducing process for me. As with the last article, I’d like to reiterate that your personal experience and opinions will vary from mine, and you may wish to focus on the more liberating elements of coming out versus the parts that figuratively constitute a chore. You will never feel the same as me, but you may be in the same neighbourhood, on the same general process of thought. For you, and for me, I hope in the future we’ll be looking back on this as simply an awkward time in our lives and not yet another anxiety we have to face daily.

Anonymity, Pseudonymity, and Identity

I spent many years in academia and schooling, maybe a few too many. Over the course of my education, I had far too much time to over-think sociological and philosophical topics. Because of this I wrote several essays trying to solve nearly impossible problems. In my head, problems relating to mundane social interaction, international relations, and social power dynamics, were all easily solved in under 10 pages. I thought every problem had an easy solution that millions of people, most more experienced than me, were simply ignorant to.

In one of my undergrad essays, for a course on Political Cosmopolitanism, my thesis claimed that anonymous communication was a relevant force in the internet age for removing one’s identity and equalizing the power gap between all participants of a conversation. The essay used examples from Reddit and 4chan, and discussed how anonymity reduced every social actor in a conversation down to one “meaningless” mass of non-identity. A user could be talking to anyone, and they needed to adjust the way they communicated accordingly. This was a superficial argument, it did nothing to address social power, privilege, and identity politics. I lacked the necessary research and experience to know why I was wrong, and my naivety still haunts me.

As an effort to redeem myself, I would like to use this week’s article to argue with my stance from 3 years ago, and once again explore the concepts of anonymity, pseudonymity, and identity.

“The Great Equalizer”

When discussing anonymity, I am referring to sections of the internet where “real names” are avoided, whether it be a choice to allow users to post without an identity or a choice of their own screen name. For a long time, these two were the de-facto naming policies of websites.

Both anonymity and pseudonymity allow a user to define themselves by their words and their actions rather than by their perceived identity. The assumption is that without clear attachment to a physical body and a name, an individual will be more free to speak their mind since an unpopular opinion carries no social consequences.

With anonymity, there is no permanence to an individual, hence a user could be talking to anyone. Users will adjust their attitude and speech accordingly, and because nobody knows the identity of other users it is difficult to be prejudiced another individual based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, national identity, etc. In theory, that is how it is supposed to work.

With pseudonymity, individuals can be identified and given prominence but they are not identified by their actual body. They could simply create a mask to hide themselves in plain view. It is not necessarily a perfect system but it is seen as a happy compromise between strict naming policies and anonymity.

It is a great equalizer because no “real identity” is known. Online representation can never be concrete, because every user knows that others can chose their personas freely – and simply reset their presence as needed. Words are ultimately what defines an individual – whether it be for a moment via anonymity or, with pseudonymity, a presence that emerges more than once. These systems provide a theoretical meritocracy and utopia for those who believe in this system – a libertarian sandbox where everyone is supposedly as equal as anyone else.

“The Unintentional Oppressor”

In my youth, I thought these were positive qualities. If you were a marginalized individual, or did not hold a mainstream opinion, you could speak your mind freely with little fear that someone will find and use those words against your “real identity.” I was not wrong in thinking that these these systems has positive attributes, but I erred when seeing the notion of “free speech” as a positive in and of itself. At its best, free speech is an inconsequential concept, while at its worst a dangerous one. The most obvious problem is that anonymous users have a penchant for abusing their anonymity. Whether found through stalking, death threats, trolling, and hate speech, if someone’s “real identity” is found out, anonymous users will show no remorse. If someone is not part of the homogeneous white mass, if they do not look like the others users, they will be told how “wrong” they are, repeatedly, and in a handful of violent ways. Having a system where everyone can “speak their mind” never becomes inclusive, and is nothing but a reinforcement of the status quo where those willing to abuse those privileges will be given the power to do so with the tacit approval of the majority.

Despite the claim that nobody has a “real identity,” most users assume that any other user falls into a status quo. The common belief is that every others user automatically falls into the demographic that holds the most power: cis, white, heterosexual, and male. This presumption must persist for the system to work, because any identity that exists outside of it changes the dynamics of conversation. When it is assumed that everyone shares an equivalent identity, it is more easy to believe that the power dynamics present in society have been erased. This is not egalitarianism, because it assumes everyone belongs to the same privileged group. No other types of people exist until they make themselves known. For example: there are no girls on the internet until there is a girl on the internet.

Therein lies the ultimate problem: these systems would only ever work if the users actually respected the ideals that came with anonymity and pseudonymity. When an individual exposes their real identity, especially one that does not fit within the status quo, users often try to violate that individual’s privacy. One needs to look no further than victims of the online hate campaign, GamerGate. If one user suspects another of being a girl, they might hound them relentlessly and try to force them to confirm that they are not part of the status quo. The user in question may be demanded for pictures proving that they are a girl, subject to random skype calls, or messaged direct sexual harassment. The phrase “tits or GTFO” is not limited to 4chan – it is the common internet experience on women everywhere. Anonymous users often feel entitled to proof without giving any context or concrete reason for why they cannot believe another human being at face value. (p.12) It is either “prove you are who you say you are,” or be seen as a liar. For one to confirm they hold the identity they say they do, they need to sacrifice their anonymity and pseudonymity – which makes them even more vulnerable to harassment.

When one is exposed as not being a cisgender heterosexual white male, they become an easier target for online attacks; which are a frightening prospect. Since the system is based on the premise that every user belongs to the same demographic, they often defend the abusers, deny the abuse, and then blame the victim when they are exposed. Abusers try to argue that individuals who are not anonymous are public figures, while being protected by their peers fighting for an irrelevant ideal. Anything goes, and nobody is responsible.

Towards a workable future.

While these systems are incredibly far from perfect, they are not without redemption. It will require effort on the part of developers and moderators to make better. For example, a system could track users on the back-end while allowing anonymity and pseudonymity to remain as a staple of user to user interaction. Much of the problem with current moderation policy is the misguided belief that these anonymous social interactions are self-regulating. This claim has been proven false, time and time again, and one needs to look no further than 4chan and Reddit to recognize it. Whether or not the users like it, moderation needs to be active, hate speech rules need to be enforced, and criminal activity and threats need to be taken seriously. If moderators kept at it, they could create safer and more inviting message boards.

There will be a backlash at first, but the era of the “community driven and abused” internet needs to end before message board administration commit to more drastic to more draconian policies that are even more harmful to marginalized individuals. I know users will scream out “1984! Big Brother!,” but if 4chan and Reddit continue to gain a harmful reputation as safe-havens for terrorists, racists, and misogynists, more extreme options such as “real name” policies will continue to gain clout. Communities have proven unable to govern themselves, so moderators need to step up and enforce those communities – or slowly watch the notion of anonymity disappear entirely in favour of “real name” policies.