Snapchat Gender Swap Feature: Transphobia, or Much Ado about Nothing?

Group in Circle with Smartphones

I have to admit, I don’t quite get all the hype over the Snapchat gender swapper. If you haven’t heard about it, Snapchat has various frames and filters the way many online apps and sites do. A recently released filter swaps your gender so you can see how you would look as the opposite sex.

I”m inclined to think the novelty of this trending filter feature would pass the way a million other trends will, fading quickly into oblivion. But swiping away your beard to appear in a blonde wig or finding out you look an awful lot like your sister has unexpectedly generated accusations of transphobia from some trans folks and more cis people who claim to speak on their behalf.

In the tradition of “my culture is not a costume,” a viral anti-appropriation campaign that shamed people for just about any Halloween costume they had picked out, now trending is “my gender is not a costume.”

Bailey Coffman, a 31-year-old New York trans woman told Global News, “My gender’s not a costume… this is a story that I feel is very real. I lost a lot to be who I am and I fought really hard for the body that I’m in.” She feels that playing with the filter is making light of her experiences as a transgender woman.

Rose Dommu, at the LGBTQ magazine Out, said the gender swap filter “makes a joke out of transitioning.”

Andre Cavalcante, a gender and media prof, told Time Magazine, “The app turns users into extreme simplifications, into cartoonish renderings of men and women… men have broad chins and facial hair. Women are posed in soft lighting (for no apparent reason) and have small, delicate features. In this way, gender is reduced to a mask or a costume, something that can change with (literally) a snap.”

But lots of transgender folks don’t want to to take the fashionable app too seriously, and are tired of always being offended.

Natalie Wynn, is an extremely popular trans woman and a YouTube icon with a channel called ContraPoints. She dresses up in different costumes while dressing down right-wing personalities.

Wynn told Time, “I think this is kind of an inherent joy and beauty to metamorphosis, and I think that’s something that’s appealing to people. I think it’s great that people want to have fun with that.” While she hopes that people will be be positive about transgender transformation in real life, she doesn’t see a reason to get too excited about a passing technological fad.

Other trans folks thought that a fun app like this can be affirming and help people who are struggling with gender identity see themselves more clearly. It can be affirming for those who aren’t yet “out.”

Some cis women don’t like how what they see as petty distractions takes attention away from larger threats. “We’re always hunting for monsters under the bed. Meanwhile, the monsters hide in plain sight,” wrote ProudDyke33 on an Instagram thread. “We’ve got big fish to fry, come on.”

Many cis women turned the “my gender is not a costume” statement around on their behalf. “You know what? You’re right. My gender isn’t a costume. You can’t just put on a tutu and say you’re a woman. You said it, not me.”

I can’t speak on behalf of transgender women. My personal inclination as a cis woman is to just ignore these things and not read too much into them. Folks will always have different opinions on what is offensive in entertainment. For me, laws and policies and community matters more.

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