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The best thing about Snapchat, according to my pre-tween kid, was the puking rainbows filter. It added glitter to wide eyes while emitting a stream of rainbow vomit from an open mouth. He also liked the puppy tongue thing, and anything that turned us into monsters, but what creeped him out was the face swapping filter. Something about seeing my face superimposed on his, his on mine, with the shadows of our original hairlines, made him swipe quickly away and refuse to let me share our mashup on instagram. He didn’t like seeing himself as a girl, and didn’t like seeing me as a boy. But there’s a new Snapchat filter that swaps the genders of users. It’s highly entertaining.
For a good while there, the denizens of social media were posting Snapchat filtered pics all over the place. Girls liked it because the filters basically act as a layer of foundation over every blemish, while widening the eyes, and pixiefying the chin, giving everyone a bit of a baby face. I don’t know why guys liked it, or even if they did. After a while though, social media culture critics, thrashing around wildly searching for something to write up, dug under the false skin of the filters and came up with a theory.
Turns out, the Snapchat filters were racist. In flattening out the surface of our faces, applying a virtual layer of cover-up, and, yes, lightening the tone of our skin, Snapchat was making a judgment on the nature of beauty. Basically, Snapchat’s feminizing filters were proclaiming that lighter skin was more beautiful than darker skin. And for sure, that is a bad look for an app that is literally all about looks. Any photo app will give users the option to wipe away those surface lines, wrinkles, freckles, and scars with a ‘brightness’ filter, to decrease contrast where contrast isn’t wanted, but the Snapchat filters do it in spades.
There was also the unfortunate yellow face filter incident, which mocked old stereotypes of East Asians, was roundly derided as insensitive and just not funny, and removed from the platform. The kerfuffle now is the claim that Snapchat has really crossed the line in going after trans people. Called out by Out, Snapchat’s latest misstep is that they’ve unleashed a filter that allows users to see themselves as the opposite gender.
Out‘s Rose Dommu claims that the filter, which allows users to visibly swap genders, is an anti-trans experience. The reasoning is that it’s all the trans look without any acknowledgment of just how hard it is to live as trans. There are so many things a trans person has to go through, and giving non trans people the option of seeing themselves as the other gender is simply a cruelty to those trans people who struggle everyday with questions about how best to express their identity.
The trans lobby has an unmistakable narcissism that insists that trans issues and identity be centered in near every cultural moment. Women’s March? Nope, not acceptable if it’s not blatantly inclusive of trans. Abortion debates? Not allowed unless it’s clearly pointed out that women aren’t the only ones who can get pregnant, all people with female reproductive systems can. Women’s sports need to center trans, breastfeeding needs to centre trans, women’s clothing sizes need to centre trans, concepts of masculinity and femininity need to centre trans.
This Snapchat filter, however, does centre trans, and it does so without even mentioning it. How subversive! All of us can imagine ourselves as trans for the time it takes to snap a selfie. Those who are trans curious, who wonder, amidst this cultural moment of trans centeredness, what life would look like if they looked hyper gendered in one way or another, can have that chance. This is what trans visibility looks like for the bros and the basics who otherwise can’t wrap their appearance based worldview around it.
So congrats to Snapchat for bringing some trans awareness to their filters, filters that were on the wrong side of history only three short years ago are catching up to the times, and giving all their users a glimpse of what it looks like on the otherwise of the hormone therapy, gendered facial surgery curtain. Isn’t that what’s wanted? For us all to be able to imagine ourselves as fluid, genderless, morphable, androgynes? Far from being harmful to the trans community, this Snapchat filter signal boosts it.
If the goal of trans awareness is, at least in part, greater acceptance of trans people and identity, then this Snapchat filter could actually be a monumental step forward. Men and women have been thoroughly enjoying seeing themselves as the opposite gender, so the filter actually makes people more accepting of the idea of gender fluidity and trans activism. Breathlessly screeching that this fun feature is “transphobic” can only have the opposite effect.