Sarah Hollyer-Carney
BA Geography & Art History
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2019
Analyzing transgender online communities as archives of experience, thought, and desire
BLUE Fellow
Summer
2019

Background

I am a U2 art history student with academic interests spanning queer and feminist studies, English literature, and geography. My BLUE project looks at online transgender communities, examining trans forums, advice websites, and blogs (among others) as an archive of trans experience, thought, and desire, which very rarely find a place in traditional avenues of publishing. I was born in Toronto, grew up in Vancouver, and now live in Montreal.

My project looks at online transgender communities — in the form of older websites like blogs and forums as well as newer communities that have formed on contemporary popular social media platforms. There are dozens of older trans forums and advice websites with thousands of posts, and I wanted to look at these as an archive of trans experiences that are rarely recorded in traditional avenues of publishing. I also wanted to trace the movement of the community (particularly for young trans people) away from these older websites towards bigger social media platforms where the, design, moderation, and audience for online activity are dominated by cisgender people. My project looks at a wide array of sources, such as forum posts, forum avatars and signatures, blogs, advice websites, web design, trans celebrities’ Instagrams, Tumblr posts, trans Youtubers, as well as texts from traditional mediums like literature and visual art.

In my study of older online forms such as blogs and forums, I found a space where trans people are able to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns, without worry over the reactions of cisgender people. These forums give a voice to trans people who are not young, white, wealthy, and cis-passing as one must be to be heard on large social media platforms. They facilitate intergenerational communication, where older trans people can share their experience of years of transphobia with young trans people who are struggling to adjust to a hostile world.

My project drew heavily on my personal experience, and I found my conclusions were quite personal as well. In the end, I found myself returning to the danger of trying to be what others want us to be. For trans people, the desire to be accepted by a broader cis public leads to hiding, apologizing, and not taking up space. In many cases, this desire leads to the internalization of cis people’s fears and prejudices, a process that can only lead to self-loathing. At the end of the day, the only way forward is to love yourself, even when the world doesn’t.

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