- Trans Youth Activism on the Internet
The intersections of being transgender and rural bring into question the concept of access: How does one know their identity when they think they are the only one with it? How does one find others who similarly identify? At the age of eight, in the remote town of Willits in northern California, I told my parents I was a girl. They immediately protested my identity and left me without the support I needed to survive as a young trans person. The people in my rural town had no understanding of the complexity of gender, bringing them to attack, assault, and isolate me frequently. However, I was very privileged to belong to one of the first families in this community to have Internet access, which greatly improved my experiences and life chances as a trans youth.1 After spending years thinking I was alone, I decided to do research online. I came across one word, transgender, that instantly changed my life. Through the Internet I was able to reify my identity and gain the knowledge I needed to thrive within a cissexist school system. I not only read about other transgender people but also learned that trans youth created much of the content online. As someone without access to a physical community, I found that the Internet saved me and continues to radically alter the ways in which trans people (particularly trans youth) find support.2 Young trans people are benefitting from and leading these new online trans organizing methodologies and discussions. The digitization of trans youth activism has led to monumental growth for transgender people and organizations.
As with many other young trans people, I was desperate to find information about my identities and communities but had no way of conceptualizing transness when I was in middle school.3 I believed I was the only person like this and that I was alone. Because my town was so small, I was indeed the only openly trans person, and my sole option was to learn about trans identities online. However, young trans women in rural communities cannot afford to be complicit in the commonplace apathy rural youth express about education. [End Page 73] We must learn about our identities and options in order to transition, survive, and thrive.4 It was necessary to research my identities for my own well-being after I realized I was not alone in my gender being different from my sex assigned at birth. Online transgender outreach provided me the opportunity to obtain critical information alongside becoming a queer and trans community activist. Having taught myself web coding in elementary school, at age sixteen I co-founded the organization Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) at www.transstudent.org. TSER primarily operates on the Internet and offers services and information to trans youth in the United States. We found that outreach methodologies focusing on accessibility for youth needed to center social media, the Internet, and technology, which are frequently the only options these youth have for connecting with the community.5
Online trans youth activism like that of TSER goes overlooked while it is actually some of the most generative organizing in the trans community. Young transgender activists, artists, and scholars collectively work to shift the movement radically to one of transformative justice through innovative technological means and methodologies. In this essay I contextualize transgender youth organizing to contemporary digital epistemologies through analysis and critique of the highly varied effects of transgender praxis on the Internet. The discrepancies in trans culture allow for a broad review of differing aspects of online transness, including organizational practices, crowdfunding, identity production, and resisting pathologization.
online transgender activism
The transgender community has an extensive history in the field of technology. The explosion of digital industries in the 1990s gave way to the proliferation of trans. Transgender people, particularly young trans women programmers, were able to enter these communities and radically change the state of transness by influencing digital media.6 Lynn Conway, who notably revolutionized computers while working at IBM from the age of twenty-four, describes the industry as hostile toward transgender people. However, it was also a way for trans...