I’ve been in and out of many progressive, social justice aware, LGBT, and transgender communities throughout my adult life, specifically leading up to and throughout my transition. Some of those communities came and went, others are still around but I grew out of them, and some I’m still a part of but only visit when I’m in the right mood. The only community that I’ve remained a part of through everything is a small group of best friends that all met each other in random corners of the internet, only to eventually settle in the midwest, and all come out as some form of LGBT.
I can’t tell you whether or not I’m a normal case for a 30-something millennial that has largely lived her life on the internet since she was 14. I don’t even know if I’m a normal case for someone who is transgender. As with all my posts, what follows are my own experiences and opinions. There is no right or wrong way to discover who you are as a person, but I want to share my journey.
My liberal awakening started in late high school, when I began questioning my Catholic upbringing but I attribute most of my swing to the left to a subforum of the website Something Awful. Something Awful is a satire website, in the same vein as The Onion, and while not nearly as ubiquitous as The Onion at one point the site’s forums were the defining culture of the internet. Something Awful in many ways defined my late high school and early college life on the internet. It was a website where there was no point in which something was too soon to make fun of. Yes, I was somewhat of an edgy internet troll in my youth.
In 2008, formed from the depths of the site’s Debate and Discussion forum, where most political conversations happened, a subform called Laissez’s Faire was formed. It quickly became one of the site’s most popular forums, and was almost entirely populated by the far left. 2008 also happened to be the era of the Obama candidacy for president, and LF, as it was lovingly named, followed the primaries and resulting election with a fervor of memes, jokes, and serious posts. I learned a lot about politics following that forum, and was a frequent poster in a thread discussing political cartoons. Eventually LF was overrun by members who could no longer distinguish between ironic shit posting and honest calls for mass violent protests. Supposedly the secret service even became involved, eventually resulting in the site’s owner taking the subform down permanently. Today the only real visage of LF that remains is the political cartoon thread, now living in the main Debate and Discussion forum.
While LF was starting to fall apart, the website Reddit was gaining popularity in mainstream internet culture. A subreddit called ShitRedditSays was formed in 2010 to document the terrible, racist, sexist, and disgusting comments that Redditors were making on the site. A game was created called “Guess the Redditor” where comments were posted from Reddit as well as Stormfront, a nazi and white supremacist forum. The joke, essentially, being that the posters were one and the same.
In 2011 Something Awful took notice of the subreddit, and started joining in the fun. Posts were being made on the Something Awful forums about all the pedophilia that Reddit was harboring in various subreddits. This culminated in an Anderson Cooper expose on CNN, and Reddit finally removing a lot of really disgusting content from their servers. Eventually Something Awful and ShitRedditSays became sister communities. I followed the subreddit, and through the posts that were making fun of racists, sexists, and all around disgusting individuals, I learned a lot about feminism.
I slowly shifted from being a Something Awful regular, to a Reddit user. I started following feminist minded subreddits, eventually leading me to transgender subreddits, and my egg began to crack. The more I read, the more I began to understand myself. It was a revelation that the thoughts in the back of my head of hating my body and not being comfortable with who I was physically were experienced by others. Things had finally begun to make sense.
I was still questioning myself when I met my first serious girlfriend. Three months into our relationship I came out to her, after realizing that being in a straight relationship wasn’t “fixing” me. For a long time she was the only person who knew that I might have been anything but cis.
The next big milestone in my transition wasn’t until around 2015. Discord, one of the most popular chat services on the internet was launched, and began to take Reddit communities by storm, including ShitRedditSays. I, of course, joined their Discord server, and began having conversations with people who, like me, were questioning their gender. Eventually I came out to them as questioning. They were my first true transgender community.
From there, I joined several LGBT related Discord and Slack servers. I don’t believe I’ve ever actually left a community that I joined, but my activity eventually diminishes from one as I gravitate to another. I still pop my head in and comment every once in a while, but I don’t really feel as if I’m an actual part of those particular communities anymore. There are also a lot of communities that I have poked my head into, not felt comfortable with, and immediately left. I have changed a lot as a person in the last two years, and my activity in LGBT communities reflects that.
In my experience, there are many different types of transgender communities online, and they all have their pros and cons. While there are a few overarching and more generic LGBT or transgender communities, largely each community tends to be populated by members in similar life stages or stages of transition. Sometimes a community will start as a place for those questioning their gender and sexuality, and the community will grow as it’s members all learn and grow together. Other times a community will continue to be a place for those of a certain stage in their transition, as new members join and others move on.
I want to categorize the types of communities I’ve seen and dealt with fairly broadly.
There are lots of communities for those getting their first taste of feminism and feminist thought. I call this Feminism 101, because a lot of the subjects that get brought up are those you’d find in a college gender studies course. While great for beginners, eventually members of these communities get tired of answering the same questions over and over again, and want to have discussions about feminist topics with others who are as equally well versed in the basics.
This is the sort of community that you learn about toxic masculinity, the basic principles of racism and sexism, the idea of privilege, and eventually intersectionality. In my experience, by the point a member understands intersectionality they’re ready to move on.
Feminism 101 communities are generally really open and accepting. Anyone and everyone is welcome, and the goal is to learn and grow as a person. Unfortunately this welcoming attitude also tends to attract people who wish to argue in bad faith, and bait members into arguments to make them look bad.
Feminist communities are where those who graduate from Feminism 101 communities go. These are communities that the basic principles are understood and unquestioned. If you have to ask for why something is problematic, odds are you’ll be told to go elsewhere and come back when you’ve read up more.
While great to be a member of, they can be seen as unwelcoming and off-putting to people who are better suited for the Feminism 101 communities. People who come to these communities in an attempt to argue in bad faith are shut out quickly, and even those who might be wanting to argue in good faith will be turned away. Members have come to these communities to get away from the arguments and debate that fill the communities they came from.
The downside of general feminist communities, is that they are communities for all kinds of feminists, and people begin to disagree on what subjects are more or less worthy of discussion. LGBT issues often get lost or downplayed. Worst of all, some members of feminist communities actively discourage or exclude men. This is problematic because it can shut out the voices of transgender men, or people who currently identify as men, but may be questioning their gender.
While generally pretty similar to a feminist community, LGBT communities are more specialized for members who identify with that label, or other labels with more letters in them. My ideal preference is to use 2SLGBTQIA+, but that’s long winded and hard to say in casual conversation. Here, members can discuss matters that are more specific to their own lived experiences. Usually the expectation of already knowing and understanding basic feminist principles is in place, sometimes with additions specific to being LGBT.
I tend to prefer LGBT communities to regular feminist communities primarily because there are usually a larger number of transgender, nonbinary, and gender questioning individuals that I can identify with. Many of the pros and cons of LGBT communities are the same as with regular feminist communities.
General transgender communities aren’t really much different than LGBT communities, just even more specialized. The biggest difference is that you’ll rarely, if ever, find a TERF lurking. Honestly this is probably the biggest reason that a lot of transgender people leave the more broad LGBT communities.
From my personal experience there are very few truly generalistic transgender communities. Most tend to focus discussion on news or blog posts. I theorize that the biggest reason for this is that transgender men, women, and non-binary individuals find transgender communities more specific to themselves. I definitely have seen a lot of transgender men get excluded from transgender communities, because for some reason the default tends to focus on transgender women. Because of this I often find that general transgender communities self-segregate based on age, how the individual was assigned at birth, and what stage of transition they are in.
Often a subset of general transgender communities, transgender meme communities also exist as their own unique community. The most infamous of these is probably Reddit’s traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns, or traa for short. For a long time I was turned off by traa because I never felt comfortable enough with myself to be able to laugh and joke about my transition. In fact, I found myself avoiding most transgender memes and in-jokes until fairly recently. From what I can tell I am an outlier in that regard. Traa is full of very young, early in transition, and often still very closeted transgender individuals.
The best part about communities such as traa, is that they are very light hearted, inclusive, and welcoming. While there are still posts that deal with serious issues facing individuals or transgender people as a whole, everyone is extremely supportive and upbeat. The biggest downside, at least for me, is that the communities tend to average much younger than myself.
The Old Guard
I’ve stumbled on a couple transgender communities that I’m going to refer to as “the old guard.” I don’t stick around them for very long. These communities tend to consist of members who are in their 30s at the youngest, which can be appealing to someone like myself who is also in her 30s. However, these members are usually people who either transitioned earlier in life or began their transition over a decade ago, if not longer.
While I’ve already brought up that general transgender communities tend to segregate based on stage of transition, the old guard gets a special designation. My experiences and those of someone who transitioned in the early 2000s, or in the 1900s, are so vastly different that it is hard for me to identify with them. I have a lot of respect for someone who was able to come out and live their truths in a time that I didn’t even properly understand feminism. Those individuals paved the way for more recent transitioners such as myself. I will forever be in their debt. I can’t imagine the layers of gatekeeping, misunderstanding, and transphobia members of these communities have had to go through.
However, what turns me off the most is that there are some members of those communities that act as if people transitioning now have it too easy. I have seen posts where transgender people scoff at the idea of informed consent. I have seen posts where transgender people argue that children can’t possibly know whether or not they want to transition, and argue against the use hormone blockers to delay puberty until a teenager is ready to make an informed choice. There are transgender people who argue that you can’t be transgender unless you’ve experienced the kind of transphobia and gatekeeping that they themselves had to experience.
The idea that someone should have to suffer to be allowed to live the life they want for themselves is one I cannot agree with.
The Deep Left
A relatively new type of community, at least in my experience, is what I’m going to call the Deep Left. These are leftist LGBT communities that dig deep into leftist thought, which at the surface seems great as someone that considers herself a far leftist.
Unfortunately, as communities tend to dig deeper and deeper into leftist discourse a pattern begins to emerge. The human starts to be lost as everyone seems to begin arguing over who is more oppressed and privileged is no longer a facet of intersectional feminism but something that should be avoided at all costs.
These communities turn on their own for making honest mistakes, or for saying something not 100% politically correct. As I said, the human is lost and what’s left is a mirror that can only reflect the perfect leftist ideologies with no room for error.
Members of these communities are extremely vocal and are also in many other communities that aren’t as deep left. They poison the discourse with bad faith arguments and expect everyone to be perfect all the time.
The biggest problem with these communities and individuals is that they allow our real enemies an easy route to poisoning the well further. If a public leftist individual makes a mistake, both the Deep Left and the alt right attack in a perfect storm of harassment campaigns and attempts to get the individual at fault cancelled.
The Deep Left creates villains amongst their own communities. Be too vocal about feeling like you need to medically transition and you’re a trans medicalist or truscum. Mention or quote or include the wrong person in your content and you’re just as bad as the person you inadvertently platformed.
It makes me sad, because we have enough villains and enemies as it is that we don’t need to make new ones out of people just doing their best to advocate for us.