In this Wednesday, May 15, 2019, photo, Bailey Coffman shows her photo as a man in the Snapchat app during an interview in New York. Snapchat’s new photo filter that allows users to change into a man or woman with the tap of a finger isn’t necessarily fun and games for transgender people. But some others see the potential for such tools to lead to self-discovery among people struggling with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

For trans people, gender-swap photo filters are no mere game

Snapchat is the latest gender-swap filter to get worldwide traction, but is it more harmful than fun?

Hit a button, and you’re “transformed” into a woman. The beard disappears. The face and jaw smooth out. The hair floats jauntily around the shoulders.

“Yo this is SPOT ON my mom.” ”Pretty.” ”Are you in a sorority?”

A swipe and another click. Suddenly you’re a square-jawed man — heavy of brow, sporting five o’ clock shadow.

“I look like my brother Jay.” ”Hahahaha Suzie I’m dyingggg.” ”My sisters were like, ‘um… strange. You’re kinda hot’ haha.”

The gender-bending selfies accompanied by flip or sarcastic comments are flooding social feeds since Snapchat introduced a filter this month allowing users to swap gender appearances with the tap of a finger. But for many people who have longed for a button that would change them in real life, the portrait parade isn’t a game.

“My gender’s not a costume,” says Bailey Coffman, a 31-year-old transgender woman from New York. “This 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.

“And when certain people post it and write about how silly it is and how goofy they look with this filter,” she says, “it makes light of the transgender experience.”

Others, though, see possibility in the pastime.

Some argue that the filter, which Snapchat calls a “lens,” could be a therapeutic tool that leads to self-discovery and even helps ease the transition of people struggling with gender identity once they see who they could become.

“There are people who haven’t found themselves yet, and this is a great way to say ‘This is really affirming for me’ and to take that next step,” says Savannah Daniels, 32, a military veteran living in Baltimore. She says she realized she identified as female after watching episodes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” while serving in Afghanistan as a chaplain’s assistant in the U.S. Navy.

Snapchat is not the first face-altering app with such a feature; FaceApp, for instance, has had one for years. But users of the Snapchat filter unveiled the second week of May have noted its high quality. And, of course, the very popularity of Snapchat amplifies the feature further.

Snapchat’s maker, Snap Inc., which has drawn criticism for a Bob Marley filter some likened to blackface and another that overlaid stereotypically Asian features on users’ photos, commented about its filter in an emailed statement.

“We understand that identity is deeply personal,” the company said. “As we have and continue to explore the possibilities of this technology, our Lens design team is working … to ensure that on the whole these Lenses are diverse and inclusive by providing a wide range of transformative effects.”

“My gender’s not a costume,” says Bailey Coffman, a 31-year-old transgender woman from New York. “This 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.” (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Jessie Daniels (no relation to Savannah Daniels), a City University of New York professor and an expert in digital sociology, says that for people unfamiliar with the concept of gender as fluid — not innate and not binary; that is, not strictly male or female — such filters can be both radical and transformative.

“They get a chance to play with gender in a way that many of us who are LGBTQ have played with gender our whole lifetimes and understand the social construct part of it,” she says.

That could be meaningful for youths reckoning with gender identity or, she says, just for putting the notion of gender fluidity on youngsters’ radar. A survey last year by Common Sense Media found that 44% of teenagers use Snapchat as their primary social app.

“I do hope this does help some people better recognize their gender,” says Elliott “Ellie” Wheeler, a 16-year-old sophomore at Michigan’s East Lansing High School who, combining the words female and butch, identifies as a “futch” lesbian.

Because most of her social media contact comes with trans people, she says, she hasn’t seen much use of the Snapchat filter. But she also doesn’t hold the company responsible for any controversy.

CUNY’s Daniels, though, wonders whether the filter is an attempt by Snapchat, which has struggled against competition from Facebook and Instagram , to win back market share. Snap Inc. did not respond specifically to questions about its business strategy, saying in its email only that “we regularly experiment with new technologies and features as part of our mission to empower self-expression.”

For people who are finding the fun in the game, Savannah Daniels urges them not to enjoy it and then simply dismiss “actual living beings that are trans.” She reminded people of that Saturday with a tweet under her moniker, “Miss Clean Legs,” that went viral.

“These new Snapchat filters got y’all out here having fun with gender roles, joking about sex with your homeboys, and sporting beards with lashes. All we ask is that you keep that same energy when you interact with actual transgender and non-binary ppl.”

Jeff McMillan, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Volunteering helps communities function

“You need to be at the table and help make decisions, but also do the work. Put your money where your mouth is.”

North Thompson Community foundation spreads the wealth

Funds will be used by recipients for various operations and programs

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

Clearwater food bank receives donation from tree planting group

Dynamic Reforestation out of Williams Lake donated $1,400 in light of International Hunger Day

No active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Interior Health: BCCDC

Numbers from the BCCDC’s dashboard show 193 of the 195 COVID-19 cases in the region have recovered

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

‘Great Regional Air Hug’ being organized by the Vanderhoof International Airshow Society

A multi-aircraft flyover over the region is being planned for August 15.

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Most Read