Transphobia Speaks in the Voice of Surveillance Capitalism
It believes it knows, and can shape, who we are and what we’ll do
Around the year 2000, after my gender transition, when I was in college, I was put in touch with an older woman who was pursuing her graduate degree in social work. She was cis, though I didn’t know that word at the time and she probably didn’t either. Her thesis topic was “how transgender people use the internet to find support.” At this time, How will the internet change everything, and by the way, what is the internet? was a hot topic that inflected academic and popular discourse.
She interviewed me for her research, and I remember telling her: “Well, there are these things called chat rooms and message boards, and if you like the conversation you’re having with someone, you can move to this thing called email.” I suspected her other interviewees had responded similarly and that my response was thus disappointing to her, in no small part because it would yield a very boring thesis for her advisors. This, incidentally, was long before the tropes of Explain transsexualism and Explain the internet were replaced by the trope of Trans people are finding support online — should they?!?!
I was about 20, and I didn’t know how to help her ask a different question. I was not myself a social work student. I studied philosophy (as in Plato, not as in “applied philosophy” that would have involved understanding the real world or coaxing revelations out of interviewees). I felt that being transgender and connecting with other transgender people via early internet were things more exciting to be and do than to talk about in a drily factual way.
Today, however, in 2023, I have finally started to formulate what I think is a more interesting question about how “the internet” relates to “gender” and specifically to transphobia.
Transphobia Serves the Goals of the Internet
Transphobes often try to portray gender transition and trans identity as an artifact of the internet, something that can’t have predated Facebook. Demonstrably false. There have always been transgender people, as can be seen from the ancient history of gender diversity as well as from the history of medical…