Is ‘Self-Promotion’ and the ‘Selfie’ at risk of crushing the quiet hardworking transgender activist?

Transpeople and ‘Self Portraits’

OK this is something that has been discussed for quite a long time at grass-roots. By ‘grass-roots’ I mean the transpeople who badger away often in secret and now and again are ‘shared’ or appear in a little credit somewhere, yet locally have made huge changes for our community.

I won’t expose anyone here to ridicule (other than myself – later). But this is a generalisation and I am sure you know or have seen people like this on your travels.

‘The Selfie’

(A ‘selfie’ is a photo taken by (self-portrait usually at arm’s length but maybe on a timer, but less secure) or with the camera-phone (by someone else) of the person who appears in it and who then uploads it to their social network. An image update if you will).

tstrss2I used to work for the press as a photographer in my late teens, my father was a wedding photographer and he taught me all about the technique. I had photos published on the front page of all the major newspapers in Devon and Cornwall. I was treated like royalty as everybody wanted to be ‘in the paper’. Event organisers and sponsors of major events rolled out the red carpet. My cameras swinging and Metz Flashguns were like Doctor Who’s Psychic paper. I could go anywhere, had free parking, access all areas and told the top ‘celebrities’ of the day what to do and where to stand. I even toured with Princess Diana that is as big as it gets. Suffice it to say you learn very fast to take celebrity with a pinch of salt and my initial start struck behaviour was buried and I became ‘professional’ they needed direction and I gave them what they wanted!

So the importance of an image (since photography was invented) to companies and to personal profile is well established.

However, then, unlike now the ‘selfie’ was often a camera on a self-timer or a poorly framed camera shot by a relative, when the film was developed (analogue days) and the prints came back from the processors, granny’s head was missing!

What made me special back then was I had to develop my own films – and fast! Film was expensive, and it was all a convoluted and expensive process.

Today, the images that pour into the net are like some ‘need vomit’.

Our value as individuals are sumarised by a Thumbs-up Facebook ‘Like’. There was some recent commentary on this, that individuals get a release of pleasure chemicals when they get a ‘Like’ and this can be mildly addictive.

Transgender people do have low self-esteem as a rule. Even those you would assume to ‘pass’ really well. As despite passing, there are other difficulties that maybe hidden, that can include, sterility, body dysmorphism, poverty, street abuse, shame, cultural dilemmas, ethical distress and of course gender dysphoria that is often triggered by seeing other people’s successful transitions they cannot match! Benchmarking as it is otherwise known, is very triggering for transgender people. Selfies of a mother and her baby can trigger a potential mother struggling to conceive on IVF in a similar way.

Many of the above issues can very easily be reinforced by how we see ourselves in the mirror, or in family photos.

From being photographed as young children, we see this ‘stranger’ in ourselves pretending to be a boy or a girl and in all these family photos smiling concealing a truth that we dare not speak.

We are reminded by the pain ‘that person’, that ‘other us’ felt, smiling at the back in school pics.

So when we finally transition, for many, the very idea of having photos taken can become problematical.

On the one hand we have a photo, that is:

Empowering – just had a make-over, bought a new outfit, for transmen it might be developing the biceps and posing with those newly tribal-tattooed veined ‘guns’!

And on the other:

Destructive – shows an angle or parts of the body we are ashamed of, lumps and bumps in photos we cannot edit. They maybe photos a friend took and posted online and when viewed a transman (for example) may clearly have not bound their chest properly and are distressed by this image. Yet this was not the intention of the friend who might not even have noticed! Unlike not being happy because we have put on weight, a transperson in a photo can have a total and utter emotional collapse over something many may see as trivial!

Modern Times

Today, we have the ability to ‘control’ our own media. The rise and rise of Youtube Channels and smart phones now delivering HD footage is a game changer! The quality of a picture on an Iphone 5s or a Nokia Lumia 2020 is so high, the final deathknell of the flash-cubed Instamatic has been rung :). You see it is not so much the ability to take a photo, it is the ability to take a lot of photos and edit and publish them immediately that is the issue. And one we must also examine here. Speed can kill – and has!

‘Selfies’ are mostly shot on wide-angle lenses, the camera needs to operate at arm’s length! Any photographer worth their salt will tell you that a slightly telephoto lens is a better and more flattering perspective than, ‘HEY BIG NOSE!’ So many take photos in the mirror as this creates distance and even a little soft-focus (little tip there if you don’t want to hand a stranger your smartphone for a group shot who may run off with it!). And as for lighting, the pokey camera flash is no bounced hammer gun. Its a tiny pinhole led trying to light a room. We all know the effort that goes into lighting a TV studio and the make-up and hair they get before going on air! Yet those same celebrities look dire caught outside the supermarket with the kids!

History

If we look back to film cameras, I remember when I took a photo, there were a number of layers before publication.

Event – invitation – celebrity VIP (or members of the public) – implicit consent or explicit consent to take the photo (in other words you ask them first!). Especially in a private place as opposed to a public space.

Photo is taken, no preview is available (unless you are a highly paid fashion photographer with a ‘Polaroid back’, many a lens cap has been left on ‘Instamatic’ 🙂 after a load of shots are taken. A film usually had 36 exposures on a roll. I used two 35mm cameras (insurance!) and one Roll-film camera for high quality tripod shots for crowds and group photos. If I returned and one camera had leaked light and damaged the film, I had a back up! Special events may have had two of us, royal visits for example, even the reporters took shots too.

The film is then taken to the lab – can be home lab in a bathroom or the lab at the paper. Film removed in dark room changing-bag, or dark room with light off, even wardrobes if on assignment, but they are sometimes not as dark as you think! And films can be fogged or ruined – Photoshop? Not invented yet! This is another layer of risk of film damage! Load it onto a drum put it in the developing tank snap the lid shut and start the chemical mix, developer, stop bath, fixer, rinse, wetting agent and squeegee the film or run it between the fingers. Now for the first time you get to see what you have taken! And in Black and White!

You hold up the negatives to the light turn them slightly to see a positive, its exposed OK – Hooray!!! I will eat after all! But even now I am still not sure if they are in focus! Enlarger goes on, red light goes on. The dried negs are sandwiched into the frame and are slid in. You focus the image onto the paper and look with a loupe. Voila(!) you have an image! Then you expose a ‘test-strip’ and slide down a piece of card a section at a time and begin counting, 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi… Develop it, stop bath, and fix it, rinse it, and have a look with the light on for the first time. Hmmmm(?), I think 7-8 Mississippis! 🙂 You then lay out all the negs onto a sheet and expose them. Same routine. Use a china-graph marker, ring the ones you think will sell, print those and develop, fix, rinse and hang up to dry!

Few – so there are already all these stages of scrutiny and the picture editor and copy editors (and legals) have not got their hands on them yet!

Jump in the car, and hand them in before 8pm and cross your fingers. Next day I had a double-page spread in the middle of the paper – whoopee! Then you ‘come down’ as the next day other than a few reprints requested by the people in the shots who are excited to be there it all starts again! Reprints were a nice little earner – always shoot groups 😉 Dancing schools KERCHING! LOL.But with the internet one photo can be shared over and over!

The next day I catch a glimpse of all my hard work tumbling down the road, or lining budgie cages, or wrapping up cat litter.

The Internet

What changed everything was the internet. As digital cameras came down in price photos started to be uploaded. First were scans of prints of course. You scan an actual photo and then upload that. Those early cameras – digital ones – were something like £30 thousand pounds! I kid you not. It was not really until the late 90s they became ‘affordable’ but the quality was still nowhere near 35mm ‘analogue’. Plus what are the chances you had a camera with you when you were out and about, and what would you do with the image when you took it? Take it home put it on a CD and forget about it till you want to embarrass your kids in 10 years time? Send the CD to the chemist to be made into prints? Domestic photo printers were not good enough yet!

Social Media

I suppose this has always been around in one form or another, a forum and linking to a photobucket type account or your own webspace or ‘homepage’ was the first type. But then Smartphones came along, the internet on a phone? Whatever next?! A camera on a phone?! And you can publish this immediately to somewhere? And most importantly of all you always have it with you! It was at this moment in the noughties that social networking as we know it took off. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube (although 4G will rectify the bandwidth issues of HD soon), and of course Instagram!

During all this, transgender people have only had a few ways to develop any media presence – and boy should I know. I as you know archive transgender media, documentaries, even any ‘mention’ of transpeople on television, good or bad, by even non-transpeople – like comedians goes in!

So I have a pretty good grasp of the way this all went. I have spoken about trans-curreny already here on this blog.

Television has changed very little in its production over the years, although in more recent years it has become very sly, cruel and cutting. Whereas, back in the day it was fantastical, ‘other-worldy’ and even scary to see a ‘man change into a woman’!

Today that’s tired old hat, the people who consume media now have seen all this before, and as for the net, or the World Wide W*nk(!) as it is known, you need to do little more than enter the term ‘tranny’ into Google images to see what transpeople are now seen as.

Trans Celebrity and the Selfie

OK so we have a situation now where, we are drowning in images and media, we have to be rather selective about what we consume. In a way we are regressing slightly back to those days where a lot more thought had to go into what the image will achieve, is it good enough? Will it damage you or another stealth transgender person? When you hold up the camera to do a self-portrait and the person behind you may as a consequence have their life ruined because you desire to be ‘somebody’ are you to blame, could you even be sued? Maybe it is time to think again? Maybe even crop the image on the phone first! This is in part caused a decline in closeted transpeople attending events. 25 years ago, you could see who the photographer was! Today everyone is holding a camera phone! That’s bad news if you fear for your privacy, goodness knows where those images will end up? Maybe even blackmail!

Followers

Twitter, is interesting, most people who follow on twitter, do so because they want to be entertained, they want a seat at your dinner table. @transgenderzone is on twitter and is just updates of the site – do follow us btw. So we tend to attract researchers, academics, and activists looking to keep up with what is happening in this way. However transgender individuals can quickly establish minor celebrity on Twitter.

However, unless you are following them about with a camera or spying on them, it can be quite stressful for them to keep entertaining their fans. This is when things can go awry. Fantasies starts to develop, exciting tweets posted when they are not even doing that.

Just got back from Paris – my boyfriend treated me for our anniversary!

In actual fact she is lying in bed crying as he has just come home drunk and stood on the cat’s paw and woke the baby up!

People embellish their achievements all the time, we only have to look at CVs for job applications to see that. But once the lie is out there, it has to be kept going! The transgender community is simply too small to sustain this. And you will be found out – sooner or later!

The Age Gap

There is an obvious cross-over here, Transgender Activists I know have been on 1000s of TV programmes across the world, one person alone now retired has been on 500+ ( I know I can prove it I have many of the recordings) and that was when it kinda mattered more too! Her Selfie was courtesy of BBC or ITV. Yet today she is humble and modest to the point of embarrassment when thanked. “Don’t be silly, let’s move on!”

Younger people seem to have a different take on this, it is perfectly natural to take photos of yourself and post them to your friends, or ‘fans’ even, so they can see what you are up to. Well if you don’t post photos then they may stop following! After all, if your competition is posting them, then you have to now don’t you? One less follower is a little less self-esteem. And may bring on depression.

Being trans is a problem here, as many transpeople are terrified about anybody knowing they are trans! This does not meld well with this new selfie-absorbed culture.

So this is the impasse we have reached.

Sexual Attractiveness = Self-esteem.

Just like cisgender people, transpeople have now stopped thinking about just being happy ‘passing’ as women (or men) and going off and living their lives. This was an unexpected turn of events in recent years, that passing and living cisnormatively in stealth was the answer and solution, but there is no currency in that, no fame in that, being special in our community is where the ‘action’ is! Passing well enough to be snapped up by the media or sexy enough to be on the television quadruples the trans-currency, although its a big comedown when the party is over! And one must question recent suicides along those lines. If you are ‘hot’ and even if you talk nonsense, there is a job for you as a ‘hot trans’ and this is likely to involve ‘modeling’. After all, historically no one was really interested in what a beauty queen said, the old joke is just say, “world peace,” and smile!

Part of this new social network CV, and part of this entertainment, and keeping your profile stratospheric, is to maintain selfie production. Without your tweets punctuated by selfies, you are on your way out! Presidents, Prime Ministers and Billionaires even need this!

So it is clear, there has been a change over time, that self-portait PR, and boasting about anything and everything has arrived. But deep down something still does not sit right with it.

Old Joke – “If Bullsh*t could fly [enter name] would be a squadron Leader!”

Conclusion

From its humble beginnings photography has always been an art of sorts – and a business. The photographer who shoots quality images is still around of course. Who in their right mind would want a ‘selfie’ wedding photographer or a Royal Portrait done with a wide angle camera phone? Although the guests may well do some at the reception. ‘Outsider Artists’ take note, David Hockney already did it with Polaroids.

But in the context of transgender people, the selfie has taken an interesting turn, it has become both angel and demon. For some a way to ‘out’ yourself (intentionally or accidentally!). But it is very difficult to put that genie back in the bottle if you change your mind or you are just experimenting with gender roles – that selfie will be back in 30 years you mark my words when you are trying for a Cabinet Ministerial role!. Or worse is forever wondering if you are being treated a certain way because you are a woman (for example), but rather the ‘courtesy stigma’ (see Goffman on wikipedia) of others treats you as a transwoman with a male past – the ‘before pictures forever haunting them and being the only true value of the person. They are not seeing a ‘woman’ in other words. After all take away the male past and those old family photos of the younger them in boy’s clothes and a short back and sides haircut and whats left? Without it you are high and dry and back with the rest of the ‘beige society’. But all of this is photo-led!

We see how people post images of themselves on social networks and how important it is to be ‘liked’, how this can make you feel a million dollars. But are they simply pandering to you, do they really think you are a mess, but scared to say so? Surely a true friend should be able to guide you and help you look better? But if you said something negative, then your own next photo might get a cutting remark from them and it is all downhill from there. This then leads into delusion. That you believe your own publicity.

  1. Photo of person coupled with self-aggrandisment tweet (tweets are rarely self-deprecating or negative).
  2. Feedback from followers or friends that gush (you look AMAZING!!!!)!
  3. Brain releases dopamine and a little ‘drug rush’ is felt (I AM SO HAPPY! I LOOK AMAZING!!!!).
  4. Desire to have similar brain orgasm asap! But maybe with nothing to say so there is a fabrication risk to entertain and the troops and/or satiate the fan-base!

We know just how badly young people take social media criticism – even to the point of taking their own lives! This is often commentary about how they look in their selfies!

Then of course we hit the other problem. As mentioned previously, we have the activists who work tirelessly for the community and have done so for decades. I am aware I risk a ‘conflict of interests’ here, so am declaring that now, and you will see why later in a Youtube Video spoof I have made. Caveat aside.

Those activists are humble and work hard, they do so with speeches, work with the Police and other organisations for the betterment of transgender people in the UK and elsewhere. But put simply, for the want of self-publicity and selfies, they go ignored. It can create an unstable mountainside ready to slide. As the trickle of boasts begin to crumble just a little…. then the stones shift a little, and then the whole mountain comes down. We swim in a sea of sharks, beauty, boasting, delusion and ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder!’ Here is a list of NPD Symptoms! Look familiar?

Symptoms of this disorder, as defined by the DSM-IV-TR include:

  • Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
  • Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others
  • Envies others and believes others envy him/her
  • Is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence
  • Lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others
  • Is arrogant in attitudes and behavior
  • Has expectations of special treatment that are unrealistic

(Wikipedia)

I myself do not have a ‘personal twitter account’ (don’t have time too busy being an activist! ;)), my Facebook account is kinda a ‘Friends’ only thing and in lock-down even for them, and even then they have to have regular dealings with me such as planning a show for example as guests or co-hosts, or fellow tzone moderators or regular guests on our Vlog – not any old Tom Dick of Harry! News just in, ask yourself how many of them would risk their life to save you? Friends? 🙂 Meh! Bah Humbug!

But I have noticed as we promote our video log VLOG see: Youtube.com/transgenderzone that I suddenly have become ‘noticed’ too. I have been sat here doing this for 17 years! So what has changed?

Maybe the mega-selfie will be our future? The UK has a show (like many countries) called the ‘X Factor’ (ITV). They have these ‘mega introductions’ of big international artists. I wondered what if I did one about myself?

Feel free to comment on this on the youtube page…here

Will these bite-sized self-promos replace the calling card? Btw All that is stated in the video is true and are provable facts – not fantasy!. Does that make me a big head? Or am I telling the truth? Does it make you think less of me for this arrogance? Or does it make you think more of me as you didn’t realise what I had done?

And this is the very problem we now have as a community. Is it time for all those who have hidden their light under a bushel to now break ranks and get out there too? Or will that dilute and weaken those who are already there. Will it potentially weaken those that want to live cisnormatively and in stealth? As maybe they wonder if it would be easier not to bother and let all that go too? Interesting times!

Your call!

Ice Maiden (Sam)

Who Am I? (complete with Mega Selfie).

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