Transgender Bodies and Censorship in Media Platforms, What is Up?

Last month Facebook did it again, and removed Colorline’s post about Ines Rau, the transgender model featured here in a photo spread with Tyson Beckford because it “violated the site’s community standards.” The images are the product of a photo shoot for OOB Magazine’s “Tropical Surrealism” spread, photographed by Rodolpho Martinez.

Facebook’s definition of “displaying nudity” is vague, and not the central issue anyway. But, on its site titled Community Standardsit claims: “We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.”

Both Ines and Tyler look gorgeaus, and (I would argue) Tyson Beck’s body DOES have the aesthetic qualities of Michelangelo’s David (take that Facebook!) but the central issue is not the nudity, it has more to do with the intolerance. Beck, has now collected sparking rumors about his sexuality after these images, and this ongoing censorship issue can be used to further the conversation about gender inequality. The question: what does this censorship say about how gender can or cannot be performed in the visual field?

Here we have Facebook, an hegemonic social media site with millions of viewers, removing an image of a transgender woman of color. Thus, the aesthetic of someone who does not conform to the normative idea of gender or whose gender is “vague” to mainstream audiences, is now left out of an immense social platform that could facilitate moderated discussions about beauty, gender, sexuality, aesthetics, photography, race, feminism etc. Sad.

Facebook, by preventing certain content from being displayed in a worldwide open visual field and, instead, targeting it as inappropriate only replicates the violence often done against marginalized groups online and offline.

Take last year’s case as an example of censorship outside of the social media world, and in the publishing realm. Here, Barnes and Noble censored the cover of Dossier Journal where Andrej Pejic, androgynous model, had an open button down shirt. To be sold, Barnes and Noble ended covering the magazine in dark plastic cover so that you could only see Andrej’s face. The reason provided by spokesperson to Dossier creative director was that: “even though they knew Andrej was a man, he looked too much like a woman, basically,” a move that she suspects will limit sales.”

Does it limit sales? Or do these online and offline tactics work to limit what we see or don’t see? Restrictions and censorship serve the broader purpose of framing what goes in, and what stays out. But tolerance is built socially, by exposure, apprehension, and empathy to those who are “different” (in this case, those who don’t share standard norms of sexuality and gender). Intolerance and hate statistics, on the other hand, are high in communities with no exposure to those who are “different.” So, technically, taking away the opportunity to have a discussion about an image, by removing the image, is a destructive rather than constructive act of criticism.

And in response to those who might believe that all of this social media censorship is just a privileged problem, it helps to point that many platforms of discussion for marginalized groups are formed and begin online.

Take another example of censorship by a different online empire. Last month, artist Petra Collins was censored in Instagram because a picture she posted of herself with a bikini showed some pubic hair and was apparently “violating the terms of use” for that site. Collins wrote a response that appeared on Huff Post, trying to make sense of why her body was censored, and reached the conclusion that regardless the shaming experienced with this online removal, she does not want to be desensitized to what is going on:

I don’t want to be desensitized to what’s happening around me all.the.time. I consider myself endlessly lucky to have access to the Internet and technology. Through it I’ve found myself and have been able to join a new discourse of females young and old who strive to change the way we look and treat ourselves. I know having a social media profile removed is a 21st century privileged problem — but it is the way a lot of us live. These profiles mimic our physical selves and a lot of the time are even more important. They are ways to connect with an audience, to start discussion, and to create change. Through this removal, I really felt how strong of a distrust and hate we have towards female bodies.

If big brother media sites are vigilant and watching, they are focusing on the wrong people, so maybe it is time to return some images that belong to us and restrict the never-ending sexism, classism, and misogyny instead?

Bio: I am a NYC based writer, immigrant, and teacher from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I think poetically about Latin America, intersectionaly within feminism, and critically about pop-culture. You can follow my tweets at https://twitter.com/CarolinaADrake

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