On Tumblr, The Transgender Community Offers Help & Hope

Photo: Samuel Kubani/Getty Images.
"i've identified as agender for a few years but now i'm starting to feel feminine," an anonymous Tumblr user explains in a question posted to the Tumblr blog Transgender Teen Survival Guide. "i don't fully identify as a woman though and i still really identify as agender. i am amab [assigned male at birth]. in short can i be agender and transfemininie?" The question is long and rambling, seeming to come out in a nervous rush and peppered with thanks and an apology. But the answer the sender received from a respondent named Roxie was simple. "Of course you can." Tumblr seems like a natural fit for young transgender people to gather online. With a thriving social-justice community and fandom devotees advocating LGBTQ rights, Tumblr also fosters a culture of reaching out for advice from caring, experienced strangers. Tumblr is where Taylor Swift has offered fans lengthy, personalized words of wisdom, and it's common for blog bios to include assurance that their ask box (Tumblr messaging) is always open. "Tumblr's also important because through finding one person who is similar to you, you'll find 10 more, because they'll be following people like themselves. When I was first working out I was trans, I didn't follow that many other trans girls, but now I follow loads because I've seen the kind of things they've said," explained Roxie, who is an admin for the Transgender Teen Survival Guide. A 17-year-old who identifies as a nonbinary trans girl, Roxie describes Tumblr as "a safe space, where we can enjoy 'normal life stuff' and 'trans stuff' as it should be — one and the same thing." Tumblr's trans community first received national attention after the suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn in December of last year. Alcorn's heartbreaking suicide note, left behind on her blog, explained that her parents refused to accept that she was transgender while also expressing hope that her taking her own life would spark change. But before Alcorn's tragic death, her Tumblr was a place to explore her identity and engage with her community. Among the pop-culture posts of any teen girl's blog, like GIFs from favorite TV shows and photos focusing on fashion trends, there were offerings more specific to her trans identify. One post showed an image of a black-and-white adult clipping the colorful wings — drawn in the blue, pink, and white of trans pride — off a sad child. Below the picture, a caption read, "Refuse to be your child's first bully." Though Alcorn couldn't be herself in real life, on Tumblr she could be accepted. The Tumblr transgender community can offer more than solidarity and emotional support (though those should never be discounted). In addition to answers to identity questions, the survival guide — which currently has a roster of 12 administrators with a wide range of gender identities, sexualities, and races — also responds to practical questions including how to adjust an ill-fitting chest binder. Trans clothing swaps are also arranged through Tumblr as a way for trans people to give away gendered clothes they no longer need to someone who might not have the funds to purchase a new wardrobe that corresponds with their true gender. The Transgender Housing Network is another Tumblr blog filling a practical need in the trans community: safe housing. Many posters looking for places to stay are young teens unable to return home to their unsupportive families. A 19-year-old in Canada looking for a safe place to stay explained, "My family has made it obvious that I need to be gone by the time I graduate, and they are very obvious about the fact that they don’t like that I’m trans." A poster from Florida wrote, "I’m turning 18 in December, and will not have a place to stay." Still, the most important thing Tumblr's trans community can give its members may be a sense of affirmation. "A big question TTSG gets is 'Am I still valid?'" explained Carl, another administrator on the Transgender Teen Survival Guide. "And the answer is always yes, but it's always heartbreaking to see."

November 14-20 is Transgender Awareness Week, a time to raise the voices of and the awareness about transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. You can read Refinery29's previous work about transgender rights in America here.

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