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)

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

Downed trees account for the majority of power outages, according to BC Hydro, which plans to spend more money on tree pruning and hazardous tree removal in coming years in the face of changing weather and growing patterns caused by climate change. (Photo courtesy of the City of Langford)
BC Hydro says safety guides tree removal policy

Crown corporation says it will work with property owners wherever possible

(Photo by Mojpe/Pixabay)
Canadian kids extracting record amount from Tooth Fairy

Our neighbours in the U.S. receive slightly less from Tooth Fairy visits

Summer camps held by SEAPARC in Sooke and by West Shore Parks and Recreation are gearing up for a playful season. (SEAPARC photo)
Sooke, West Shore summer camps prepping to welcome youngsters

Registration opening for both day and week-long camps

Sidney council approved a broad package of tax relief measures, but concerns about its timing and effectiveness remain. (Black Press Media File).
President of cannabis company considers legal action against Sidney

Sidney already lost one legal action by another cannabis retailer in summer 2020

A photograph of the real firearm beside the replica firearm seized by VicPD in the early hours of April 18. (Courtesy VicPD)
Police seize loaded firearm, drugs during traffic stop in Victoria

Officers find cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl along with loaded handgun

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five western Vancouver Island First Nations celebrate legal fishing victory

Court ruling confirms Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights in case dating back to 2003

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Ladysmith-area Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read