Michael Knaapen

Is Throwback Thursday an Opportunity for Activism?

Filed By Michael Knaapen | November 13, 2014 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender expression, gender identity, photograph, TBT, Throwback Thursday, transition

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly Facebook ritual where users post old pictures of themselves. We've seen our friends as adorable infants and awkward teens. They flaunt their celebrity selfies, their proudest moments, their silliest faces. One of my friends even posted an ultrasound picture of himself as a zygote, effectively winning Throwback Thursday.

TBT is a slightly different experience for trans people than it is for cisgender people (or those whose gender identity matches the one assigned them at birth). For many trans people, their earliest photographs will show someone that doesn't quite resemble the person they are today.

Despite the possible discomfort this may cause, a number of my trans friends will sometimes post Throwback Thursday images that hearken back to the days before their transition. For many of their Facebook friends, this could be the first time they see that former appearance.

Knowing this -- and to preempt awkward questions or comments -- posters will often preface the picture by explaining the time in their life that the photo was taken relative to who they are today (basically coming out again), and they sometimes reflect on the mixed emotions this causes them.

There is usually a combination of bravery in acknowledging the past and the fear of painful feelings or even unpleasant comments from Facebook friends.

Some, though, provide no explanation or preface, and seem to simply be participating in the popular activity exactly as their cisgender friends do. On the surface, they seem simply to be saying what anybody else would: "Here's one of me from awhile back! Gosh, I was younger then, wasn't I?" And there's a kind of refreshing defiance in this, isn't there? You can almost hear them add, "I dare you to make this a thing."

stack-of-polaroids.jpgWhen trans people hold up two images of themselves in public -- them as they are today, and a picture of the person they used to look like -- there is an inherent bravery and activism to it. They are coming out all over again, claiming their identity, and demanding respect.

But there are also a number of risks that can accompany posting pre-transition images, including job loss (it's legal to fire someone just for being transgender in a whopping 32 states) and threats of physical harm, cyberbullying, and other acts of violence -- all of which disproportionately affect the transgender community. These are just some of the many reasons why a trans person may elect not to participate in the TBT phenomenon at all.

Trans readers: how do you feel about Throwback Thursday? Do you participate, or choose not to? If you do participate, do you withhold pre-transition images, or do you post them? If you share them, do you include a comment touching on the differences between then and now, or post them without comment?

What kinds of responses have you received? Do you view Throwback Thursday as an opportunity for activism, or just another social media tradition?

If you're comfortable, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

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