On the importance of hashtags

JESHOOTS / Pixabay

You might not have noticed this about me, but I am a millennial. There’s no point even trying to deny it. If I don’t have a selfie, I wasn’t there. A cup of coffee doesn’t exist unless it’s on Instagram. If it doesn’t have a hashtag, it isn’t important, and if you decided to call me instead of texting, it means someone must have died.

Yes, we are the people who are ruining everything. We live our lives on social media, we consume more data than we do calories, we’ve abandoned religion, we’re trying futilely to save the environment, and we’re probably gay. In my case, you can leave out the “probably”.

I’ve touched briefly before on the merit of selfies in this blog, though I do spend some more time discussing the role of photographs and their power to be affirming in Always Anastacia. I won’t expound on that concept too much right now, but as you can imagine, my attitude towards photographs and selfies changed as I began to transition. What had once been a painful and dysphoria-inducing exercise slowly started to become affirming and empowering. To the point that I even started to reclaim some of those features that I used to get really hung-up and upset over.

We live in a world that is often really hostile towards us. Before we even have the tools to conceptualise or articulate who we are, we’re already made to feel like we’re lesser. We’re subjected to it from all sides – what we see and hear at school, from our families, in the media. It’s pervasive. Those sensationalised tropes that objectify and fetishize trans folk – especially trans women – still run rampant.

We’re taught that our bodies aren’t really ours – that they belong to a cisnormative society that will relentlessly scrutinise and judge them. We’re policed in terms of our identity and our expression and judged against these absurd standards. And yes – cis women are subject to this too. But there is a double-standard at play, because trans women are given less freedom with their presentations. We’re “not allowed” to be tomboys, otherwise our very identities are called into question!

Within that context, it becomes easy to understand just how significant – momentous, even – it can be for us to take back our agency over the way we’re portrayed. For us to control that lens – to become the photographers and the art directors, and to push back against the objectification. For us to say that we will choose the way in which we are seen by the world.

yourschantz / Pixabay

I’ve mentioned before how my relationship with body-positivity and self-love can be a tumultuous one. I have good moments too, though. Those moments that are characterised by appreciation for my own abilities, skills or talents. Moments where I recognise my beauty. Moments where I achieve remarkable success. And in those moments, I wave my flag proudly – the Instagram selfies and the tweets and the Facebook posts flow with reckless abandon, each one stamped at the end with hashtags like “#transisbeautiful” or “#girlslikeus“. And I do that because I want to make the statement that being trans doesn’t have to limit us.

You want to be a successful author, but you’re trans? No problem. I can do it, you can do it. Half-marathon, but you’re trans? I can do it, you can do it. Have naturally-near-hairless legs to make all the cis girls jealous? You can do it, you can do it, you can do it.

I suppose that sounds a little arrogant perhaps, but the truth of the matter is somewhat more complicated. The reason I tag those posts is because I need to give something back. Because every so often, I click on that #transisbeautiful hashtag. When I’m trying to relax in the bath after a difficult, stressful day.  Or when I’m laying in bed, tossing and turning and struggling to sleep. Or sometimes when we lose one of our own. So I click, and I scroll, and I scroll, and I scroll. It never takes long before tears begin to roll down my cheeks.

I see trans men showing off their flat chests, proud of their scars. I see photographs of syringes, loaded with the hormones that so often save our lives. Six packs. Cleavage. Drawings with snappy little sayings and messages. I see beautiful eyes, full of hope.

Sometimes, I get envious, or jealous even. Because, of course, I think so many of the girls are so much prettier than I’ll ever be. That so many of the boys are more accepted than I’ll ever be.

Sometimes I feel a bit of longing, when I see those who have partners who love them. Or who have their own families, even.

Sometimes I’m just overcome with admiration, by the rule-breakers who refuse to be intimidated, who bask in their authenticity and individuality, even though it makes their lives so difficult.

Wokandapix / Pixabay

I feel sorrow, too. Because it reminds me of what so many of us have gone through to get where we are. Our journeys are all different, but they are almost never easy. Behind each smile, or each flexed muscle, or each smooth toned leg, there lies a history of conflict, pain, heartache, suffering.

I feel confusion. Because I see all these people – my sisters, my brothers, and my siblings – who are all just trying to live their lives, who are moving towards self-actualisation, who are becoming the best people that they can be… and I’m reminded of the opposition and the hatred we encounter. And I can’t understand why. Why would anyone be upset by someone growing into themselves? The before-and-after shots that people post… where one side is characterised by obvious misery and despair, and the other is radiant and glowing – how could anyone find evil in that? It saddens me, and it baffles me.

But more than anything, when I scroll through the posts under that tag, I am filled with hope. It lifts me to see my trans family persevering and enduring, taking pride in who they are, making themselves vulnerable, refusing to be silenced. To see them taking back their power, and refuting the conditioning that tells us we’re unworthy of love, unworthy of respect, unworthy of dignity.

It’s a global support network, comprised of thousands (or tens-, or hundreds-of-thousands, even) of people I will never meet. But we share this common thread. The struggles and the losses, the joys and the victories. The complexity of living these trans lives inside a society that often doesn’t understand or support us. It helps to remind me that even in the deepest despair, there is hope to be found.That despite what people say about us, we are beautiful. We can be loved. We can succeed, and achieve. It might not be easy, but it does not have to be impossible.

And so, I try to do my small part. The finish lines that I cross, the gourmet meals that I cook, the interviews or appearances. Because somewhere out there, someone else might be scrolling through that hashtag. And maybe my little, trivial post can bring them some hope, as countless others have done for me.

IMG_20160512_235529My book, Always Anastacia, is available at booksellers across South Africa. If you don’t see it on shelves, ask your local bookstore. Also available worldwide through Amazon. And catch up on all the latest #AlwaysAnastacia news, including interviews, media appearances and extracts here. 

And finally, a reminder that my blog has moved to a fortnightly update schedule – you can look forward to new posts every second Tuesday.

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