Snapchat’s new gender-swap feature has taken over the Internet, with users marveling over how the app transforms them into a member of the opposite sex. But social justice warriors concerned about the plight of actual gender-swappers are firing back, accusing Snapchat both of minimizing what it’s like to transition and of buying into the notion of the “gender binary.”
A number of transgender individuals have complained to major news outlets, like the New York Post and The Guardian, about how the Snapchat filters turn transitioning gender into a game, and how the app “appropriates” gender transition and turns it into a game.
“My gender’s not a costume,” one transgender individual told the Post. “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,” the person told the paper, “it makes light of the transgender experience.”
The application isn’t meant to be a serious exploration into the notions of gender and the gender binary. It’s meant to be a fun, silly way for Snapchat users to modify their self-portraits for posting. But there are some things that, to social justice warriors, just aren’t funny.
“Experimenting with identity is fun, which is why the filter is so popular — but what’s fun for some, is a punishing reality for others. Many from the LGBTQ+ community have been quick to point out that Snapchat’s filter not only strictly adheres to the gender binary, but also many users’ insouciant attitudes towards gender play hardly translate in real life,” noted one writer on TheNextWeb.
One “non-binary” speaker told VICE media, “There’s a fine line between encouraging people to take gender less seriously and not considering trans realities or carelessly perpetuating misunderstanding about trans identities.”
It’s also not just an insult to transgender individuals to change your appearance in a single selfie, it’s also a sin against progressive notions of gender — largely that there are more than 37 genders (at last count) and that allowing users to “swap” themselves between male and female is simply unfair to those who believe that they fit somewhere in between, or on a different spectrum altogether.
“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. Thanks, management,” wrote a critic on Twitter.
“oh so if queer people play around with gender, it’s called “unnatural” and “gross,” but if cishet people do it, it’s called a snapchat filter? okay then,” wrote another.
Snapchat isn’t the first social media platform to offer a “gender-swap” feature, and it certainly isn’t the first time Snapchat has run afoul of social justice warriors. A previous “Bob Marley” filter that gave users dreadlocks like the famous Rasta musician got Snapchat accused of permitting “blackface” on their network. An “Asian” filter that gave users traditional Asian features was criticized as racially insensitive and culturally appropriative.
For its part, though, Snapchat says it’s not removing the filter, which is meant to be temporary anyway.
“We understand that identity is deeply personal,” the company said in a statement to the Post. “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.”