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The Autogyniphiles_Anonymous logo remixed by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

Respectability, Harassment, and the Fight to be Trans Online with Autogyniphiles_Anonymous

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
July 22, 2021

AUTHOR’S NOTE: While the purpose of this piece is to cover current events, to educate, and to inform, I will not be engaging with TERF ideology or any talking points from abject hate groups. If this is seen to compromise my journalistic coverage, so be it, but in matters like these I do not think we can posture to the idea of “objectivity” when one group seeks to actively suppress, deplatform, and eliminate the other. 

Respectability, Harassment, and the Fight to be Trans Online with Autogyniphiles_Anonymous
The Autogyniphiles_Anonymous logo remixed by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

A month or so ago I sat down to write a piece about pride month. What started as a somewhat straightforward analysis of “this is what is trending during pride month” would then eventually morphed into a sprawling Op-Ed filled with bitter thoughts about the state of queer activism. That piece caused me to dig deep into my research. During the course of June I tried to tune out every milk toast story about “__ company does ___ performative action in support of pride month,” and instead focused on queer creators and the smaller progressive, academic, and activist communities that form in the recesses of Twitter, Instagram, and the like. However, what I began to see was an alarming number of these pages getting shut down or threatened with deactivation because the content they posted was deemed too unpalatable for the curation of these sites. This was no impartial affair. Accounts focusing on trans and queer issues, Black diaspora, and other topical activist movements were routinely seeing not only content mod, but also mass-reporting and targeted harassment campaigns by racists, transphobes, and literal self-proclaimed Nazis.

Recently I sat down with one such creator, Arendt Admin, one of three admins of the Instagram page Autogyniphiles_Anonymous, to talk about transness, anime, and the nature of internet activism. When asked to introduce a bit about their page, she had this to say:

“Our page is @Autogyniphiles_Anonymous, notably spelt slightly differently than the term in its more pseudo-academic usage, and we are a trans philosophy Instagram meme page. The content we make is pretty simple, it's primarily a blurring of, to use very outdated and very boring terms, "high" and "low" art, mixing the prestigious theory and philosophy that we've all been taught at school with anime, and often sexualized anime, and often trans anime.”

Followers can expect lengthy quotes, excerpted from the works of great philosophers, poets, playwrights, and Twitter users, typically juxtaposed with stills of girls from anime or manga taken off Google Images. 

Autogyniphiles_Anonymous post with quote from Margaret Canovan's "Introduction to Arendt's The Human Condition.

“Yeah basically, we put dense philosophy quotes over anime titties or girdick,” Arendt Admin concedes. “That's just a fun concept we thought of a while ago and have been running with it since.” The account also frequently posts “Media-Memes,” which use old or niche shows, movies, or comic books as the template for jokes about transness and topical current events. “We do our best to just vibe off of whatever content we find in that media that is funny and can be bent in a funny way, often in a very trans-positive but hopefully transgressive way,” Arendt Admin says. These memes frequently cover niche aspects of the queer community, be it kink, cruising, sobriety, dating, or simply the culture inherent to a certain marginalized group, city, or even gay bar. “We're very anti-purity. We're very anti-puritanism. We believe that if the trans community, or if any community really, is gonna be accepted, they need to be accepted not by Western moral standards, but by what the community is at its best and worst. So often these memes end up being quite raunchy, and every now and then you get to see all of that.”

For those wondering about the name, the term “Autogynephile” was coined by Psychiatrist Ray Blanchard (currently working at the University of Toronto), and has been used as a slur against trans women extensively since. Of Blanchard, Arendt Admin had this to say:

“He is... an academic, who, like many mid-century psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. did less that ethically approved ‘field work’. His was mostly going in and out of gay bars frequented by trans people, observing them, and then trying to pass this off as "insight". The standard accusation against, or at least the funniest one, is that he created basically a binary typology that was based around which ones wanted to fuck him.” This typology, between the so-called “true transexual” and the aforementioned “Autogynephile,” has been the basis of a significant amount of the discrimination trans people face today, especially from groups like TERFs. As to why they’ve chosen that particular name to represent their account, she says “I'm a big believer in satire. Lindsay Ellis has a great video on movies about Nazis, and how pretty much any one that's made hyper seriously ends up getting co-opted by Nazis, but no Nazi is co-opting Mel Brooks. Satire stings, no one likes using words that are suddenly funny. Our name has several functions, and one of them is satire, and this very comical image of a group for recovering autogynephiles, all meeting together like it's AA or something. It's fun, it's quirky, it's a hilarious image that if someone ever made it into a scene in a play or something, I would die. That's the SNL skit we're all waiting for.”

Autogyniphiles_Anonymous post with image from "Kids in the Hall" (cult 90s Canadian sketch show.)

Furthermore, she suggests that the intentional misspelling of the term has helped to avoid attracting the ire of the groups who like to uphold Blanchard’s typology, while also having helped avoid them being the target of bad faith accusations about the nature of their content. “It signals to fellow trans people that we're not really self-righteous, and we're not interested in their politics of respectability… It's very hard to make a callout post saying, "this account is sexualizing trans women!" Once you say the name, any criticism that's coming from a place of "trans people need to be respectable," is kind of hilarious, because obviously from stage one we're not agreeing with that belief.”

Indeed, this countercultural sentiment seems very much embedded in the way Auto_Anon run their account. While they admins aren’t afraid to wade into hot button issues, they always do so with their own unique spin, rather than reposting current graphics from accounts like Feminist or CHNGE™. In the past few weeks they have posted invaluable resources regarding T4T (trans-for-trans) dating, trans people and BPD/PTSD diagnoses, and Poppers, a drug commonly used in queer and trans spaces. These are the kinds of topics not frequently covered by large activist or charity accounts, and the admins are very much aware of that fact. “Every goddamn trans NGO, I don't care who started it, whether it was started by Maoists, Anarchists, whatever, the second they get NGO status they start making these infographics that nobody wants to look at, and talking about who their Board of Directors is,” Arendt Admin exclaims. “There needs to be online trans spaces that are for trans people.”

Despite this philosophy of action, and despite the overwhelming number of trans and gender-non-conforming followers the account has (you will find myriad catgirls should you simply scroll through the comments on any post), they have continually struggled with targeted harassment from TERFs and other transphobic hate groups, which notably came to a head in mid-June. As to why they were made the target, Arendt Admin is pretty sure she knows.

“Pride month. I'm really afraid it is that simple. We've been an account for two and a half years now, with a growing follower base, and the simple truth of it is that once you are a big enough personality or account, pretty much without fail, every year during pride month TERFs will organize a rather impressive campaign of attack. On the one hand it's brilliant. It displays an amount of time, and effort, and thought. You really need to think like a propaganda machine to think “Hey, let's make pride month as miserable for people we don't want to include in pride as possible, let's make this a dreaded month, let's make this a month where all trans creators get nervous.””

Despite her composure, I can hear the pain in her voice. During the period of time that the Auto_Anon account was under siege, comment sections would frequently be flooded with hate speech, slur-tossing, and all manner of general harassment. Furthermore, each new post would herald a flood of targeted reporting, frequently getting them removed in a matter of hours. As this happened again and again, they were eventually served the dreaded three-strikes warning. As a result of the targeted harassment campaign against them, Autogyniphiles_Anonymous was in danger of being deleted. 

“I would rather hateful comments, because we can delete those,” she continues. “The reason they don’t do that is because they know we can delete comments. It’s much, much harder to work against Instagram’s very questionable report system.” Their account is certainly not the first of its kind to face the banhammer, but it is notable for an account of their size, especially catering to a marginalized demographic to be so blatantly targeted by hate groups, and ignored by the Instagram appeal system. “We'd spent two years growing this account, and it was beginning to feel very, very safe as creators. It was a shock to the system to finally draw the notice and the ire of TERFs. It's like “oh, I guess we're not immune to this, I guess we just weren't large enough before.””

Autogyniphiles_Anonymous post with a still from the show Neon Genesis Evangelion.

She is also quick to point out the bias inherent to a lot of these content moderation algorithms. Instagram, Facebook, and other large platforms routinely target left-leaning groups and activists disproportionately compared to those on the right. This has recently manifested in the spread of an automated Facebook algorithm used to notify users when they’ve interacted with “harmful extremist content,” which often comes in the form of simply discussing decolonial action, climate activism, or criticizing American foreign policy.

“You can find, in the span of an hour, dozens of blatantly hateful Instagram accounts; you can find Nazi accounts, you can find TERF accounts, you can find plain-old racist accounts, it isn't that hard,” Arendt Admin notes. This very fact has frequently been demonstrated by the sheer number of hateful accounts in the comment sections of Auto_Anon posts. It got to the point where the admins would routinely screenshot Nazi’s profiles, report them, and post the automated Instagram reply claiming that the accounts in question “did not breach Instagram’s terms of service.” As many accounts have to in these scenarios, Auto_Anon were forced to create backup accounts (@Angry_Autogyniphiles_Anonymous) in an attempt to retain both their content and audience, and so as to not lose their platform completely should they actually be deleted. This has become seemingly ritual to many accounts in marginalized spaces on Instagram, as each TOS violation can be potentially catastrophic for an account with little other presence online.

“The biggest wrench that has been tossed in the machine is this new report system because A) it is unjust, but it is also the rule of a private entity playing the role of a state, and not a state I particularly like.” Most platforms base their standards for freedom of speech and approved content on US laws, which are frequently lax. However this gets complicated when dealing with accounts located in other countries, subject to different laws, as Arendt Admin readily recognizes. “I'm going to be accused of ‘not being anarchist enough’ for this,” she laughs. “I like rights, and I like the idea that I am able to cite them, and I like that they are semi-enforceable in the courts and legal system, and it's useful in my day-to-day life. Say if my university refuses to change my email to my legal name, I can say to them “hey, you're violating my rights, do you really want to go to court over this?' and it's a good way of signalling, 'hey, change this now,” but in online spaces it gets so murky.” She then proceeds to reference her namesake, Hannah Arendt, in order to better explain this murkiness. “To speak in Arendtian terms, the internet is not quite a private space and not quite a public space, it's sort of a public/private or a private/public space. I think people naturally feel an aversion to entities, be they corporations or governments, interfering in what's going on their internet, because it does feel like an invasion of privacy even though it's a very public space. Instagram does function under US Law, and we would technically have more protections under Canadian Law. Instagram doesn't even really need hate speech protections to fall under US laws, the 1st Amendment goes extraordinarily far there. We are seeing how the private entity of Instagram, which creates that semi-public space is going beyond US laws to determine what is permissible and what is not, and we see how that favours the private entity. All that said, it would be nice to have a hate speech system on Instagram that worked.” 

Autogyniphiles_Anonymous post with quote from Donna Haraway's The Cyborg Manifesto.

As our conversation comes to a close, I pose one last question. Given all the harm we see done by these groups, harm that continues to be platformed by Instagram, Facebook and the like, can the good generated through education, activism and community connection ever outweigh it? 

“I think there’s something to be said for communities,” she says. “I’m not sure I want to get into a mindset where I go “this community has a lot of good and a lot of bad, should we obliterate it?”; the online is different than the real world, but obviously no one should think like that in terms of the real world. I think of Instagram as a group of people, lorded over by the corporate, feudal overlord, but ultimately, it’s made up of people. Obviously if you deleted Instagram, the people would still exist who were once on it, but I think it means too much to too many people, especially trans people. My impetus to joining this account was because I was working in a very, very transphobic office, and was having a lot of microaggressions and just normal aggressions directed at me. I just wanted to disappear on my lunch break and make graphically positive trans posts. That really helped me get through that job. I think it helps a lot of people. From my understanding, Trent is located in a pretty small area, and I don’t know what the trans community is like, or how much access someone who goes to Trent has to it. I genuinely think that unless you’re in maybe Toronto or New York, maybe Montreal, the average trans person doesn’t have access to trans spaces that are comfortable, open, honest, or funny. We can go to trans meetups and be on our best behaviour, we can go to protests and put our bodies on the line, we can go to gay bars and wish it were a trans bar, and be perceived by cis, queer people and have a pretty good time, but also wonder how much this space is for us and how much we are accepted there. I think Instagram, and online queer spaces allow trans people to make little spaces for themselves, so that no matter where you are you can hear some weird tranny talking about doing poppers.”

As someone who feels as though she has very much transitioned online, there is something poetic about that thought to me. Pages like Autogynephiles_Anonymous have been of immeasurable help to me and other trans people, both for the resources and education they provide, and for the community they’ve helped build where we can feel welcome and accepted. Thankfully after several weeks on private, carefully moderating their content, Auto_Anon survived the gauntlet month of June, and even broke their long-time goal of reaching more followers than trans writer Shon Faye. Furthermore, their deleted posts have been restored, following an Insider article by Lindsay Dodgson. There is hope yet for trans creators on Instagram and other platforms, however their treatment remains a sobering warning for smaller and more vulnerable pages. At the end of the day, though, the community fostered in these online spaces outweighs the targeted hate from outsiders. “I’m very appreciative that there are increasingly spaces where you can just be fun, and trans, openly,” Arendt Admin says. Fun, trans, and open, Autogyniphiles_Anonymous are most definitely all of those things.  

You can find Autogyniphiles_Anonymous on Instagram (@Autogyniphiles_Anonymous), and on Twitter (@Autogyniphiles). They also have a Ko-fi, merch store, and reading lists/resources available at linktr.ee/Auto_Anon

If you enjoyed this article and want to read a transcription of the interview in full, stay tuned for it to be posted soon. Evan is currently in the process of transcribing the interview, but as we talked for nearly two hours it’ll take a while!

OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail
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OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail

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What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

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A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
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