by Eula Kerr (she/they) @eula_kerr
Memes provide a profound sense of commonality, a sense of ‘I’m on this, I get it’. That’s what makes them such a valuable social currency. It’s this sense of cohesion that might explain the growing popularity of trans-memery on Reddit boards. Subreddits, like r/196 have transness at their core, and trans-specific boards like r/traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns and r/egg_irl are dedicated solely to trans-memes. Both spaces are growing fast and amongst allies as well as transfolk (some of my cis friends were even on them before me).
With the rising visibility of transness and its current place at the centre of the culture war, transfolk — especially those at the outset of their journey — need community more than ever. I know when I was working it all out, memes became a genuine place of comfort and affirmation: I could see hundreds of people upvoting things I’d previously thought no one but me experienced. I swear seeing a meme about misgendering yourself was a fundamental moment in my transition. Head off the meme pages and on to more traditional info and support boards like r/trans and r/ask_transgender, or national groups like r/TransUK and r/transgenderau, and you’re likely to come across some pretty harrowing stuff amongst the wholesomeness: trans brothers and sisters being rejected by their families, trans-youth being forced to de-transition, and honestly a lot of talk of suicide. Trans memes provide a vital dose of levity and kinship which can ultimately be a life-line.
What the memes on these boards have in common is a sense of sincerity. You won’t find much in the way of shitposting, but that wasn’t always the case. In an interview for an article by Mashable a moderator of r/traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns explains:
When I started, it was a lot more edgy memes. Now it’s more like a place where people can leave events, support others, and comfort others while seeking humor. We didn’t realize the user base had changed so much.
Even shitposting subs like r/GaySoundsShitposts don’t stray too far into the darkness of trans existence, and it’s pretty clear where the irony ends and begins.
Recently, on my evening trip on the infinite scroll, I found myself in a deep rabbit hole of trans-memery: a warren of sub-1000-follower instagram accounts tagging and reposting each other in a self-referential orgy that oscillated wildly from the lewd, dark and prurient, to the profound and vulnerable, via the absurd and frivolous. I’d found the dark side of the trans-memescape, where sincerity goes to die and where shitposts are queen.
The concept of shitposting originated on 4chan boards in the mid-00s, when users started posting nonsensical, contextless, aggressively low-quality images to derail conversations. The practice became well-documented during the 2016 US presidential campaign, where it was used as a weapon to obscure reality and promote post-truth. Over time, though, the humour of shitposting became its main function. In a Polygon article drawing comparisons between shitposting and the Dada movement of early 20th century Europe Sam Greszes puts it,
…[t]he intent is not to entertain by eliciting any kind of positive emotion in an audience, the goal is to make an audience so confused at the lack of content that they laugh or smile.
In recent years shitposts have adopted a deeper subject matter, often referencing mental health issues, and reflecting a communal sense of apathy, a broad disdain for the fractious state of — well — pretty much everything (and thus pretty much nothing).
A popular subset of the shitposting space is deepfrying — an iconoclastic act of pixelating and crudely altering a meme to give it the appearance of having been shared infinite times. The practice came about as a means to avoid zucking — by simply being too fractally to be picked up by Instagram’s AI — but the results is visually striking, and offers a rebellious contrast to the increasingly generic, preened imagery of the scroll.
In an article for i-D, Douglas Greenwood describes shitpost pages as ‘the internet’s lawless land’, a place for those ‘who feel no pressure to conform to the standards of social media — not because [they’re] confident, but because [they’re] too busy having a panic attack and feeling glamorous to care’. It feels as if he might be missing the very point of the accounts — in delivering a meta-ironic veneer of vapid grandeur and main-character syndrome — but it raises the question of whether a countercultural phenomenon can retain its relevance as it becomes increasingly popular. A great meme occupies the miniscule overlap between the Venn-bubbles of universal and obscure. We want to feel like the lauded few who truly ‘get that’, but if 128k other people have liked a post, that sense of niche commonality — of esoteric — starts to falter, and it doesn’t feel much like rebellion at all.
On the surface, the transfem shitposting warren might appear similar to the mainstream, but where mainstream shitposting pages sell a brand of ubiquitous indifference, transfem shitposting is urgent and purposeful. There is a huge breadth of tones, from the playfully sexualised irony of @uncutjewess to the sincere, pleading treatises of @autogyniphiles_anonymous and from the silliness of @level5transsexual to the decaying, cerebral deep-fries of @serial.disppointments.lain. To top it off, there are accounts like @trans_misogynist, which offer all these flavours in one handy, schizophrenic package, spewing meta-irony so hard it renders the fourth wall incoherent even to those in on the joke. This range speaks to something far more personal than mainstream shit posting. Posts can be disarmingly vulnerable and introspective, and where they’re callous or fierce, they represent a tangible frustration at the endless tenacity required to simply exist as a transfem person.
A mainstay of these pages is anime girls: often busty, sometimes bulgy, always overlaid with a slogan somewhere along the spectrum of tones described above. The anime girl is an archetypal transfem aesthetic, but her use here is more than a nod to the culture. She is a visual embodiment of overfeminine sexualisation and by overlaying her with a breadth of incongruous messages, she comes to represent the paradoxes of transfem life: being highlighted by the media only as dangerous fetishists and a threat to the safety of children, while being overlooked in vital medical provision and fatally long waiting lists; being dubbed pathetic men failing to emulate a ludicrous feminine ideal, whilst also being charged as passable cheats tricking unsuspecting men into sex.
This gaggle of shitposters also represent a revival of the esoteric in the medium. The transfem memescape is scattered with inside jokes — Blåhaj, the Bionicle-trans-pipeline, recently the Zelda-trans-pipeline — and these examples are quite accessible to the outsider. But there’s a set of references that go somewhere beyond the inside joke. The constant use of busty anime girls is a nod to ceaseless gender dysphoria that will fly over the head of the cis viewer. The glut of sexual themes reflects the undue sexualisation of trans people — the gaze of the cis-media fixates on the state of trans genitals, but is scandalised when transfolk make proud reference to them. Even the handles of the accounts allude to trans-specific concepts like autogynophilia, transmisogony and estradiol, or reclaim trans transphobic slurs. There’s a level to these jokes that you won’t get if you don’t have lived experience; if you’re not amongst the chosen few.
We find a perfect case study in @uncutjewess, whose page is a well of semi-pornographic BDSM anime images commandeering chintzy truisms into filthy double-entendres. It wears kink on its sleeve, in abject defiance of the notion of the crossdressing pervert. It’s obviously farcical and ironic, but that fact is lost on the unlucky transphobe, stumbling across it and declaring the poster a deviant. Importantly though, the visual style mimics that of caption porn — a medium many transfems access on their way to self-understanding. So it’s only transfems who will see the profound vulnerability in these posts, or recognise them as the brave rejection of a deep-rooted shame born out of societal taboos. It’s a deft esoteric: giving a morsel of humour to the ally and bating the enemy, while giving a wink and nod to the insider seeking comradeship.
When we descend even further into the trans-meme warren, we find a nook of deep-frying, and — as ever — the trans community takes us down newer, darker avenues. @Serial.Dissaopintments.Lain presents the crispiest, fractliest images you’ve ever seen. Its pitch-black humour, taking imagery and inspiration from Serial Experiments Lain and applying trans-specific narratives of mental despair and substance abuse. The posts often present side by side comparisons of originals and their counterparts, deepfried beyond the point of comprehensibility.
When we descend even further into the trans-meme warren, we find a nook of deep-frying, and — as ever — the trans community takes us down newer, darker avenues. @Serial.Dissaopintments.Lain presents the crispiest, fractliest images you’ve ever seen. Its pitch-black humour, taking imagery and inspiration from Serial Experiments Lain and applying trans-specific narratives of mental despair and substance abuse. The posts often present side-by-side comparisons of originals and their counterparts, deepfried beyond the point of comprehensibility.
The double and triple fry says so much more than a simple visual rebellion against the timeline. It’s pertinent and angry and, it speaks to the personal degradation experienced by transfems: burning out as we are forced to repeatedly argue for our validity; struggling to survive in a world that tries to reduce trans identities to something unrecognisable and withered. By presenting the original image — zuckable content and all — the admin lets us know she isn’t even trying to evade capture, dancing in the face of account closure in what might be the truest act of rebellion available on social media.
Shitposting is often compared to Dadaism. The formal comparison is obvious: repurposing existing images and icons into something that questions the very medium it belongs to. Shitposting hopes to represents defiance against commercialisation, but recent years have seen the movement piggybacked by advertisers, and even face literal commodification by fashion houses. As mainstream shitposting strays from its subversive beginnings and moves ever further into the blazing spotlight, Sam Greszes notes that another comparison becomes possible.
As soon as Dadaism gained enough international renown to become recognizable (and therefore imitable), the phrase “Dada is dead, long live Dada,” as coined by Tristan Tzara, became a rallying cry for artists.
If the mainstream is careering towards a self-destructive zenith, the trans shitposter is diverging from the trajectory and returning to the countercultural routes of the phenomenon, not because they want to avoid the fallout of a collapse, but because they need to avoid it. Unlike the mainstream, transfem shitposting has real skin in the game, real communities and real lives on the line. It’s about more than cheap apathy, petty rebellion, and quick laughs, it’s a rallying cry to annihilate systems of oppression and refuse to accept the narrative that transfolk must be impossibly resilient just to survive.
by Eula Kerr