It was February last year when I first wrote about transphobia in the sex blogging community. I wasn’t the first person to talk about it, but at the time a lot of the problems were still below the surface. It was only with Mx Nillin’s post in April that it all came to the surface. Since then there have been countless articles, numerous battles, and thousands of hours of work. My aim in this piece is not to provide a comprehensive history of this time. Nor is it to catalog the endless examples of transphobia in this community. I want to ask a simple question – After a year of this, where are we now?
This piece was written based on my experiences, and experiences shared with me in interviews with other trans sex bloggers Anne Stagg, Mx Nillin, Quinn Rhodes, and Queer Courtesan. No single contributor shares all the views expressed within this piece. It’s intended as a snapshot of different feelings around these issues rather than an official statement on behalf of trans sex bloggers.
The sex blogging community has always liked to present itself as a friendly, progressive place. Where anyone and everyone can come together to talk about sex, relationships, or kink and be accepted. But the past year has shown that this is far from true. The nice friendly atmosphere was only ever maintained by marginalised people within the community suffering in silence. And when this status quo was challenged, many people simply wanted to pretend this wasn’t happening. When people were told that there was (as Quinn Rhodes put it) “incredible lack of understanding about what gender is” within the community, the marginalised people standing up for this issue have often been met with a vicious backlash.
It’s worth pointing out that the sex blogging community doesn’t only have an issue of trans exclusion. Almost everyone I spoke to brought up the wider issues around intersectional diversity – in particular with regards to race, disability and sex work which remain seriously underrepresented within the community. Because, while I would broadly consider the community a feminist space, it embodies the ideals of a specific kind of White Feminism. One which promotes a specific form of female empowerment while discriminating against those who don’t hold other forms of privilege. Addressing the issue of transphobia in the community is only one part of the solution. As Anne Stagg put it, “we all need to work together and create space for marginalized voices. It starts with all of us recognizing where our privilege impacts others.”
Conditional Acceptance and Tone Policing
When I talked to Mx Nillin about this they brought up the idea of “conditional acceptance”. As trans people we’re never fully accepted into the sex blogging community. To take up space we must make ourselves palatable. We must be endlessly polite and understanding, educate through DMs rather than callouts, and above all we must make sure we don’t make cis people uncomfortable. Because “once cis bloggers are uncomfortable it’s a downward spiral”. Even people who start out seemingly taking your side often have a breaking point. If you call out the wrong person or speak out in the wrong way they will turn against you. Their acceptance is conditional, and they would rather ignore the problem (and protect their friends) than face the reality that they’ve harmed trans people.
This ties in with points about tone policing brought up by several intervewees. When trans sex bloggers have spoken out against the relentless transphobia in the community we’ve been accused of starting drama. We’re told we should have done it in private messages rather than public forums (many of us have tried this in the past and been completely ignored). Or told that we should just ‘respect differences of opinion’. There’s frequently still an expectation that we have to be nice in the face of our own dehumanisation, as Quinn Rhodes puts it “[we must ask] people kindly and softly to take their big, cisnormative boots off our faces.”
Educating people about how they are contributing to dehumanisation and oppression is draining emotional labour, doubly so when you are one of the people it’s directed at. Talking someone through this takes a lot of time and emotional energy. On top of that you’ll often have to offer comfort and reassurance to the person who is being transphobic. And at the end of the day there’s no guarantee that the person will actually change their behaviour. As Queer Courtesan puts it “I’m happy to educate others but I’m not going to waste my time and energy on people who don’t want to learn in the first place.”
Over and over and over again the burden of calling people out and educating them around transphobia falls to a few trans bloggers, because nobody else is willing to do what needs to be done. We already have to handle marginalisation, the relentless abuse that comes with being openly trans on the internet, and the invisible emotional labour involved with processing that. Taking on the additional emotional labour of educating and calling out transphobia in the community is unsustainable. It has already taken a heavy toll.
Betrayal and Broken Trust
Part of the reason transphobia in this community hurts so much, is that many of us bought into the idea that sex blogging welcomes marginalised people. This is a space we’ve invested time and energy in, building relationships and sharing vulnerabilities. For Quinn Rhodes it was the first place he came out as trans, because he believed this was a space where his transness would be accepted. Within a few months he was being referred to as a Nazi for asking people to use his pronouns.
Hand in hand with vulnerability, came a visceral sense of betrayal. When you’ve opened up like this, it cuts deep when that trust is broken. It hurts so much more when people you’ve opened up to, even received personal support from, start mocking trans people. The pain of that betrayal is deeply personal, and broken trust is not easily repaired. In my day job, there’s a concept that trust is built over years, and can be destroyed in hours. Even those of us who believed in this community and want to rebuild trust have our limits. As Mx Nillin puts it “every time stuff like this happens it chips away at this trust … it’s been going on for so long that my trust [in the community] is just gone.”
Nobody turns their back on a community over a single moment, ill-considered comment, or thoughtless mistake. It’s the tenth, the hundredth, the thousandth transphobic incident which breaks us. It’s every private message that’s gone unheeded, every call out ignored, every time someone apologises in tears and then turns around and does the EXACT SAME THING. And for many trans people this isn’t even the first community where we’ve been through this.
I’ve written before about the benefit of the doubt, how it’s a privilege rather than a right. And for me personally, there are now maybe four or five cis sex bloggers I actually have that trust in. I can count on one hand the people in this community who I actually believe have our interests at heart, who I’ll still invest time in educating if they make a mistake. Because the community as a whole has shown that they don’t deserve that trust.
A Split Community
Since transphobia in sex blogging has started being talked about more openly, there’s been a schism in the community. The transphobes (or at least the most open and unapologetic transphobes) and their followers have moved away and formed their own group, generally blocking everyone whose criticises their behaviour in the process. To be clear this is not a case of cancel culture. Even the most viciously transphobic writers still have an audience, still get work, and still get included in (some) sex blogging roundups.
In some ways this has been a positive thing. It’s a relief not having to share space with people who hate me for the mere fact of my existence. In Queer Courtesan’s words “it’s been nice seeing this little niche of bloggers grow closer and sort of create our own little community.” That being said, the community that remains is far from utopian. There are still people whose allyship is conditional and performative. And the initial problem hasn’t really been addressed. Its just moved out of sight, into a sub-community where nobody will challenge transphobia.
Has There Been Progress?
Most people I interviewed think there’s been some progress over the last year, even if only within a sub-section of the community. Some projects and writers have made their work more trans inclusive, but that remains the exception rather than the rule. Far too many people, even within the more inclusive sub-community, have still only paid lip service to being trans allies. It’s hard to remain optimistic when you know how much pain and work from trans sex bloggers has been converted into so little progress.
Mx Nillin put forward a less optimistic view of the community. “Some of those who were already more informed and open to accountably have remained so … those who weren’t doubled and tripled and quadrupled down.” In the past year they’ve seen more hatred than ever before. “Last year half of us were blatantly, directly wished dead by several bloggers, and those posts were liked by other bloggers. There’s the state of the community right there.”
What Does Allyship Look Like?
It’s easy to call yourself an ally, and far harder to actually be one. Because allyship isn’t about saying the right words, making yourself look good, or saving the poor trans victims. Its about setting aside your ego and doing the work which needs to be done. It means putting the interests of a marginalised group ahead of your own.
Often allyship means being quiet, taking a step back to make space for the voices of marginalised people rather than centring yourself in the narrative. It’s not the place of allies to write their opinion about the experiences of marginalised people. Honestly it fucking hurts to see allies be applauded for doing the bare minimum. Using cis-privilege to get credit for taking OUR words and OUR pain and putting on a veneer of respectability. As an ally you must always ask whether you’re doing what looks best for you, or what’s best for your trans colleagues
None of this means you should be silent. Use your voice to uplift the work of trans people, to challenge your peers, and do the dirty work. Take on the job of challenging and educating cis people, rather than leaving us to fight the same battle for the hundredth time. Do the mundane, thankless work that needs to be done, because the handful of trans writers still fighting can’t do it alone.
And challenge yourself. When you step back and raise up trans voices, really listen to them. Accept that trans people know more about our own oppression than you do, and recognise where you can do better. Delete transphobic comments on your posts. Go back and audit your work to see if you’ve fucked up in the past. Deconstruct your own internalised transphobia and cisnormativity. And whether its a mentor, a friend, or even your partner – if somebody you know is causing harm then you have an obligation to hold them to account.
Being an ally isn’t easy or comfortable, it’s not about doing something simple and then enjoying a nice fuzzy feeling. Being an ally involves confronting how you are complicit in systems of oppression, and an ongoing commitment to make the world a better place. If you don’t have the ability or the inclination to take on this fight then that’s your choice. But if you aren’t doing the hard work then don’t describe yourself as an ally. In the words of Mx Nillin, “I don’t need an ally, I need you to fucking do something.”
Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has considered just walking away. Trans writers bring valuable diversity to sex blogging. We know the impact we have on readers who otherwise wouldn’t see content which spoke to their experiences. But we’re just so tired. So, many of us are weighing up whether this is a space we want to keep engaging with. This is a pattern that Mx Nillin has seen since they first started blogging, amplified in the past year. They claim to personally know 13 trans bloggers or aspiring bloggers who’ve walked away in the last year. And most of the remaining trans bloggers have been eyeing up the exits, or are engaging less with the community.
There is another response to this adversity though – determination. Queer Courtesan believes that the past year has shown that “trans people aren’t going anywhere”. That we’re here to stay and will continue to fight to make sex blogging a more inclusive space. I think other bloggers are determined to keep writing if only to spite those who would rather we quietly disappear. As Quinn Rhodes puts it – “I have Shit To Say and I’m not going to let anyone stop me from saying it.”
I’m glad to see my trans comrades ready to continue this fight. But personally, I’m not sure how long I can do this. I still write about these topics, but I’ve started to pull back from the wider sex blogging community. I want to keep screaming bloody defiance from the battlements, but I’m so very tired. We all have to choose where we invest our time and energy, and I’m approaching the point where sex blogging no longer deserves my talent.
To any trans bloggers who read this and disagree with what I’ve written. I respect that we have different experiences of and perspectives on the sex blogging industry. This is my post and my view (informed though it is by discussions with fellow trans sex bloggers). I neither can nor want to speak for all of us. To any cis sex bloggers who read this and disagree with the content, the tone, or how I’ve spoken about the community – I say only this.
Cast Thine Eyes Upon My Field Of Fucks And See That It Is Bare
- Mx Nillin
- Anne Stagg
- Queer Courtesan
- Quinn Rhodes
- Trans & Queer Affirming Sex Blogs
- How Cisnormativity in Blogging is Alienating Your Trans Peers
- And Ignorance Persists: An Open Letter to A Mental Switch
- I feel numb: being trans while the terfs are tweeting
- Acknowledging your privilege isn’t going to be fun
- Language Changes All the Time and You Need to Keep Up
- Where I am a Year After Coming Out As Genderqueer and Nonbinary
- Video Response To Transphobia in Sex Blogging – 14th April 2020
- Trans Joy