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Here’s How Trans Geeks Can Protect Each Other From the “Alt-Right”


Content warning for discussion of transphobic language and violence below.

I moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn in late October. Brooklyn is, in many ways, one of the most diverse and accepting parts of New York City. And there’s a strong trans community here too. It’s not uncommon to find us across the borough’s neighborhoods, from Williamsburg to Midwood. We’re sort of all over, we like to hang out with each other, and we know how to have fun. Especially the geeky trans folks.

But even in an area as diverse as Brooklyn, marginalized people aren’t necessarily safe. Not after President-elect Donald Trump’s election win, at least. In a restaurant just a half hour away from my apartment, a Trump support punched a woman “square in the face” for her anti-Trump political opinions. In Brooklyn Heights, Adam Yauch Park was defaced last week with hate speech, reminding all Brooklyn residents that bigots reside among us. And then there was an attack that happened earlier this year, in which three men viciously beat a trans woman walking out of the 7th Avenue subway stop. These incidents are not isolated; they represent a climate of bigotry and hatred that is pervasive in even the most progressive communities in the United States. And now that Trump is bringing in transphobes and homophobes into his cabinet, dealing with the reality of a Trump presidency has trans people feeling scared. Very scared.

Geekdom isn’t exempt from the list of communities dealing with post-election bigotry. Despite the fact that so many trans people work in comics, games, and tech, transphobic hatred still runs rampant across the Internet. Take 4chan, the biggest imageboard in the West. The site remains a major player in the geek community, hosting boards for anime, video games, comics, tabletop gaming, and more. 4chan is known as an anonymous haven where anyone can post freely without identifying themselves, and the site has become popular for allowing geeks to comment openly on their favorite (or least favorite) games, series, or comics. But there’s some crossover with the far right on 4chan. And when bigots choose to speak anonymously, they tend to make their darkest and most hateful beliefs known.

In particular, 4chan’s politics board, /pol/, is a racist, transphobic, and homophobic mess. Two years ago, it was one of the biggest communities behind #GamerGate, which served as the genesis for the “alt-right” (a fascist-leaning hate movement) in geek media. Today, the board is considered the epicenter of the so-called pro-Trump “meme magic,” where words like “tranny” and “shemale” are thrown around freely as alt-right posters claim trans men and women are degenerates. Never mind the fact that many of these users secretly fetishize trans women on 4chan’s adults-only boards like /d/ and /gif/, or prop up conservative trans people as shields for their own bigotry. /pol/ epitomizes everything wrong with Trump’s popularity in geekdom: hatred, bigotry, hypocrisy, and condescension.

4chan’s /pol/ isn’t the only geek community harboring transphobes, of course. There’s Reddit, the popular online discussion aggregate famous for hosting such geeky subreddits as /r/games, /r/comicbooks, /r/anime, /r/FeliciaDay, and more. Suffice to say, not all parts of Reddit are bad. But because any user can create a sub, bigoted geeks have also seen the site as an opportunity to gain power over others and expand by creating conservative communities through the site. Gradually, places like /r/KotakuInAction and /r/WerthamInAction have emerged, attacking progressives while pushing alt-right values upon gaming and comics, respectively.

Like 4chan, Reddit has its openly transphobic side. Just look at subreddits like /r/dickgirls, where posters objectify trans women while calling us “dickgirls,” “trannies,” or conflating us with the “futanari” kink (in which, to oversimplify a complex Japanese concept, cis women are given penises). It’s not as if the NSFW subreddit is a neutral party in the American election, either. Many of the subreddit’s moderators support Donald Trump and cheer on his anti-progressive agenda. Mods even invited Milo Yiannopoulos’ “deputy,” Breitbart Tech’s Allum Bokhari, to serve as an honorary moderator, suggesting that the sub’s leaders see credence in Breitbart Tech’s alt-right bias.

But it’s not just posters on /pol/, /r/dickgirls, and so on that are causing problems for geekdom. It’s also geek industries themselves. Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s veterans fundraiser, with his wife donating over $440,000 directly to Trump’s campaign. And then there’s Oculus Rift founder Luckey Palmer, who invested funds into a 501(c) dedicated to pro-Trump propaganda through memes. Geekdom doesn’t feel very inclusive for trans people when power players freely give their money to bigots. As Mr. Palmer or the Perlmutter’s throw their money into the alt-right’s hands, they constantly send the same message: we don’t care what happens to marginalized people. We care about our own self-interest, and nothing more.

What are trans people supposed to do, then, when they’re confronted with powerful pro-Trump forces in both the geek community and the professional industry? That’s a tough question. We can’t just change people’s minds. Those who like /pol/ will continue to defend /pol/. Those who love Breitbart Tech will continue to share Breitbart Tech articles, or reject critical pieces (like this one). We can’t just argue with bigots and expect them to change their minds; bigots defend their hateful views because they gain advantages over marginalized people through discriminatory behavior. That’s a problem with how they think about the world, and the way they think isn’t changing anytime soon.

But we don’t need to convince fair weather allies to protect us, either. We can help each other by coming together and unifying as a community, defending one another from the pro-Trump wave hitting geekdom. That means watching out for one another in our everyday lives. If we see someone being harassed on social media, we can’t just turn away. If we see someone feeling unsafe at a convention, we can’t just keep to ourselves. We need to come to each other’s aid in any way, shape, or form when other trans people need help. Whether that means offering a shoulder to cry on or filing a report with convention security, any ounce of energy we can give speaks volumes to unifying the trans community.

What about physical things trans people can do to raise each other up? For one, we can support organizations that have trans-friendly initiatives in place. GaymerX, for instance, has historically raised trans voices in the gaming community by inviting trans speakers to panels and discussing trans themes in Read Only Memories. Aevee Bee’s games criticism publication ZEAL, meanwhile, hosts a wide range of trans artists, writers, and critics (myself included). Donating to these organizations or volunteering time to work makes all the difference for trans people in geekdom.

Don’t forget, there’s also The Mary Sue itself. On our site, we regularly host discussions on trans topics in geekdom and politics, including the real fears that trans people are experiencing with Trump’s rise to power. I’ve worked with Contributor Coordinator Sam Riedel over the past few months to bring my experiences as a queer and trans person to The Mary Sue, and I’m glad to dedicate my time and energy to this site. Not just because it’s fun, but because it’s important to do so. (Editor’s note: I didn’t tell her to say that! But she’s right, and if you’re a trans nerd who wants to contribute to TMS, I want to hear from you.)

Each of us has the ability to give back. And each of these ventures regularly need public support to stay on their feet, whether through Patreon pledges, publication subscriptions, or volunteer work. Spending a few dollars or sparing a couple hours can cause a ripple effect that leads to more supportive spaces for trans people: the kind that gives back to the community and leads to new art, ideas, and ways of building self-acceptance.

It’s a scary time to be trans, and sadly, the geek community is not a safe space. Sometimes being an out trans woman in gaming is dangerous. But there are projects out there working to create a space for trans people to feel safe, supported, and heard. Those organizations need our time, money, and energy more than ever. Without them, there’s no way trans people can work together to prevent alt-right leaders like Donald Trump and Mike Pence from bullying the trans community around. It’s true that we can reclaim gaming, comics, and tech, but only if we do so collectively. Not if we are isolated from one another.

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Ana Valens is a freelance games critic and Advisor for FemHype. Her work focuses on the relationships that players build with their favorite characters and worlds. Her writing can be seen on ZEAL, Kill Screen, The Toast, and Bitch Media. Her visual novel Bell, about body horror and emotional trauma, is available now. For more of her writing, check out her Twitter @SpaceDoctorPhD.

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Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.