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Identifying “Trap Doors”: The Gendered Surveillance of Transgender People’s Online Embodiment

Wed, September 4, 9:45 to 11:15am, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, Floor: Five, Grand Ballroom D


Social media platforms provide means for embodied communication and have become the primary way that transgender people document and share information related to psycho-medical transition. The lack of reliable information available about transgender experiences and processes of transition in mainstream media is an aspect of social and political transphobia and positions spaces of embodied information exchange as a necessary information source for transgender people. The materials transgender people create often position the self in context, including the intimacy of domestic spaces and practices as aspects of their content.

Embodiment in online communities has allowed for transgender people to better meet their information needs while the use of proprietary social media networks has allowed for more developed forms of surveillance. From the removal of videos that contain information related to common surgical procedures to the ongoing facial recognition research being conducted to document the process of psycho-medical transition, the gendered nature of surveillance practices carry forward stereotypes of transgender people as suspicious or criminal. I align recent research in transgender media studies with facial recognition research that is targeting transgender people online (through culling information from social media sites) to illustrate that subtle technologies are involved in the continuous policing of gendered embodiment. My research reveals that stereotypes that transgender people are always in the act of hiding something while simultaneously seen as owing explanation - i.e. are deviant and should be policed - continue forward in surveillance research concerned with identifying people who are in the process of embodied gender transition.