keithieboy

Trans man, BTS fan, chronically online meme enthusiast.

“The first pride was a riot.”

Queer and trans rights activists bring up this quote to remind everyone of the Stonewall Riots in 1969; where a bunch of trans women, gender non-conforming folk, and others under the LGBTQ umbrella rioted against the cops unjustly arresting and detaining them. The quote serves as a reminder to the contemporary LGBTQ community that we had to fight to be seen as human; and we came here by rioting and protesting, not by appeasing the establishment.

The quote is even more emphasized in the last decade, where a rise in queer visibility has led to the original sin of late-stage capitalism — converting another facet of human life into a machine to maximize profits. Every June, major companies change their social media profiles to feature the rainbow flag to celebrate pride month – only to take it down swiftly on the first day of July. The discourse around companies using rainbow pride vocabulary and imagery is nuanced, as large companies adopting these aspects of queerness in their works signify a cultural shift towards queer acceptance. However, the LGBTQ community realises that these companies are doing so only to cater to them as a market to extract value from, not out of genuine care and well-being of the community. Last year, Bud Light, a beer company, sent popular trans woman influencer Dylan Mulvaney a custom-made set of cans featuring her face on them. After this event triggered a tsunami of transphobic backlash against Dylan, Bud Light offered her almost no support and made her face a vitriolic transphobic campaign against her, which is still ongoing. Similarly, Target took down their Pride collection or put them in the back of their stores when right-wing consumers threatened a mass boycott and sent bomb threats.

The effects of rainbow capitalism are not limited to rainbow coloured inventory or merchandise with different pride flags pasted on them. In pride parades hosted all over the world, floats dedicated to different companies move alongside community members to signal their flimsy support. Left-leaning queer people find it ironic that a company like Lockheed Martin, famous for aiding the suffering of millions across the world through wars; signals via their float in parades about how they care about minorities.

Leftist queer people are also critical of the catering to police in pride spaces as well. It is worth remembering that the Stonewall riots started as pushback against police brutality, as mentioned in the beginning of this essay. Queer people, especially gender non-conforming queer people and queer people belonging to other minorities all over the world have been victims of police brutality, and members of the community still face physical, mental, and verbal abuse in the hands of police forces. It can be jarring, even traumatizing to see abusers of the community being celebrated and welcomed in our safe spaces.

Lately I started to feel that my city, Kolkata, had a relatively small queer community compared to other cities; with no dedicated queer third space for us. I also started to feel that my local pride was getting too sanitized, and the call to clap for cops before a parade left a sour taste in my mouth. Then I saw people from other cities complaining about their local pride parades as well, every person having their own grievances.

My queer friends who live in the US, Canada, and the UK; all were united in their disdain towards their local pride parades being overly catering towards corporate sponsors. Some of them stopped going to pride events since the COVID-19 pandemic, as they were immunocompromised and they felt the lack of mask mandates in mass gatherings like pride parades put them at risk. A friend from Canada told me how they felt the community was side-lined when their local parade was full of huge corporations all asking for their slices in the Rainbow capital pie.

I've also heard grievances aired online and in person about how some people insist on making pride “clean” by doing away with depictions of kink and explicit sexuality, and to make it more palatable to the average cishet individual. This in-community pushback comes from members, who possibly have internalised some bigotry themselves; who want to assimilate into the cisheteronormative society and paints themselves different from the members who have different gender expressions and ideals about navigating in the world. These individuals often tend to forget that homophobes, transphobes, and queerphobes will express hatred and harm queer and trans individuals whether they assimilate or not.

Even in India, people have faced issues with how their local prides adopted certain measures. I wasn't the only one in the crowd who was dismayed when we were encouraged by our local pride to cheer and clap for police officers. When organisers of Mumbai pride asked for no “political” posters and slogans — they faced unanimous backlash from the community. Many queer people reminded the organisers that pride is inherently a protest, and inherently political. It will be ignorant of members of the community to not talk about religion, caste, gender, disability, class — as all causes are intersectional and liberation for one means liberation for all. When some right and centre-leaning queer individuals expressed their distaste at the pro-Palestinian liberation slogans at Delhi pride parade, they were quickly shut down by the rest of the community.

As a younger queer and trans man whose interaction with the rest of the community was mostly limited to the online world, I had an idealized view of what the queer community in person would look like. But as I grew up and interacted further with the community, that idea has been shattered. I've seen pride catering to our oppressors, members of our own community oppressing others based on race and caste, and even queer individuals who cause harm to others. I've seen people talk about being in the forefront of pride parades who would go on to misgender and deadname all the trans people around them. I know individuals who have been disillusioned like me and barely interact with the community as a result.

Unfortunately, I do not have answers and solutions to the uncertainty in my head that says pride is being deradicalized and the community is just as capable of holding hate like other spaces. Maybe it is inevitable that the community will have people who only care about their own safety over systemic queer and trans liberation. There were cis gay men who were wary of the Stonewall Riots and a small group of cis LGB folks now claim that the involvement of trans people in Stonewall is history being rewritten to erase cis LGB folk from history. There are trans spaces that emphasize on the ability to pass, and ask trans individuals to follow hyper strict guidelines so that they cannot be 'clocked'. There are people who welcome corporations at pride as they hope corporations will help us get legislation that protects the well-being of the community, and communicates to the outside world that being a bigot is not profitable and hence not 'okay'. Maybe there are better ways to make the community safer, more inclusive, and in touch with our histories and realities; while acknowledging the ideas different from us and taking steps accordingly. Sometimes it's okay to not have an answer, and figure out your own answer from introspection and observation.

Why Social Media keeps being a haven for Hate Speech

In late-stage capitalism, every aspect of human life is monetized or is about to be monetized for maximum profit extraction for the benefit of the capitalist class. This stretches everywhere from the proliferation of the subscription model to pay in perpetuity, to the push for people adopting multiple modes of income to afford a liveable wage. It might seem that the social media we use are an exception, as all of them can be used without paying the company any money. (This ignores services like Twitter Blue and Youtube Premium. Although both Youtube and Twitter punishes the user for not buying a subscription by pushing ads; they can still be used and curated without Premiums.) In reality, the social media companies extract user data and try to maximize use time in order their profits from selling data and enticing advertisers.

Almost all social media algorithms emphasize use time/watch time for the growth of content creators on that platform. This is why Youtube and Instagram have adopted the Tiktok style of short-form content that adapt to the user's preferences and can be scrolled through endlessly. On top of that, a lot of social media companies have figured out that inflammatory or radical content helps in maximizing their retention rates. The push for more users and use time, in turn, for more profits; have made social media algorithms promote bigotry, disinformation, and hate.

Although there were (and still are) corners of the internet that house the downright genocidal and White/Hindu supremacists, the mainstream discussion of people being led further right by social media and Youtube started with the “alt-right pipeline” on Youtube circa 2016. Before that, Youtube saw a surge in anti-feminist content thanks to Gamergate, where a few women video game journalists faced intense vitriol for discussing the sexism and misogyny baked in the video game industry and community. This content primed a group of Youtube users, mostly men; to be receptive of racist and White supremacist lectures. It was shown that following the thread of Youtube's recommendations, one could go from a video bemoaning “the feminists ruining ghostbusters” to a video that calls for genocide of Black people and Muslims.

There have been detailed debates about whether the alt-right pipeline was a mere catalyst for people who already harboured bigoted ideals or a tool to radicalise the apolitical and the centrist towards the far right. But the far-reaching effects and the constant backlash made Youtube reconfigure their algorithm and ban prominent right-wing and neo-Nazi creators. But just because the creators and the major spaces were disrupted and destroyed, doesn't mean that the members of the community stopped being Nazis. They still spread their hatred on social media, often targeting different minority groups as they pleased. The concept of BJP's IT Cell, a group of BJP members/supporters who organise mass harassment campaigns online and hashtags to spread their fascist ideas is well-known by everyone who is somewhat online in India. These spaces of hate learned to better hide their tracks.

In 2021-2022, all major social media platforms including Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube shorts were being used by self-proclaimed alpha male Andrew Tate to spread his vitriolic misogyny and use that misogyny to recruit men and boys as downline for his pyramid scheme. The scheme involved mass reposting edits and snippets of his interviews across fan accounts made by his fans, and redirecting others to join the downline. This phenomenon, just like the earlier alt-right movement, led to a widespread uptick in men expressing their misogyny and this hate even reaching boys as young as 10. The success of Andrew Tate's violent misogyny model inspired multiple copycats, spreading and cementing his ideals further. Although most of Tate's social media accounts have been deleted for violating terms of services, he is still held in high regard by his fans, who now downplay or dismiss his history of human trafficking and sexual abuse of vulnerable women.

Around the same time, people started to notice that on Youtube shorts, Google's “competitor” of Tiktok, it was inevitable to land on right-wing content while scrolling through Shorts; even though the users have not engaged with any sort of right-wing content and have reported on seeing them. This observation, however, has only stayed on an anecdotal level.

Last year, Elon Musk promised free speech when he took over Twitter. As his pro-“free speech” promise he reinstated the accounts of Andrew Tate, Donald Trump, and others who had their accounts removed for egregious violations of Twitter ToS. This, along with Musk's own right-wing ideals that he expressed on his own account, made Twitter a viable space for the far right to congregate. These accounts could then push their tweets on top of others' tweets by subscribing to Twitter Blue. This blatant display of bigotry made a lot of Twitter users, who were mostly racial, religious, caste, and gender minorities, leave the app; while others had to curate their timelines to prevent platforming hate. Despite pushback and criticism from a huge fraction of the user base, Musk continues to change Twitter to fit his ideal of a right-wing social media utopia, with accounts whose usernames call for sexual assault of racial minorities being able to buy premium subscriptions and “documentaries” promoting transphobic ideals being shown as mandatory ads to all users.

In the new wave of uptick of bigotry, it's mostly Twitter and Youtube Shorts that draw the ire of people criticising them for platforming and pushing such content. But there is another major platform that is allowing hate to fester in its own way. Instagram reels, Facebook/Meta's Tiktok alternative, has been noted by some users to have a notoriously gross comments section under the videos. People throw the N word around with zero regard and as a silly joke, some even mashing them with other slurs to fit the person whose video they are commenting under. It's expected to see a “you okay lil-” under the comments of every child doing something “cool”. Minority creators almost always get comments that attack them or invalidate their experiences, be it trans people existing or non-White people showing their cultures to others. Sometimes sparse but persistent hate comments can snowball into hate campaigns. A few days ago, on November 21st, Pranshu, a queer 16-year-old took their own life after being subjected to homophobic bullying because they wore a saree.

I looked up Pranshu's news on Twitter to better write this article, and under a tweet declaring the news of their death, there were Twitter Blue users expressing thoughts ranging from “we do not care” to flagrant queerphobia. These comments shadowed comments from other users expressing grief and rage over the death of the queer teen. A similar fate befell to Brianna Ghey, a trans girl who was also 16, was murdered in a transphobic hate crime. Users mocked her name and deadnamed her, disrespecting her in death. Twitter is also now the epicenter of the Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian “Pallywood” conspiracy theory, which claims all the videos showing the plight of Palestinians are faked by a group of crisis actors. Supported by the Hindu Right in India, this conspiracy theory is also spread by Israel's Twitter account.

Is there a way out or a solution? Unfortunately, no. One can decide to stop using social media altogether, but unless a mess deletion campaign is agreed upon; the decision will just be a personal solution and not a systemic one. Social media like Twitter are still used to mobilise and spread news about activism and the world at large, and Palestinian reporters and civilians are using Twitter and Instagram to show their life under ethnic cleansing to the world. Perhaps the best “solution” is heavily curating one's social media experiences and hoping for systemic changes; for as long as the socmed companies prioritise profits over user experience and are run by billionaires with their own agenda, surges in hate speech will be a regular affair.

How Me and Other Transgender Fans Love and Appreciate BTS

The public perception of fandoms is gendered based on who make up the majority of these spaces. Fandoms of different sports teams and players, be it cricket, football, or baseball — are primarily comprised of men and interests in these topics are seen as a lifelong endeavour. No one assumes that a kid will outgrow their interest in Manchester United. But fandoms for some musical artists, media, and actors, which are majority women — are assumed to be infantile or adolescent interests one will abandon in their adulthood. These fandoms are also often labelled as “group of rabid teen girls” by outsiders, mostly men, who sometimes also engage in fandoms and interests deemed 'manly'. But this binary of gendered interests leaves everyone who don't adhere to their gendered expectation of fixations, and anyone who does not belong in the gender binary. It should be noted that women are lauded by the patriarchal society when they have “masculine” interests, and men are derided for taking interest in the “feminine” fandoms.

When I first got into BTS during a tumultuous period of my life, I tried to stay away from the ARMY (the name for BTS fans) label. ARMYs, just like any “feminine” fandoms, were seen as a horde of teen girls by the outside world; and I, who was then trying to remove any speck of femininity from me as an attempt to quell my gender dysphoria, distanced myself to not be seen as a girl. During that time, it was helpful to see trans people like me proudly talk about their interest in BTS's music and the members. They helped me dispel the gendered stigma around the fandom I had ended up internalising. I have found my place in the BTS fan community among all these amazing trans people, who have a subcommunity in their own.

To better understand the transgender ARMY community and to compare everyone else's experience with mine, I asked members to tell me about the things BTS said in the music and done that resonated with and comforted them as well as their experience in the subcommunity compared to the general ARMY community. A majority of the respondents identified as nonbinary or transmasculine and everyone were under the age of 30. A lot of the answers I received resonated with me and it was interesting to see unique views of everyone with respect to BTS' discography and their words outside of music.

A theme among the responses when asked about BTS' music was an appreciation for the members not using gendered language in their songs, a small but nice step towards inclusivity. RM, the leader of BTS, acknowledged that “The lyrics were based on rare and special things in life. So, I thought, those feelings transcend genders, cultures and barriers between people.” while talking about the song Serendipity from the Love Yourself: Her album.

Another top response was their Wings album, which talks about the emotional journeys of the members (and their eponymous fictional selves in the HYYH universe) through a universal and mature lens. The themes discuss in the album have a lot of possible queer interpretation, making it a favourite among the queer and transgender fans. V's solo song, Stigma, a musical story of a secret and the guilt born from it, reminds a lot of queer and trans readers about being forced to stay in the closet and hide their reality from the world. This reading is enforced by the line “Are you calling me a sinner?”, alluding to how non-cisheteronormativity is branded a sin by major religions in the world. Jimin's solo song Lie was also featured in a lot of responses. A respondent answered,

Lie has really made me feel seen, as someone who has performed femininity for a long time. The story Jimin tells in that song felt very relatable to my experience with religious guilt due to my identity as well as well as how vicious lying about something that may seem so dark when you know the backlash you could receive when you tell the truth, can make you feel. The song itself, the emotions it transmits, really feel like the immense anguish of being trans in a non-accepting society.

Almost all of the transgender men who responded to my questionnaire added V's solo song Inner Child from BTS' 2020 album Map of the Soul: 7 as a song that spoke to them. The reason becomes obvious when looks the lyrics. In the song, V speaks to his younger self with comfort and compassion in his voice. He acknowledges the trials and tribulations his younger self passed through that grew into the person he is today. The song crescendos to V calling his younger self “my boy” and assuring him of the bright future that lies ahead. One respondent added,

I think inner child. Specifically the line about how hard it must’ve been for his/our younger selves plus the whole “you’re my boy” line. I think my soul left my body for a bit when I heard this song for the first time. I think that’s the only time I’ve ever heard those words in a way that felt like they were being spoken to me.
The song is a personal source of comfort among a lot of transgender men, including myself.

Other than the songs mentioned above, people discussed other songs like Reflection, Filter, Persona, Epiphany, Answer: Love Myself. In Reflection, RM is introspective and lonely as he finds himself on a walk by the Han River. He talks about loneliness, self-loathing, and wishes to be able to love himself. In another solo track of his, Persona, RM ponders the differences between his real self and his public personas and wonders out loud, “Who the hell am I?”. The tone of self-love and appreciation of the self is continued in Jin's solo track Epiphany, where the epiphany in question is Jin declaring “I’m the one I should love in this world”; finding the beauty in his imperfect self. Answer: Love Myself is a song dedicated to ARMYs, and talks about how the members are learning to love themselves after receiving their fans' support. Finally, in Filter, Jimin talks about changing himself to woo the person he set his eyes on. In the performance of the song, Jimin plays with gender expression and freely expresses his playful and genderful self. Unlike previous songs where it's the lyrics and themes that leave a lasting impact on their trans and queer audiences; Filter is iconic to these audiences through the flirty performance which also plays with gendered expressions and expectations.

In the questionnaire, people have also detailed the words and actions of BTS that made them feel safe and euphoric. Many people mentioned the 2018 speech at the United Nations by RM, where he said “No matter who you are, where you're from, your skin colour, your gender identity, just speak yourself.” Transgender ARMYs pointed out his conscious use of the term gender identity instead of gender and acknowledged how this simple action was a meaningful one. It was also mentioned how their fashion sense and style often lies outside of the western masculine gender norms; and how they incorporate dresses, skirts, and other “feminine” clothes and accessories in their outfits. Among the transmasculine respondents, most of them agreed on how BTS were a good role model for masculinity in them, encouraging affectionate platonic bonds among men and emotional vulnerability and honesty. These unintentional actions from BTS' end helped the transmasculine fans by giving them an example of positive masculinity.

Some respondents mentioned an anecdote where BTS members were supportive and affirmative to a trans man during a fansign even though they weren't “passing”. The members are also appreciative of queer culture and art; from collaborating with queer musical artists to showcasing and owning queer art pieces. During the development of BT21, a group of animated characters designed by the members themselves in collaboration with LINE FRIENDS; the members, led by SUGA, insisted the characters weren't assigned a binary gender.

Finally, I asked the respondents how the trans ARMY subcommunity is different from the general ARMY spaces. The respondents unanimously agreed that the subcommunity, which mostly exists on Twitter; bonds over both everyone's unique perspective of BTS' artistry and their non-cisgender gender identities. Some respondents mentioned that some ARMYs are transphobic and queerphobic, which has soured their experience in general ARMY spaces. There were people who came to unconditionally accept their gender identity after joining the subcommunity, and express themselves freely. Some of the responses that reflected these sentiments are:

I think it can really depend. Overall, ARMY is very accepting but there are people who aren’t as accepting. Luckily, I haven’t come across many people in ARMY that are like that. Trans ARMY spaces are accepting, from what I have seen, and LGBTQ ones in general. I think in the subcommunities are different in the way we understand each other. Trans people can understand other trans people when it comes to experiences or finding comfort in BTS when it comes to gender and I think thats very beautiful.
The trans ARMY community is different in the way that we understand each other (for the most part) on how we feel towards bts and what they mean to us as transgender people. We can share our opinions and feelings without feeling like we will get hate or people who don't understand what we feel or think. Cisgender people cannot understand the things we do since they do not experience it. I will admit I try to stay in my little ARMY circles bc a lot of the community just isn't the same. I don't usually feel safe/welcome talking to random ARMYs because I know they do not think and feel the way I do. I much rather prefer talking to people that understand me and not have to worry about transphobia.
This can be said for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but I feel like trans ARMY look out for each other more. The trans community in the fandom seems to be more tight-knit. As far as feeling welcomed in general ARMY spaces, not so much. I feel more welcomed into BIPOC LGBTQ+ spaces.

I started the questionnaire and wrote this article as I wanted to tell queer and trans people who aren't ARMYs the impact BTS left on us as trans people and how they helped in accepting ourselves. A lot of people are wary of parasocial relationships and how unhealthy and unrealistic it can be, but there's almost no discussion about the positives of fan groups and communities, especially when they intersect with minority identities. There are some individual queer ARMY anecdotes and how BTS influenced their relationship with queerness, but almost none that considers the experiences of multiple individuals. This article was an attempt to document the experiences and the thoughts of transgender and nonbinary BTS fans like me, and using it as a vehicle to write about my own experiences.

An Attempt at an Inclusive Discussion on Male Loneliness

A recent op-ed by the New York Times bought the discussion about male loneliness into limelight again, with people across all ideologies chiming in to discuss the causes behind the phenomenon and how to make men feel less lonely.

In a world where late stage capitalism is rampant and the emphasis is put on individual growth and prosperity than building and nurturing communities; people of all genders and intersections start to feel lonely due to lack of meaningful connections outside of school/work and familial connections. This sense of loneliness is heightened in minorities who are often shunned from communities for their identity. Queer and trans people have discussed in length about how they feel alone and isolated in the places they live in due to lack of queer spaces or the rampant bigotry they face from locals. This sentiment is reflected by religious minorities, the Dalit community, BIPOC, and disabled individuals and the feeling is compounded with intersections of different identities.

Even women have talked about the loneliness and isolation they have faced over the years in a patriarchal cisheteronormative society. A lot of women who are in heterosexual marriages are expected to stay in the confines of her home and only seek companionship with her in-laws and her husband. The lonely women who are mostly stay-at-home wives are also the favourite prey of different multi-level-marketing scams as these scams promise the women financial security and community, only to sink them into immense debt. As discussed earlier, this is worse for women who are not cisgender or heterosexual or in any other position of privilege.

When the world is getting lonelier, and the loneliness phenomenon affects minorities more than others, it might feel rightfully frustrating to see the discussion focus on men, a group whose members face immense privilege everywhere. It might also feel cathartic to see a group of people, who are predominantly our oppressors and aggressors, face a pain somewhat similar to ours in this isolating world. But unfortunately, like most things in the world, this discussion deserves nuance.

The main contributor of male loneliness is the patriarchy that is supposed to uphold men. Patriarchy demands that men are stoic and unemotional to be truly 'masculine', and the only 'permissible' emotions are anger and lust. The emotional restraint prevents men from being open and vulnerable to the people around them, leaving them feeling lonely and isolated. Patriarchy also imposes expectations on the relationships between men and women as friends (while also pretending that gender is an inherent binary) – that men and women cannot be platonic friends, and the relationship has to be romantic or sexual in nature. This expectation leads to men not seeking a platonic connection with women and mostly seeing them as objects to conquer sexually.

A lot of men internalize these patriarchal ideals and become emotionally distant, prone to fits of anger and ready to enact violence on others, especially non-men. Even though these men are victims of patriarchal gender norms, they deserve no sympathy for inflicting their pains as violence on to others, no matter how big or small.

Just like MLMs and pyramid schemes prey on stay at home mothers by promising financial security and community, a lot of misogynistic men (mostly in the form of pickup artists and podcast bros) create pyramid schemes, affiliate marketing schemes, podcasts, and online courses promising community, success in sexual conquests, and being a 'real man' in the patriarchal sense all to deal with male loneliness. Also, like MLMs, these schemes do nothing but make their creators richer and uphold and perpetuate misogyny, bigotry, and patriarchal ideals.

There may not be one true cure for male loneliness; but there are steps that men, who are willing to do better, can take to help themselves. Building communities is the best solution, but it should be remembered that these communities should allow men to express their emotions freely and work on dismantling patriarchal ideals to deal with the root of their problems. These community spaces should be inclusive of ALL men — queer men, trans men, disabled men, Dalit men, men of all religions and races as the misogynist male communities shun any man who does not fit into the cisheteropatriarchy. Being in a community with diverse men which encourages emotional vulnerability and questions patriarchy can be the first step to curtail male loneliness. Men, especially cishet men, also need to realise that they can be platonic friends with women and all people are complex individuals with thoughts and beliefs that are not dictated by patriarchal gender norms. For men who are having trouble expressing their emotions freely due to years of suppressing them, therapy and counselling can be a great start if it's an option they can afford.

Male loneliness is a topic that deserves a nuanced and balanced discussion, a discussion that should also focus on how it impacts non-men and men who are not cishet or in other places of privilege. By supporting and amplifying the voices of the most oppressed, can we properly address and dismantle the systems of bigotry and hate that keeps us all down.

Twitter as the Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment about identity. It asks whether a ship, whose original components have all been replaced by new ones; is still the same ship. If not, where did the original ship cease to exist and a new ship was born?

The social media website/app and hellish town circle personified Twitter has undergone a number of changes after being acquired by apartheid money multibillionaire and the most divorced man on Earth Elon Musk in 2022. The first major change was the introduction of Twitter Blue – a subscription system where users would pay 8 USD per month for a verified “blue check”, making the previous system where only accounts of celebrities and major organisations held the check symbol. Musk and his yes men argued that the previous system was 'corrupt' and Twitter Blue was the first step towards making the site a platform for free speech as Blue users would have their tweets boosted; paying no attention to concerns of impersonation.

Proving the concerns right, numerous parody accounts of different brands with the verification badge popped up; making them virtually indistinguishable from the actual brand accounts. Some parody accounts made tweets bringing to light the role of fruits companies in the destabilization of Central America; and a parody account of Eli Lily, the patent holder of insulin, tweeted “Insulin is free now”. The last move was a direct critique of how Eli Lily gouged prices of life saving medication for profit and denying free medication would make their evil apparent.

Despite protests from users and advertisers alike, Twitter Blue system has stuck; with new features being added that disincentivizes anyone from using Twitter for free. Other than having their tweets and replies being boosted and shown first to all users, Blue users can send unlimited Direct Messages to anyone compared to the 100 DM cap that non-verified users have. Twitter also silently implemented the setting of only receiving new DMs from Blue users to all accounts. For about a day in June 2023, there was a limit on the number of tweets a person could view in 24 hours, and the limit for Blue users was 6000 tweets, 10 times the regular user's 600 tweets.

The implementation of Twitter Blue for verification meant the original verification system was scrapped, and celebrities and organisations who did not pay for Blue would use their verified status. Still, a lot of celebrities and organisations who lost their verification for not buying Twitter Blue, got their check mark back; indicating that the original verification system is still somewhat in place despite Elon and new Twitter saying otherwise.

The boosting of Blue users in the algorithmic homepage and replies has changed the way users interact with the app. Before, people expected hilarious replies and add-ons under a viral tweet, adding to the experience. Now, a top reply to any viral tweet is a flavourless answer by Blue users, with the most liked (and the good ones) replies hidden under the Blue users' replies. A lot of Blue users are politically Conservative, so any left-leaning tweet with a degree of virality has bland, cliched right-wing retorts boosted on top. If a trans or queer person has a tweet about their life and experiences go viral, the top comments are all homophobia and transphobia thanks to Blue. This experience of hate extends to other minorities as well.

Recently Twitter has implemented a new monetization system, in which Blue users would be able to get paid depending on the traffic they can generate on their tweets. This had led to trolls intentionally posting inflammatory tweets, as people replying or quoting them as retort will help them increase their revenue payout. On top of that, bigots with Blue checks now post increasingly outlandlish hatred to garner both support from fellow bigots and pushback from minorities and leftists — both leading to an increased payout from Twitter.

On top of all these changes making twitter less usable by the day (unless you pay 8USD or 900INR per month), Elon announced that Twitter would be renamed to X, and the blue bird logo changed to a letter X logo. On top of that, any features that used the Twitter name would be changed as well; like changing Retweets to Reposts, and Twitter Blue to X Premium. Almost all users have disregarded this change, and still use the old nomenclature for all the features. Some have pointed out the hypocrisy of Musk wanting people to call a social media platform by a new name almost immediately, despite being an outright transphobe and someone who is very likely to deadname people.

Between all these changes and the renaming, a lot of people argue that the Twitter people loved (and hated) is basically gone, and the site is now a cesspool of hate speech and misinformation. But there are still people on twitter (mostly queer and in fandom spaces) who keep using the app in the same way, talking about their interests and interacting with fanmade media; and a lot more are still using Twitter to talk about activism, spread information about grassroots movements, and crowdfunding to help support others. The latter groups of people have jokingly remarked that they will use Twitter for their work and activism until it is completely unusable. These different thoughts of people about Twitter reflect the different answers to the Ship of Theseus thought experiment, which makes Twitter the perfect fit for being the Ship in the social media sphere.

Everybody MOOOOVEment - Memes and Eurodance in 2023

On July 28th, internet comedian Kyle Gordon (Twitter, Instagram) uploaded a short-form video on his social medias captioned “Every European Dance Song in the 1990s” featuring his DJ Crazy Times persona and fellow internet personality Audrey Trullinger lipsyncing and dancing along to a snippet of their yet-unreleased song Planet of the Bass. Even though Kyle is a semi-famous online comedian with a sizeable following, he probably didn't anticipate the song becoming a viral sensation almost overnight.

Within hours of posting, Kyle's video started to amass engagement on twitter (or X, the most divorced man on earth and deadnamer of his trans child wants you to call it) with people genuinely enjoying the song. A lot of twitter users commented on how the song, intended to be a parody of 90's – early 2000's Eurodance/Europop songs ended up being a great song and a homage to the genres.

If the readers are having trouble remembering what Eurodance is, it is the genre of bops like Barbie Girl by Aqua, Blue (Da Ba Dee) by Eiffel 65, and Around the World by ATC.

As the virality of the song spread in Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram; people started to comment on how the song works as a fun parody; with the video perfectly encapsulating the Europop MV aesthetic, down to the little mannerisms of the artists. The lyrics of the song perfectly imitates the rather incorrect English used in the song, written by people with little knowledge of the language, most evident in the catchy line “Women are my favourite guy”. The song snippet also features references to sex, technology, and world peace — another feature of the 90s Eurodance music.

People joked about how the song could start a revival of the Eurodance genre in modern pop music; as the genre is associated with the nostalgia of childhood and early teens for them. To relieve the nostalgia, fans of the song edited the snippet into anime trailers and OPs, reliving the early Youtube trend of making FMVs of anime characters and ships; while some made nightcore remixes.

Among the praise, memes about the nonsensical lyrics, a notice from Aqua, and fanarts of the artists in the video; the song became a hit among the online trans community as well. Trans people commented in jest about the line “Women are my favourite guy” is a thought-provoking lyric which is a profound commentary on the nebulous nature of gender and talked about how DJ Crazy Times' look in the video is “so gender”.

The hype around the song has led to Kyle preponing the release of the full song from August 22nd to August 15th. It is yet to be seen whether Planet of the Bass will be a chart topper in Europe and the token English song for all the mostly non-English radio stations across the world, but all we can do now is appreciate the juxtaposition of the lines “SEX, I'm wanting more” and “Tell the world, stop the war” and dance along.

Not Brave, Just Trying My Best

Inspired by this Reductress article.

I came out as trans publicly when I was a college student. The first people to know were my classmates and other college friends. A lot of my friends were supportive, but there were a few negative experiences which made me wish I was closeted or navigating my transness differently.

I was the only trans and queer person in a forty-something strong batch of STEM students and possibly the only trans person in my entire department at that time. This was a worrisome position as some of my classmates started to lean far right, and would often use misogynistic and castesit retorts against their fellow students. Thankfully my classmates didnt let them get close to me so that they could be transphobic.

My classmates, most of them at least, weren't outright transphobes. But they had some outdated views, and some remarks they made would leave me dumbfounded. I used to identify as nonbinary when I first realised I was trans; so I explained my classmate how gender is a spectrum, likening it to an infinite three-dimensional space. She laughed at my face and told my other classmates, who proceeded to laugh at me and my 'preposterous' idea. That day I wished I had just shut the fuck up and kept myself in the closet.

During my Master's at the same institute, I tried to ensure no one around me would deadname me. I emailed my professors, who had mixed responses; ranging from “sure, I'll call you by your name in class” to “no, I will call you until you legally change your name”.I jokingly told my classmates that they will have to pay me 10 rupees every time they deadname or misgender me, a trick I learned from trans people online. A classmate threatened to report me to our professors, saying I had no right to “scam” my classmates. It was me trying to fight a cissexist system alone, and I rarely succeeded.

Outside my department, it was me who convinced our Students' Union to do away with gendered titles in different events. I was midly popular in my college as I was active in students' politics. Even after I publicly changed my name and solely used my chosen name and he/him pronouns on all social media platforms; the cishet influential political leaders on campus would call me and use fem terms for me. These people would go on to be flag bearers at Pride walks and post on social media about how much they are willing to be an ally.

I knew some other openly queer/trans people from other departments, but we met rarely. Most of the people within the community I knew didn't study in my university. This changed as I started doing my Master's, as the number of openly queer and trans students increased. I unforunately could not interact with them as I was confined by my own fight to be seen as who I am in my own department and my studies.

After my graduation, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, I lost contact with almost all of my classmates and professors. After starting her PhD in US, a classmate came out as a trans woman and said that it was my bravery that was the catalyst of her coming out and eventual transition. Another classmate, who is now in the UK; came out as bi on a social media post.

Cis people call me brave for using the mens' restroom, for asking to be called my name, for asking for basic human decency. Some applaud my courage for “standing up for what I believe in” when all I did was exist and ask for respect from my peers and superiors. The people who cheer me on in post were the ones who stayed silent when I was deadnamed, or laughed when I said gender is not a binary. I don't need phony labels of bravery put on me by cis people, I just need to survive and money to transition and exist in a capitalist hell.

A Trans Man's Review of Barbie

Note: This review is not a promotion of the movie, but a critique highlighting both the good and the bad. I support the current strikes by the WGA (Writers' Guild of America) and SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and condemn the studios and their executives who prosper by exploiting the workers who help them make billions. I also watched the movie in theatres as the strikers did NOT ask for a consumers' boycott, and this review is in accordance with strike rules. Solidarity to the striking workers.

This review contains spoilers.

I should admit that my initial interest in the Barbie movie was an ironic one. Between hosting movie nights for iconic bad films and people treating media catered towards children as avant-garde masterpieces as a 'bit', there has been an uptick in ironic movie consumption and I wanted to watch Barbie for the bit. I wasn't particularly into Barbie dolls as a kid, and only had access to the bootleg versions my parents could afford. This ironic interest did evolve into genuine interest, and I was one among the many people who dressed in multiple shades of pink to see the movie.

I will not go into details about every single plot piece, but I will give my personal thoughts about some characters and ideas presented and how those thoughts are influenced by my transness. The montage of Margot Robbie's Barbie first coming into the Real World and being objectified and sexually harassed for the first time reminded me of my first puberty where I would be catcalled and have grown men stare at my chest for uncomfortably long times. Funnily enough, I also kind of related with Ken's journey of discovering the 'awesomeness' of masculinity and the patriarchy. Although I never thought that patriarchy was “cool”; the feeling of exploring what it means to be a man within a very binary gendered society and the euphoria from realising what masculinity can be for someone, even if it is VERY flawed, was something I shared with Ryan Gosling's Ken.

The movie leads to Barbie evading capture from Mattel and escaping into Barbieland with the help of Gloria and her daughter Sasha; only to find out Barbieland has been converted into a Technicolor frat house by the Kens who have been disillusioned by the promises of patriarchy. They have also brainwashed the Barbies into objectified eye candy — far off from their roles as President, physicist, doctor, lawyer. Gloria (America Ferrera) saves the Barbies from the predicament by telling them about the struggles and realities of womanhood in a poignant monologue. Although the speech is somewhat similar to what can be seen on an Instagram activist's pastel aesthetic activism slideshow; it is still a powerful feminism 101 message for all to hear, especially in a world dominated by social media whose algorithms unwittingly platform right-wing bigotry.

As Barbie deprograms her friends, the Kens go through a journey in masculinity of their own; similar to my journey as a trans man. Even though Ken is in a never-ending frat party with his bros and living in toxic masculine ideals, he feels incomplete. His confrontation with Barbie leads to him realising his potential without being tied to gender norms and expectation, as he realises he can be himself without being Barbie's boyfriend or being a owner of cool stuff. I went through a similar journey exploring my own masculinity, and clung onto rigid gender norms to fend off gender dysphoria. No matter how much I avoided pink, bound my chest flat, refused to show any emotion other than anger, and shied away from “girly” interests; I was never happy as the cage of gender got smaller and smaller. Unlike Ken, I haven't completed my journey, but being able to slowly move freely and be a man defying gender expectations has been liberating. It was also refreshing to see Ncuti Gatwa's Ken shout how he misses his friend Barbie (Physicist Barbie played by Emma Mackie), emphasizing how men and women can be friends and companions without the cisheterosexual expectation of romance, which also accented Ken's acceptance of his own self without the “boyfriend” attachment.

Near the end, Barbie wishes to learn what womanhood/humanity entails as she no longer wants to be a doll. A montage of different girls and women, of all ages and races, flash across the screen as Barbie comes to realise the beauty in the mundane, in the human as Billie Eilish's What Was I Made For plays. Seeing all these girls and women, simply exist; reminded me of my childhood and the women around me even though I am a man now. I saw other trans men echo the same sentiment online, and throughout the movie we all were reminded of how trans men are adult men with traumas of little girls.

I'm not sure whether Greta Gerwig realised how her movie would end up impacting its trans viewers, as the movie still viewed gender in a fantasy world through a binary lens. Some nonbinary people have theorized how the characters of Allan and Midge might be allegory to the nonbinary experience. Midge exists as an almost forgotten character in the sidelines, and Allan does not fit in with the Kens despite being Ken's friend. He also ends up siding with the Barbies later in the movie and expressed his dislike of the hypermasculine lifestyle of the Kens. Still these are all allegories pointed at by viewers who have been robbed of representation in media. Some trans people have applauded Hari Nef's casting as Doctor Barbie, and how a trans woman can be “one of the girls” without any transphobic stereotyping attached.

The movie, despite its binarist flaws, left an impact on me. It also helped me recontextualise my masculinity and relate to my cis male friends, who sat down with me to have a lengthy conversation about the movie and our masculinities. The movie made me laugh a lot, cry a lot, and made me think about my past where I was socialized a girl and my present as a man and how both of them exist within me.

9 out of 10.

Barbenheimer, Morbin' Time, and how memes influences watching movies

Before the pandemic, when the MCU was still a somewhat coherently written set of movies released periodically; I used to go to the movies with my friends or on my own and have a good time. But I have avoided going to the cinemas ever since, and watched movies in my home or on sleepovers. This is not unique to me, and this collective experience influenced movie watching and how it interacts with meme culture from last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to be less devastating.

Early 2022, Morbius was released as a part of the increasingly convoluted and verbose MCU; headed by terrible human being and sender of used condoms to coworkers under the guise of method acting Jared Leto. The movie was expectedly a terrible mess and almost unwatchable. But it started a wave of shitposting by people who were done with Jared Leto and the superhero craze headed by MCU. People joked about Morbius grossing “a morbillion dollars”, a direct contrast to its abysmal performance; and the hashtag MorbiusSweep was trending, and “it’s morbin’ time” or “I’m going to morb” became the catchphrase used by shitposters. This ironic attention to the movie led to its re-release, where it performed abysmally.

Meme culture and cinematic viewing intersected again, now during the release of the sequel of the Minions, Minions: The Rise of Gru later that year. Moviegoers, who were mostly young adults, began to show up in theaters in tailored suits en masse to watch the movie primarily intended for children. Videos of men filling up the movie hall and cheering while dressed formally went viral on tiktok and twitter, prompting others to do the same. Some theaters even ended up banning this spectacle altogether. It should be noted that people watching Minions in suits were genuinely interested in this movie; while the people who joked about Morbius having a 200% rating on Rotten Tomatoes did it ironically.

Among these trends related to cinema releases and the memes around them, it was announced that the Barbie movie directed by Greta Gerwig was slated to be released on 21st July 2023. This date coincided with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. It has been said that Barbie and Oppenheimer releasing on the same date is Warner Bros trying to screw over Nolan as he did not work for them for this movie, and this has reportedly annoyed Nolan.

It should be noted that people have been excited about the Barbie movie since pictures of the filming started circulating, and the bright colours seen were a contrast to the trend of using less lighting and muted colours in film and television. This excitement only increased as the release date drew near, as did the memes about the movie and watching it. Memes were made about characters who are associated with different (and sometimes toxic) forms of masculinity and sometimes associated with sharp formal attire, like Patrick Bateman, the gang of Peaky Blinders, and Walter White; asking for Barbie movie tickets. This developed into memes made by men talking about how they will watch the movie, both ironically and unironically. The movie about childrens’ dolls now appealed to both the people that grew up playing with them, and the cis men who set gender norms aside to enjoy themselves.

For the few months leading to Barbie’s release, the memes about the movie started to refer to Oppenheimer and their simultaneous release. References to the contrasting themes and aesthetics were made, and discussions of watching both the movies on the same day started popping up. The discussion included heated arguments about the order of watching the movies, and the type of clothing to wear to these events (usually bright pink clothes for Barbie and somber dark outfits for Oppenheimer). This led to the now known phenomenon of Barbenheimer, which has been acknowledged by the cast and crew of both the movies; and have been utilised by corporations to seek profit besides the people making memes about it.

Although people have made memes about different movies and the tropes within them, using meme culture to shape the viewing experience is relatively new and has seen an uptick in the “post”-pandemic era. It should also be noted that the memes do act like endorsements and promotions of the movies in question, even though they start from a place of either genuine appreciation or intense disgust. The Barbenheimer phenomenon, especially the Barbie movie, has been used by corporations to push products to consumers, and it is succeeding. Time will tell if this new niche in popular culture will be co-opted by the capitalists to fatten their pockets, or it will remain a unique reflection of the joy people receive from the art of cinema.