The popular social media site Snapchat released a new feature this month. The gender swap filter allows you to take a picture of yourself or a friend and transform into the opposite gender.
Snapchat allows people to send pictures or short videos, called “snaps,” to friends. The most popular feature is these snaps only last a few seconds and then disappear.
According to Business Insider, the male-appearing lens translates to adding a five-o’clock shadow, thicker eyebrows, a widened jaw line and attempts to blur out long hair. For the female-appearing filter, Snapchat adds smoother skin, thicker eyelashes, long hair and a leaner face and jawline.
This new feature has grown in popularity almost overnight. People are raving about the filter and having fun swapping genders and seeing how they would look.
However, it isn’t all fun and games for everyone. This particular filter has struck a chord with the transgender community. As with all things, there are different perspectives within the trans community about this feature. Some view it as insulting or a lessening of the experience trans people go through.
“Oh, look how silly I look as a guy, but I’m a girl in real life.”
“Isn’t that funny — me, a man, looking like a woman!”
Some people actually experience this duality and deal with confusing thoughts and feelings regarding their genders.
They feel it can be harmful to make jokes about the transformation between the genders. While on Snapchat, it’s as easy as pushing a button to switch genders, it’s much harder in real life, and many transgender people are feeling the sting.
“I lost a lot to be who I am, and I fought really hard for the body that I’m in,” said Bailey Coffman, a 31-year-old transgender woman from New York, in an interview with ABC News. “And when certain people post it and write about how silly it is and how goofy they look with this filter, it makes light of the transgender experience.”
“They don’t understand the pain and endurance required for trans people to get themselves even close to their ideal presentation — so no, I certainly don’t want to look into my phone screen and see what some app developer has decided the most perfectly feminine version of me is,” said Rose Dommu in an article on Out.com.
According to a Time.com article, Andre Cavalcante, an assistant professor in the departments of media studies and women, gender and sexuality at the University of Virginia, said he saw the filter as a “playful experience.” He also noted how it could also be seen as using gender identity as a “commercial gimmick.”
Conversely, some trans people look at the filter in a more positive light. They believe it could be helpful to those beginning their journey to self-discovery or even help more people realize their true selves.
For someone unsure about their identity and feeling lost, looking at a photo of themselves as the opposite gender might awaken the realization inside them and help them discover who they were truly meant to be.
“There are people who haven’t found themselves yet, and this is a great way to say, ‘This is really affirming for me’ and to take that next step,” said Savannah Daniels in an interview with ABC News.
“I actually had someone reach out to me and tell me it was like a catalyst for realizing they needed to transition because you’re able to see yourself in a way you didn’t think was possible,” said artist and trans woman Cat Graffam in a Time.com article.
According to the ABC News article, Snapchat responded to inquiries by saying, “We regularly experiment with new technologies and features as part of our mission to empower self-expression.”
There are numerous lenses and filters that can transform people into animals and different characters, play with colors and distort the face.
“We understand that identity is deeply personal,” the company said. “As we have and continue to explore the possibilities of this technology, our lens design team is working to ensure that, on the whole, these lenses are diverse and inclusive by providing a wide range of transformative effects.”
Many trans people are hoping this new filter will serve an additional role — not just for fun and games. They are hoping to help raise awareness about the journey many people are going through to discover themselves.
“These new Snapchat filters got y’all out here having fun with gender roles,” Daniels posted on her Twitter account. “All we ask is that you keep that same energy when you interact with actual transgender and nonbinary people.”