Culture, Memes, Reddit, Transgender

The trans meme community on Reddit is about so much more than jokes

There are dozens of subreddits for the trans community on Reddit, each designed to meet a certain psychological need. 

There’s r/asktransgender, dedicated to people’s questions about the community, r/transgender, a subreddit for trans news, and r/transtimelines, where people can document their transitions. These are large and vibrant groups, with followers in the tens of thousands.

But for some folks who are just coming out as trans, memes and GIFs — not traditional, location-based support groups or advice-based subreddits — are where they first find community. 

Take r/traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns, Reddit’s oldest active subreddit for trans-centered shitposts, memes, and GIFs.  Traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns currently has over 84,300 “shitposters,” many of whom post meaningful content about transphobia or transitioning, then disguise it in shitpost robes or meme make-up. 

Over at r/GaySoundsShitposts, another trans-focused meme subreddit, you’ll find even more introspective, cutting memes, combined with people’s earnest observations about trans life. Meanwhile, r/TransQualityGifs shares narrative-driven GIFs about the trans community.

Each of these subreddits has a slightly different tone and their own rules for moderation. What they all share in common is a sense of community-building: The mods know that, given the growth in trans visibility, their subreddits now serve more than just memes. 

Corinne, one of the moderators for the Traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns subreddit, described it this way in a phone interview with Mashable:

“When I started, it was a lot more edgy memes. Now it’s more like a place where people can leave events, support others, and comfort others while seeking humor. We didn’t realize the user base had changed so much. It was just a couple thousand people just making crass jokes. But really, by Christmas last year, it had became something more than that.” 

As the trans community becomes more public, so do the meme groups

Despite the Trump administration’s push to make life significantly harder for trans people, whether by banning them from the military or eliminating their protections in schools, the trans community has only grown more visible in recent years. Caitlyn Jenner has moved partially out of the picture, allowing other trans leaders to move into the spotlight, and more teens identify as trans or gender non-conforming than ever before

With the spike in public awareness came a growth in trans meme-centered subreddits. Just look at how much Traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns, which started in 2012, has expanded recently. In just a little over a year, the subreddit has experienced a nearly 200 percent increase in subscribers.

R/traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns now has over 84,300 subscribers

Image: courtesty of reddit

“I think a lot of it has to do with increasing acceptability,” Corinne says. “Of course during this presidential administration we’ve regressed a lot in terms of human rights. But in terms of social consciousness, people are more aware of what being trans is. People want to know what options there are for people who experience gender dysphoria or who are not their assigned gender at birth. It’s really hard to be able to explore those things alone … We’ve noticed we’ve gotten more and more younger users. They are feeling more open in their lives to come out — at least come out online. So a lot of trans people turn to [us].”

GaySoundsShitposts is a much younger subreddit, having formed a little over a year ago after a controversy developed on Traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns. At the time, Traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns had decided to eliminate any posts that weren’t strictly memes and were more supportive/advice-seeking. (The subreddit has since relaxed their policy.) Some users migrated to GaySoundsShitposts, which was meme-focused but open to all forms of trans-centered content. Since then, it has grown to over 14,500 subscribers or “hatched eggs.”

“When I volunteered to be a moderator, r/GaySoundsShitposts had about 500 subscribers,” Evangeline Rose Ingram, one of the founding moderators of the subreddit and also a moderator for r/TransQualityGIFs, told Mashable in an email. “In the course of the month of December, that shot up to over five thousand … R/GSSP is now at over 14,000 subscribers from its humble beginnings a year ago, and we see about 30,000 unique viewers per month.” 

Neither Traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns nor GaySoundsShitposts were able to support all the original content. Shortly after GaySoundsShitposts was founded, Reddit users six_inches_light and FoodOnion (who asked to be called only by their usernames) founded r/TransQualityGifs, dedicated to longer, more narrative-based content, all in the form of GIFs. 

If TransQualityGifs sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of r/HighQualityGifs, its close relative. Part of the reason Six_Inches_light and FoodOnion founded TransQualityGifs, the founders told Mashable, was because HighQualityGifs wasn’t particularly trans-friendly.

“What we wanted to encourage from the start was more trans GIFers to come out of their shell,” FoodOnion told Mashable in a phone interview. “I like to do GIFs because it makes people feel represented in a more meaningful way … With GIFs you can actually tell stories [as compared to a picture].”

The subreddit currently enjoys over 3,100 trans’scribers and counting — no small feat, given that the subreddit is fairly new and that GIFs are far more labor-intensive than memes.

Self-exploration begins with memes

Moderator of GaySoundsShitposts Val K. isn’t surprised to find so many trans folks who have either just come out or are thinking of coming out on the sub.

“After a person initially comes out, they often don’t know anyone else who is trans,” Val told Mashable in a phone interview. “If they’re early to transition or they’re quite late in life they probably wont’ know anyone. Trans Reddit provides a place for people to go, ‘Oh, it’s not just me. There are lots of other people like this.'”

Val believes that meme-focused subreddits might be particularly appealing to those who are newly out and not ready for more explicit conversations about gender identity:

“[Meme subreddits] can be good for people who aren’t typically ready to talk to other people but need to get this out in some way … People can talk about really heavy stuff and then use a custom emoji. That’s kind of a way for someone to have emotional distance from the things they’re going through.”

Evangeline Rose Ingram, Val’s fellow moderator, agrees:

“More than anywhere else on Reddit, r/GSSP is a home to me. We’re all a bunch of dorks and we don’t always get along perfectly, but it matters a lot to know that there are other trans people like me out there just living their lives one day at a time. For some of us, /r/GSSP is the only place we feel at home.”

The content on all three subreddits reflects this safe, protected, community-driven environment. There are hundreds of posts that explore gender dysphoria, coming out to your family and anxiety about transitioning. There are posts about passing and self-harm. Sometimes the material is deeply serious and hidden in Simpsons GIFs or anime memes. Other times, the memes are just “in jokes” — material that, unless you’re trans, you’ll never fully understand. Which is just how it should be.

It’s a satirical and humane digital subcultural. Who cares if not all people get it?

Here, for example, is a selection from a multi-part GIF series shared on TransQualityGIFs about being trans in church:

So many of the posts are profoundly, darkly comical.

“Trans people are often some of the most marginalized people in society,” Corinne says.  “So they develop thick skin, which translates into humor. Because a lot of trans people’s experiences are pretty dark and pretty sad, there has got to be some way to keep the hope up [and this is one].”

These subreddits can only do so much

For all their inclusivity, the subreddits have limits. As a moderator for GaySoundsShitposts, Ingram works hard to ensure that the sub’s subscribers have room for self-exploration (be it in meme form or the occasional advice-based post) while acknowledging the sub’s limitations. 

Ingram explained that at the beginning, “[W]e were fielding about one major depressive crisis for day. We ultimately had to say, ‘We’re not trained for this, please call a crisis line,’ simply because everyone was burning out from intense stress — but we’ve been shaped by that. We know that, by banning someone, we could be cutting their only lifeline.”

These subreddits provide community. But every community has their boundaries. 

TransQualityGIFs, GaySoundsShitposts, and traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns provide a critical home base for trans Redditors who love memes and GIFs. And as happy as Val K. is to provide that space for users, Val wants folks to travel beyond large, meme-based subreddits. 

One sub can’t do it all. 

“Our hope [for our subreddit] is that it doesn’t grow too much,” Val says. “People need to move on from it emotionally and … [build] better support networks … that are more close-knit. A community of 50 or so active people is typically what we want to get people into. That’s a much better [environment] for people to be open and comfortable about stuff without needing an emotional barrier.”

A smaller community — whether’s it’s on Reddit or elsewhere — has the advantage of intimacy and personalization. GaySoundsShitposts can affirm your gender identity, but it likely can’t tell you where to find the most trans-friendly doctor in your neighborhood. You can identify powerfully and emotionally with a GIF in TransQualityGIFs, but the GIF can’t come out to your parents. Traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns can validate your feelings about passing, but it can’t always assist you in locating hormone replacement therapy. 

These subreddits are critical. They’re meaningful, affirming, communities that go beyond their stated function. It’s just important to have reasonable expectations. 

The memes are the start. 

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