Though the concept of 'transgender' has gained a foothold in American culture, the representation of transgender subjects is both limited and limiting. Media representations of trans experiences generally exclude or negatively depict both trans-masculine people and trans individuals of color. Subsequently, many trans-masculine individuals of color — especially black transmen — turn to online forums to create original content, express what being transgender means to them, and explore topics excluded from mainstream conversations.
Utilizing participatory ethnography influenced by digital and visual approaches, “Tumblr Saved My Life”: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of how Black Trans- Masculinity Operates through Tumblr explores how black transmen articulate racialized trans-masculine experiences via posts, selfies, and hashtags on the social networking site Tumblr. Online observations revealed that Tumblr allows interlocutors an opportunity to ask questions, document physical changes, learn about the lived realities of transgender people of color, and connect with fellow black trans-masculine individuals. In addition to online observation, in-person interviews and observations explored the context for the content interlocutors create, as well as how online articulations of masculinity differ from everyday performances of gender.Tumblr interactions are important to participants; however, the platform is not where they discuss the more nuanced aspects of being black and transgender. In-person interviews illuminated how black transmen uniquely understand societal erasure as black women prior to starting hormone replacement therapy and experience hyper-visibility as black men after treatment. Specifically, interlocutors note the various forms of racism they experience, and how those forms change depending on whether their bodies are read as a feminine or masculine. For example, when read and socialized as black girls, participants noted being subjected to sexualization and predation. Conversely, when read and treated as masculine, they gain access to male-only spaces, but face exclusion and suspicion in other contexts. In short, this work articulates the complex relationship black transmen have to vectors of power, and how they utilize visual images, social media, and technology to present and construct their realities. Ultimately, understanding these experiences can expand the scope of trans studies and feminist theory.