Trans Woman is Taking on Instagram and Facebook's Nipple Rules

October 2nd 2015

Designer, writer, and activist Courtney Demone has a bone to pick with Facebook and Instagram. The Canadian trans woman recently took the #FreeTheNipple campaign a step further, using two hashtags: #DoIHaveBoobsNow and #FreeAllBodies. Demone's question for the two social media giants: Now that she's started a medical gender transition, when does her chest become obscene?

You see, Demone is on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and will slowly begin to undergo some aspects of female puberty over the coming months. This includes growing breasts.

Rather than allow her body to be sexualized and policed by corporations in a way that it wasn't prior to her transition, Demone is pushing back on Facebook and Instagram's Community Standards (which Instagram's CEO explained earlier this week).

In a public letter to both companies published by Mashable, she outlines her plan to post photos of her chest as her breasts develop, hoping to either draw attention to the arbitrary line between acceptable male toplessness and sexually explicit female breasts—or preferably, to convince the companies to change their policies.

"When people start to consistently see me as a woman, my privilege to be comfortably topless in public will be gone for good," Demone wrote about her decision to start the campaign. "We can challenge that."

A history of unequal gender censorship.

Transgender people have run afoul of the murky line between rules that control men's and women's bodies differently before. Georgia resident Ashley Del Valle was arrested by Chatham Metro Police in 2013 for allegedly exposing her breasts. But upon booking for a crime that only a woman could commit, it was discovered that she was transgender and Del Valle was immediately moved to a men's cell.

I've also written for ATTN: about my own confusion going through Demone's experience in reverse. It's a strange privilege to be able to take my shirt off in public, or post topless photos to the internet, now that my body is no longer sexualized and controlled by Facebook, Instagram, state law, or greater society. As a person with a newly masculine chest, my body is acceptable to the Social Media Nipple Police. Suddenly, it is my own choice to reveal or conceal. This wasn't the case before I had top (chest) surgery in late 2014.

While my topless and nipple-exposing photos are still live on Instagram, other transgender men and trans-masculine individuals have had their photos removed.

Jack Adam Beebe, a trans Instagrammer, posted a photo of his chest prior to having top surgery and despite identifying as male, Instagram removed it for violating the female nipple rule. Beebe has since reposted the photo with his nipple shielded, and it remains on the site.

Clearly, this is about more than nipples.

So are the regulations about how we see ourselves, or are they about how we are seen? This is the brilliance of Demone's campaign, especially the hashtag #FreeAllBodies, which steps outside of the heavily cisgendered lines of #FreeTheNipple.

As she points out in her letter, "#FreeTheNipple has failed to show the diverse ways in which people with differing bodies are sexualized, fetishized, exoticized and shamed. [...] #FreeTheNipple needs to be pushed beyond narrow definitions of femininity."

It's been less than a week, and Demone's topless photos haven't been pulled from the site. To find out what happens, check out #FreeTheNipple, #DoIHaveBoobsNow, and #FreeAllBodies.

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