May 17, 2019

Snapchat’s new gender-changing filter provokes strong reactions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A Snapchat photo filter that lets people see themselves in highly feminized or masculine form has proven wildly popular. It's drawn a mixed reception, though, from people whose real-life journeys have taken them beyond the roles assigned to them at birth.

Between the lines: The filter has proved to be a surprisingly powerful tool for people to imagine themselves in another gender. It also has highlighted society's continuing challenges with understanding people who are transgender, intersex, nonbinary and gender non-conforming.

Driving the news: People around the globe were quick to not only use the filters on themselves, but also apply them to politicians, soccer stars and celebrities.

The big picture: While some in the LGBTQ community have been critical of the filters as making a joke out of a serious matter, others say the filters have allowed them to explore themselves in the safety of a digital world.

How it works: The filters, which are powered by machine learning and debuted late last week, transform a Snapchat user's hair, facial shape and other aesthetics to make them either more traditionally masculine or feminine.

What they're saying:

  • J.E. Reich, journalist, to Axios: "As a person who identifies as both queer and genderqueer (and who has not gone through any sort of medicalized transition), I found a sense of empowerment when using the 'genderswap' Snapchat filter. The act itself was something like staring into a possible world. It was a way to encounter a concrete image of what I would look like if I decided to pursue hormone therapy, and the actualization of this gave me the courage to admit to myself how much I want to. "
  • Kate Sosin, an LA-based reporter, to Axios: "As a transmasculine person who has not undergone hormone therapy, I have never been able to imagine my features changed by testosterone, and I was so curious to see myself that way. This was a glimpse of that. The other filter gave me a rare and odd opportunity to see myself grown up as my sex assigned at birth, which I haven't seen since I was in high school trying to perform that. I was also deeply curious about that." 
  • In a piece by Vice's Serena Sonoma, Dana Vivian-White, a non-binary speaker and trainer who serves on the board of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, suggested that most people are just using the Snap filter to play around with gender ideas rather than thinking about the realities of transgender or gender-non-conforming people. “Yet there’s a fine line between encouraging people to take gender less seriously and not considering trans realities or carelessly perpetuating misunderstanding about trans identities,” Vivian-White told Vice.

For the record: Snapchat declined to share statistics on use of the filters, but a spokesperson said the Lens team is working with others throughout Snap, including employee resource groups, to ensure its lenses are diverse and inclusive.

Our thought bubble: Different parts of our society are still in vastly different places when it comes to talk about gender. Some see it as a rigid binary to be enforced, others as a journey to be traversed, and still others as a source of humor. How one sees Snap's filter depends largely on the face staring into the selfie cam.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

The wreckage of summer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We usually think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer, with all of the fun and relaxation that goes with it — but this one is just going to remind us of all of the plans that have been ruined by the coronavirus.

Why it matters: If you thought it was stressful to be locked down during the spring, just wait until everyone realizes that all the traditional summer activities we've been looking forward to are largely off-limits this year.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 a.m. ET: 5,428,605 — Total deaths: 345,375 — Total recoveries — 2,179,408Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil Over 100 cases in Germany tied to single day of church services.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.