Week of January 14, 2010, Issue #743
Queermonton: Trans ban
Tamara Gorzalka / firstname.lastname@example.org
For some, social networking is about making new friends. For others it’s just another way to contact the people already in your life. Dominic Scaia didn’t join Facebook to connect with classmates or family. He used it as a lifeline while navigating the difficult journey of transitioning from female to male. And on December 20 that lifeline was taken away when he woke up to find that his account had been disabled.
Dominic recently underwent a double mastectomy to create a male chest. His profile was set as male and listed under a male name. He was banned from Facebook after posting pictures after he’d undergone the top surgery. He’s tried to reach Facebook but has received no response about what happened to his account. Friends have also sent messages to the company, all of which have gone unanswered.
It’s unclear what bothered Facebook about Dominic’s photos. Section 3.7 of its Terms of Service regulates that content not be "hateful, threatening, pornographic" or contain "nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." It’s clear a male chest falls into none of these categories. Scaia says, "They were from two-and-a-half weeks post-op and included my face. I was holding the camera from above, my chest was bare and I was wearing jeans. None of the photos were in the least bit gory."
Facebook does not moderate photographs individually. They rely on users to report offensive content. The only people who could view Scaia’s pictures were friends that he’d added to his account. He’d had the photos up for a week without a problem. The evening before he was banned, Dominic accepted a friend request from a young, flirtatious girl. He thinks she looked through his photos and discovered that the cute boy she’d added was not born physically male, choosing then to report his account.
It’s there where things become confusing. It’s Facebook’s policy to remove photos that are deemed offensive and to send a warning. It is not the company’s policy to disable accounts over photos. This does not mean that Facebook has a rule of banning transgender people, it means that one staff moderator made the grossly misinformed choice to ban his account.
I asked Dominic why he chose to upload the photos. He said to share them with his friends. "I was so proud of my new chest and I wanted to show it off, plus a lot of people had encouraged me to do so. Since it’s a male chest, I didn’t see a problem with it. Lots of transmen post their post-op photos on Facebook. It’s a huge milestone for us in our transition and a very happy moment—it’s only natural to want to share it with the world."
For many, losing an online account seems trivial but for some users it’s the only outlet they have. Numerous trans folks chronicle their transitions online, both for themselves and to educate others. Dominic used Facebook for keeping in touch with friends, blogging and activism. "I have over three years of stuff on that account. Thousands of photos, thousands of messages from people, notes, over 300 contacts—most of whom I don’t know how to get in touch with outside of Facebook."
When an account is disabled, nothing is deleted until Facebook makes a final decision, meaning Dominic’s account sits intact but frozen. He also points out that he’s not allowed to sign-up for a new profile because it’s against Facebook’s terms to create a new account once you’ve been banned.
So far, there is no concrete proof that Facebook disabled Dominic’s account because of the photos, since the company refuses to comment but it seems as if no other infraction could’ve caused the banning. I’m the first person to say that we should not shout discrimination until we’re sure, but it doesn’t take a PhD to connect the dots. When a transwoman is ejected from a women’s washroom at a bar, the only likely rational is transphobia. Facebook should not be rewarded with the benefit of the doubt for their refusal to comment.
"Yes, we are making the assumption, but it’s the only reason that would make sense. Quite frankly, Facebook can easily end the bad publicity and assumptions by offering a plausible explanation." says Jessica Hardwick, a moderator of the Un-Ban Dominic Scaia Facebook Group.
That group has grown exponentially, with nearly 3000 members since it launched last week. Scaia says, "I am overwhelmed and amazed by the huge response to this, it’s great that I have so many people on my side. This is helping raise awareness and hopefully will cause Facebook to be more sensitive to trans issues."
"This isn’t about just being on the site." adds Scaia. "They need to know that banning someone without notice is not acceptable. They also need to rethink their photo moderation policy, they need to be educated as to what post-op FtM chests look like. This is a discrimination issue and it doesn’t just affect me, it affects all transmen. If this happened to me, it can happen to them." V