By Laura Mattson
I ventured into the Internet for my own edification (dangerous I know) and encountered a channel I wish I hadn’t seen. Let me explain. I searched YouTube for “genderfluid” videos because I wanted to see what my comrades have been up to. The results were not filled with educational videos or personal vlogs like I expected. I watched a very cute vlog by a genderfluid Youtuber named Seadresa. After that, I was left with a video by Roaming Millennial that looked educational but was truly alarming. She essentially dismissed genderfluid and nonbinary identities outright, using the logic of traditional binary distinctions between “man and woman” which she conveniently used interchangeably with “male and female.” Here’s a screenshot of it if you want to check it out:
I tried to shake off the experience and move on to the next video but I encountered a new meme I did not want. It’s called “genderfluid cringe.” From what I can tell from my reluctant exposure, the videos are compilations of Vines made by queer/genderfluid/nonbinary people about their experiences being misgendered, dealing with transphobia, etc. I liked the Vines because they were connecting me with people I identify with and sharing the power of the voice through technology. Apparently, these “cringe compilations” were created for a different purpose. In the cringe context, they are gross and exploitive. The videos pull the Vine testimonies of people together to shame and mock them. Judging by the Youtube comments, they are watched by people who believe genderfluidity is not real and genderfluid people are just wrong or mistaken. Which made me wonder, why on Earth would all these people watch and comment on videos they fundamentally disagree with?
The draw of a flame war is very real. I try not to feed the trolls in the comments section on principle but I succumbed to the fire when I watched Roaming Millennial’s video. I figured I would feel better for getting in my opinion and trying to stand up for myself. But I felt worse! So much worse. I felt angry and tense after I hit post. (Yes, I’m ahoyboi)
So unpopular or hateful comments aren’t really calming or relieving. Is there something exciting about arguing with people, or jeering at weirdos in scorn? Probably. And I think most of us have experienced a movie that is so bad, it’s good. Why do we find pleasure in the cringe? This is where monster theory is helpful. First, it would be irresponsible to go any further without first establishing that there is nothing wrong with being genderfluid or nonbinary. These identities are entirely valid and deserve our support. I am about to apply a theory to an identity, which is probably going to get messy. So from here, I’m going to focus on myself because I know I can take it.
In The Monster Theses, Cohen writes that the monster is the “harbinger of category chaos” (Thesis 3). If, as a genderfluid person, I cannot be put into a finite category of man or woman, I am monstrously disrupting existing binaries and making taxonomies obsolete. Cool! I think that definitely meets Cohen’s expectation of “gleeful violation” of the laws of nature.
Thesis 6 presents a possible explanation for the appeal of cringeworthy monstrous displays. Cohen explains that “the monster’s eradication functions as an exorcism…and a catechism” (Thesis 6). Opponents of genderfluidity group “monstrous” Vines together in order to make them easier to contain and easier to categorize. If all these videos can be written off at once, it will undoubtedly save them time and effort. At the same time, the repetition of these brave claims of identity amid struggle makes them seem like mere dramatizations or whiny caricatures. By corralling the monsters in a zoo, they are easier to defeat. Viewing them for pleasure lets them avoid engaging them or otherwise becoming entangled.
Although looking at this weird meme is interesting, it still makes me sad. The community I love is being digitally rounded up and mocked on full display. I don’t know how to destroy the zoo, aside from content-flagging the compilations themselves. Maybe I need to participate in our so-called digital democracy and make a video of my own. Maybe it’s enough to continue being monstrous and letting other monsters I encounter into my lair to hide from the angry mob. I’m just really sick of gender being the peripheral issue, even within the fight for LGBTQ rights. Even as the struggle shifts to trans rights, genderfluidity has not become a household word. But then again, if the masses’ only exposure to us would be through cringe compilations, maybe it’s best if they don’t know yet.
If you or someone you know needs support, the Trevor Project is here for you, 24/7, at: 866.488.7386 You can find a safe, international online community at: TrevorSpace.org and more resources at thetrevorproject.org
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” From Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25.