Since we’re celebrating transgender awareness this month at Crop Up Gallery, I thought I’d take the opportunity for some self reflection on my personal activism and LGBTQ support. As a queer person, I’d like to think I try pretty hard to keep educated and active with LGBTQ issues, but there is always more to learn. In my quest for education, I’ve discovered an incredible amount of online content that has helped me grow as an activist; yet, one thing that has always bugged me with online activism is the presence of slogan activism.
Slogan activism relies on typically aestheticised imagery based on catchy slogans to draw attention. It became popular online around 2010, when feminism really took off on platforms like Twitter and Tumblr. This year, Nike gained major critical recognition for their use of slogan activism in the Colin Kaepernick ad campaign which was re-shared on social media endlessly. Slogan activism is, in this sense, brilliant. It gets a simple message across to millions of people, simply through being catchy and pretty. However, it can be majorly problematic, too.
TERF [or ‘white’] feminists have adopted the medium with equal vigor as those who support true equality. Only last month was a destructive and violent TERF billboard erected in my hometown, Birmingham, preaching hatred towards the trans* community. Due to its reductive nature, slogan activism in this case functions chaotically. It incites hatred through fear mongering, without any space to back-up the claims. In the same way as Trump’s MAGA has done for American immigrants, anti-trans* slogan activism has dissipated a harmful ideology to the masses.
Now, I introduced this piece as a form of self-reflection because when I heard about this gross billboard adopting slogan activism, I wasn’t surprised. I’m inundated online with slogan images that preach pussy-centric feminism, even on the most liberal IG pages I follow. You’ve probably seen shit like ‘Female Equals Future!’ spewed across your screens during Women’s Marches and that sort of thing. I agreed with the hated towards this reductive mode of activism for as long as I can remember… until I realised why I feel that way. I’m lucky enough to be studying in an Ivory Tower university, meaning I function within my own little educated, privileged and liberal echo chamber. My fundamental dislike for slogan aesthetics was due to its reductive and simplistic nature- it doesn’t rely on theory, history or science fact. I’m surrounded by people who have the resources to dedicated time and research to their political views and activism, but not everyone is privileged enough to share this social landscape. When I realised this, I was a bit more angry at myself than anything. Considering the time I pour into my self-education on LGBTQ rights, it’s shocking I should miss such a glaringly huge factor in my rejection of any form of activism.
Looking through my wardrobe in the morning/ mid-afternoon, I’m faced with my ‘Trans Rights are Human Rights’ tote bag. When I’ve worn it in Nottingham, I’ve been approached by people in the street telling me ‘right on!’ etc etc. I smile smugly, happy in the knowledge that people in my second city are so respectful and accepting of the wonderful trans* community. I wear the bag now, confident in its very reductive message. Slogan activism has provided so many with the grounds for further education on social issues and the platform to get a simple, accessible message across. But also, slogan activism reminds me that activism isn’t only for those who have the resources and privilege to gain a theory-based education on social matters, but for everyone. It adds fire to protest marches, importance social debates and so much more. Of course, like every other form of activism, it has its negative side. But the whole point of activism is to constantly improve, learn and grow. This shouldn’t be taken for granted. #fucktransphobia
Further resources for Trans* people:
Written by Alice Reed.
(Image: @nojusticenopride on Instagram)