Transgender Victoria woman fights Facebook’s nipple rule

Victoria marketing representative Courtney Demone is doing what she can to alter the way the second-most-visited website in the world evaluates pictures uploaded by its members.

Facebook, which says it has nearly one billion daily active users, second only to Google, has an arcane censorship policy that is unfair to women, Demone said. As a result, the transgender 24-year-old, who is undergoing hormone therapy, is challenging Facebook and picture-sharing site Instagram by uploading topless photos of herself — typically cause for suspension from the social-media sites.

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Demone made the decision to chronicle her gender-transition journey after being “assigned male at birth,” the transgender community’s preferred description.

She published the first of what will be a series of columns for the website Mashable on Wednesday, followed by a series of posts to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter bearing the hashtags #DoIHaveBoobsNow and #FreeAllBodies.

In the pictures, taken at Victoria landmarks Fan Tan Alley and the steps of the legislature, among other locales, Demone was topless. She admitted her breasts are not developed enough to be deemed worthy of censorship from social media, but that time will come, she said.

Demone expects the results of her hormone therapy to be much more visible in four months. Once the imagery in the articles she’s co-authoring with Cynthia Williams intensifies, she will run the risk of having her membership from Facebook and Instagram revoked.

“As it stands, I don’t think I’m on their radar yet. But we’re going to be doing monthly articles until this resolves, one way or the other.”

As part of its community standards, Facebook says it will “remove content that threatens or promotes sexual violence or exploitation,” including the sexual exploitation of minors. At the same time, the site enables users “to share their experiences and to raise awareness about issues that are important to them.”

That smacks of a double standard, said Demone, adding she is simply trying to “normalize trans bodies,” not spread pornography. “The concern [for Facebook] is exposing minors to pornography,” she said. “But they still allow sharing of things that are basically pornography. Creepy, misogynistic, sexualized images they are totally fine with, but the second it is a nipple, it’s no longer okay. That’s a weird line to draw.”

Social-media sites are lightning rods for controversy where nudity is concerned. Facebook once banned a photographer for posting a photo of her two-year-old daughter in a bathing suit, a photo that mimicked the Coppertone sun lotion ad from the 1950s. And it wasn’t until persistent complaints from advocacy groups that Facebook decided to allow pictures of breastfeeding on the site.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has been under fire in the past year for taking down pictures of women who appear to be topless, even when they are not. Willows Smith, daughter of Will Smith, had a picture pulled from Instagram, even though she was wearing a T-shirt.

That type of incident sparked the Free the Nipple gender-equality campaign, which has won support from celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Chelsea Handler, Rihanna and Naomi Campbell. The latter, a model, posted a topless photo of herself on Sept. 15 to promote an upcoming issue of Garage magazine. It was later removed by Instagram.

If people with power, such as Campbell, cannot sway censors, Demone feels she has little hope for her campaign. “I don’t have any illusions that what I am doing is going to directly affect Facebook’s censorship policy. At the end of the day, what I really want to do is bring attention to gender privilege, and this is a great way to do that.”

She is doing what she can locally, too. Demone is a leader at the Queer, Trans, & Allied Youth Drop-In at Commonwealth Place and a facilitator who does trans-inclusion workshops for the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre. “Victoria is an incredibly liberal city,” Demone said, but until that’s true of the world at large, she will continue to push the boundaries of companies like Facebook.

“I hope projects like this and projects that other women are doing are making incremental changes that eventually lead to a lot less misogyny and sexism in the world.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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