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On Instagram, I post an update from my gender transition every Thursday. The initial question was: When will Instagram ban my nipples? On March 30th, 2023, it finally happened.
The in transitu project is a challenge to the Instagram moderation protocols and an exploration of how gender is perceived by algorithms. Meta's platform has a rule that female nipples are not allowed to be displayed on pictures, unless in certain specified context, e.g. breastfeeding or acts of protest. However, as a trans woman currently undergoing a gender transition, Instagram struggles to see me and my nipples as female. So each week I put up a picture of myself, where my nipples are visible, as my gender expression evolves.
On March 30th, 2023, my first selfie was removed from the platform for displaying nudity. The image is shown below. The occasion was celebrated with my followers, who cheered me along and send me congratulations. However, the event was also a stark reminder that my digital male privilege is gone.
The entire project acts as a sort of reverse engineering of Instagram's algorithms, which are famously nebulous. In order to aid my own and the audience's understanding of how gender is seen through algoirhtms, I also send the weekly selfie to a series of commercially available gender recognition AIs, e.g. Amazon and Microsoft. The results are posted along with the selfie itself, so my followers can try to make sense of how these AIs (fail to) function.
The algorithms rarely agree with each other, and frequently decide that I'm both male and female at the same time. The banned image from March 30th, 2023 had results that were mixed, with Microsoft and face++ saying male, Amazon and Clarifai saying female/feminine and face-api.js saying 50% female.
This project is a continuation of work started in 2015 by trans activist Courtney Demone. She launched the hashtag campaign #DoIHaveBoobsNow to challenge Instagram's nipple policy with the hopes of changing it. 7 years later, nothing has changed and women's nipples are still pariahs of the platform. In other areas of tech, gender roles are being algorithmically upheld with more "efficiency" than ever, "thanks" to the surge in AI technologies.