Streamer Miabyte recently highlighted an issue that people from the trans community are facing as they attempt to grow their channel on Twitch. Following her request for the trans tag on Twitter, I spoke with Mia and fellow trans streamers MSTRSSFOX and Monica Rose – also known online as Elle Rows – who told me why this tag is so important as they shared their experiences of streaming on the platform.
As a trans woman and streamer, I know that starting a channel on Twitch and growing an audience takes dedication, time, and an incredibly thick skin. Opening yourself up to scrutiny is daunting, and it can put many people off, but for those creators with thousands of followers, building a vibrant community of fans is a very rewarding experience.
However, for trans streamers such as myself, it is much harder to grow an audience, and we can often go unnoticed. It doesn’t help that Twitch’s umbrella tag places LGBTQIA+ people together in one space — making it difficult for trans individuals to find one another — with the tag being largely dominated by the drag and gay scene.
Why Twitch needs a trans tag
Miabyte is one streamer who has been able to build a community. With 21,000 followers, she is a Twitch Partner, but she wants to make it easier for other trans streamers to enjoy such success.
Currently, there is no way for trans people to be separately visible on the platform, and while the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ tag is necessary, finding a trans person can be incredibly difficult – especially as allies of the community often use it as a way to show that they are welcoming of the community.
She isn’t the only one campaigning for change, with fellow streamer MSTRSSFOX drawing attention to the issue by promoting the hashtag #transtagwhen. Trans Latinx streamer and founder of Twitch Team Transmission Gaming, Nikatine, has also spoken out, while the tag has been requested over on the Twitch UserVoice section, with over 5,000 people backing it.
“We don’t belong in the Twitch space yet, and that’s what the trans community wants, to feel like they belong.” – MSTRSSFOX
MSTRSSFOX told us why it is so important: “It’s a matter of visibility, for the most part,” she said. “You want to have a fair chance of being seen, and being part of a marginalized community makes it hard, but being trans makes it even harder.”
Elle believes that the tag would allow the community to support one another, especially with the pandemic preventing many people from spending time with their friends and family. “I wish I had someone to talk to, to get the guidance, tell me what my first steps were, especially with medical and legal transitioning. I had to go through a lot of red tape and bureaucracy to start my transition. I didn’t know where to begin or what to do next. I wanted that support and community. I don’t want other people to live that feeling of being alone.”
She poses the idea of the tag being an opt-in feature, something that she believes will allow streamers the control over whether or not they want to be discoverable. Fox adds that “there’s a lot of trolls, and they are very hateful and hurtful. I think it’s not anything worse than what trans people see daily in real life, but people feel like they can say, and get away with more hurtful things within the internet space when consequences are less prevalent.”
In the past, Twitch had the Communities feature, with sections that were user-created that gave trans people that visibility they now crave. For Miabyte, the creation of this tag is a solution to a problem that was specifically brought about by the platform themselves. “They worked much in the same way [that] tags do now… I streamed under the Trans community and found many friends doing so, [and] being very early in transition it was invaluable to me to find people like myself on the platform I could learn from and confide in.”
The Communities feature was eventually replaced in 2018, and tags are now much more limited in scope. Some people have responded to this request by asking why there isn’t a straight tag, but this is about allowing trans people to find others easily. As Fox states, “If Twitch claims to champion diversity and inclusivity like they say they do, it needs to bring a tag in to do that and allow us to grow.”
While Twitch champions and promotes events such as Pride month and Black History month, Mia believes that they need to do more. “Outside of those times where Twitch can capitalize on being seen as progressive, it seldom seems like they want to make actionable changes to further promote diverse streamers.”
She added: “As progressive as Twitch likes to seem, for me; actions speak louder than words.”
Twitch responds during December’s Town Hall
On 16 December 2020, Twitch held a Town Hall, where it was explained why the tag hasn’t been made available. They said that they are trying to avoid trans individuals receiving more negativity and hate on the platform, but as many people from the trans community pointed out, this stance went directly against what the community is requesting.
Writing on the UserVoice section, ohthatnatalie said: “Your excuse of “it would invite harassment” is quite frankly pathetic. If you cared about harassment on your platform, you would moderate your own chat during large events, and would take steps to ensure the creators that you feature as PogChamp, or on the front page are protected from racists and bigots. The trans community WANTS this tag.”
Fox believes that Twitch seems to imply that not adding the tag saves trans people from targeted harassment, but this directly contradicts the LGBTQIA+ tag that already exists.
What is it like being a trans streamer on Twitch?
My own personal experience on Twitch (and YouTube) has been extremely positive, which mainly comes down to the privilege that I receive as a white trans woman who can ‘pass’.
To those who are unaware, the idea of passing is something that’s incredibly outdated, painting us as individuals who are trying to ‘hide’ something about ourselves and to ‘lie’ about who we are. What it actually means is to be able to move through life without the fear of being outed as trans because of the way that you look, which in itself is problematic that it’s even something that is expected of a trans person. Incredibly unfair and unjust, unfortunately, the wider community seems to accept trans people when they look a certain way that fits in with their ideals.
I don’t fear my own safety by venturing outside of my house or starting up a livestream because of this, and so my experience is only one side of the coin when it comes to what streaming is actually like.
In fact, I’ve received very few negative reactions during the time that I streamed on Twitch and uploaded to YouTube. People were overwhelmingly open, and I had trans folk that were just starting out in their transition coming into the chat to feel a sense of community, as well as allies who wanted to hear my story. But this is an incredibly rare experience – even finding a trans person through the tag is hard to do, and it’s often only through Twitter, personal connections, and other sites that we are able to do so.
Starting her Twitch channel in the summer of 2019, non-binary trans woman MSTRSSFOX has risen to 2.3k followers on Twitch in less than two years. Focusing predominantly on Dead by Daylight — a game that is incredibly popular within the LGBTQIA+ scene — Fox often collaborates with Twitch Team ‘Stream Queens‘, one of the most well known Twitch Teams out there that’s helmed by drag streamer Deere, who most recently was used as the POGChamp emote. Most recently, Fox hosted a panel on the Stream Queens channel featuring Peppermint of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame, in which they discussed the place of trans women within the drag scene.
For Fox, being a trans streamer allows her to find like-minded members of the LGBTQIA+ scene, something that is otherwise usually confined to meeting at Pride events or bars. However, with bars closed and events not currently taking place, she has pointed out that it feels as if “people are in their own confined, separate spaces.”
Gaming does enable her to connect, though. “Playing video games and having a space where other people are doing the same thing makes it easier to feel like you belong,” she says. “It’s nice to have a community, but there’s a lot of trolls.”
She longs for the sense of community that the prior Twitch trans Community allowed, stating that “it was a great, safe space to connect within, but we’ve all lost touch since this has been removed, and it’ll be fantastic when we’re finally all able to reconnect.”
Starting streaming just over 19 months ago, Elle – who resides in Toronto, Canada – reached her affiliate target on Twitch after only a week. With a background in special fx makeup and hair, she came over to Twitch from a YouTube channel that was made prior to her transition. She started her streaming journey by not being ‘out’, and didn’t use the LGBTQIA+ tag, either. She just had a love of gaming that she wanted to share with the world.
While occasionally feeling as if she received comments that attempted to ‘out’ her as trans, this never affected her negatively or made her feel personally unsafe.
Later into her streaming career in May 2020, she decided to share with her viewers that she is, indeed, trans, through a TwitLonger post. The topic began to arise through her streaming much more than she was comfortable talking about it – it’s something she never kept a secret, but felt like it held little relevance to her Twitch channel and gaming.
Elle is extremely passionate about live streaming, believing that “streaming makes games and hanging out so much more immersive and safer in this new normal. I get to do what I love, and add value to other people’s days at the same time – and that is so rewarding. I couldn’t ask for a better part-time job.”
31-year-old Mia is a full-time Partnered streamer. Streaming a variety of content from Final Fantasy through to Kingdom Hearts and Genshin Impact, she started her channel back in 2016 when she had recently begun transitioning. With Twitch, she saw an opportunity to game, make friends, find a sense of community, and acceptance. Passionate about gaming since a child, when she would play on her father’s Atari 7800 and NES, these consoles and games allowed her to escape from her life as a trans individual.
Mia always wanted to be able to create more spaces online that were accepting within the gaming sphere. “It’s a place where I am unashamedly myself, and thankfully people find that entertaining. The only thing that’s important to me is that I try to make people’s days a little bit better.”
On her personal experience, she believes that “it does sometimes feel like being a trans streamer on Twitch is essentially playing on hard mode.”
She added: The unfortunate reality is that a large majority of the audience that uses Twitch aren’t necessarily looking to follow trans streamers. The same experience can probably be said of any member of a marginalized group attempting to make a name for themselves.”
Growing any channel on Twitch will of course bring about a certain amount of hate – that’s not specific to trans individuals only. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s any less damaging, and with the absence of the tag, streamers can be left alone. “I myself have dealt with trolls pretty much consistently during my time on Twitch… the type of targeted transphobia I and my friends have had to deal with has been extremely damaging to me in the past.”
Attempting to ask for promotion seemed to land on deaf ears with Twitch. “I fought for a two-hour ‘front page spot’ over the course of a year… and eventually when that chance finally came, my two-hour slot was bumped down to 10 minutes.” The only other response that Twitch gave her was that she could “apply again in six months’ time.”
This has left her feeling incredibly disheartened, as she believes that the only reason she received this opportunity in the first place was due to her expressing that she felt “undervalued as a creator by Twitch.”
While being a trans streamer can often feel like playing Twitch on hard-mode, these three fantastic trans people highlight a community of passionate men, women, and non-binary folk that have incredible talent to share with the world.