Empowering All Women: The #girlslikeus Hashtag Turns a Year Old
Activist Janet Mock says the hashtag has become a community of empowerment for transgender women
Happy birthday, #girlslikeus! May you trend for many more.
It’s been a year since Janet Mock, an outspoken writer and activist for transgender woman of color, first gave birth to #girlslikeus on Twitter, taking to the popular social networking site with the intention of building a community for women like her. The hashtag has gone from alerting people to the injustices and tragedies that often mar the lives of trans women, to a space for shouting out the good and advocating for change, both in the "outside" world and the world within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning community, or LGBTQ community.
To date, the #girlslikeus hashtag has racked up an impressive 7,000 tweets (and counting), according to Topsy.com analytics. Not satisfied with slowly conquering the Twittersphere, #girlslikeus is a hashtag to be reckoned with on the online photo-sharing giant Instagram – more than 1,000 “selfies” and candid photos have been affixed with the hashtag and shared, according to Webstagram. Mock, an editor at People.com, shared her story with Loop 21 last year after news of the disproportionate U.S. murder rate for trans women of color. The 30-year-old writer caught up with us to chat about the growth of #girlslikeus and the trans visibility movement.
Loop 21: For people who don’t know, what is #girlslikeus? How and why did you start using it on Twitter?
Janet Mock: #Girlslikeus, right now, is a [social network] hashtag, but I feel like it's almost a movement unto itself. As the girl behind #girlslikeus, it’s been an amazing thing to see it grow into its own living organism. I see it more as a collective than a hashtag.
"We may be girls with something extra or girls who have to go through a different path in life, but at the end of the day, we just consider ourselves girls"
It started from just having conversations with other young trans women about our experiences and about how we label and identify ourselves. Most of them will say, “I just identify myself as a girl.” We may be girls with something extra or girls who have to go through a different path in life, but at the end of the day, we just consider ourselves girls. I started using [#girlslikeus on Twitter] after the Jenna Talackova [Miss Universe controversy]; after CeCe McDonald [was sentenced to a Minnesota men’s prison]; and then after Paige Clay’s death [found murdered in a Chicago alley.] I just found that there was a needed space to talk amongst ourselves about our issues. There also needed to be a space that was created by trans women. Kind of like FUBU, “For us, By us.”
Loop 21: What are some of the topics discussed within this Twitter community?
JM: Women talk about everything -- personal self-medication, because health care doesn’t really care for us in a way that meets all our needs. They're talking about coming out [as transgender] to your family or how to come out at work. I just want it to be a space where we share and swap resources. And to uplift one another! That’s what #girlslikeus is to me, at least. But I also love that it’s something else to so many other people that engage on Twitter and Instagram. Just by saying, “girls like us,” it’s sort of a wink, without having to say that we are trans women.
Loop 21: Scrolling through the hashtagged tweets, I’ve noticed it’s not all serious, heavy issues. Some tweets are just shouting out positivity in the trans community. What have you been most glad to see tweeted?
JM: Well, first, I think it’s very easy for us as oppressed people, at the margins of society, to wallow in the fact that there are a lot of systems of oppression and violence. The harder thing is to recognize that there is light out there. There is positivity. There are [transgender] women who are changing the world. [These transgender women] are active agents in our own survival. If you only hear about the horrible things, then why would you want to exist? Sharing these positive things and shouting out other women who are doing amazing work – like Jen Richards, Laverne Cox, Isis King, Reina Gossett, and Angelica Ross – is a way to build solidarity and sisterhood.
Loop 21: Has it been hard to keep other people from hashtag hijacking? I’m asking because I see one tweet referring to country pop singer Taylor Swift starting to use #girlslikeus to promote a project.
Apparently Taylor Swift was cast in a film called "Girls Like Us" which caused slutty spambots to invade #girlslikeus. **reports each acct**— Janet Mock (@janetmock) September 25, 2012
JM: I just organically created the space, as anyone would create a hashtag. I wasn’t thinking that people would pick up on it. I wasn’t even thinking that the hashtag could have been used before. There’s a memoir out there called “Girls Like Us” created by a woman who deals around sex work and trafficking of young women. Taylor Swift was cast in a movie that was called “Girls Like Us,” so now it’s becoming #girlslikeus. I think that’s going to become an issue as that movie gains more visibility. We’re going to have to share this space. Maybe we’ll be doing “#glus,” so that we’re still keeping our authentic space.
Loop 21: You speak around the country about trans issues. Does that give you an opportunity to promote the hashtag?
JM: I think the first speech I ever gave around #girlslikeus was probably around the launch of it. This was last year when I gave a keynote address at the University of Southern California at their Lavender Celebration. I spoke about what #girlslikeus meant to me and also speaking about true diversity when we’re talking about trans issues. People think that because I’m a trans woman of color, that hashtag is only about trans women of color issues and that I can only speak about trans women of color. I created it for all trans women.
Loop 21: Are there any celebrities in or outside of the LGBTQ community who have used the hashtag?
JM: There are so many people, who are celebrities to me, within social justice and gender justice. The #girlslikeus hashtag has been nominated by the Women’s Media Center, which was created by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. To know that [Steinem and Fonda] have been supportive of this movement is tremendous. I know Laura Jane Grace, who is the rocker that came out as trans last year, has tweeted with #girlslikeus.
Loop 21: What other Twitter hashtags do you follow regularly?
Loop 21: What appears on Instagram under the hashtag?
JM: It’s almost like a different audience. It’s mostly just images of trans women hanging out with each other or just showing that solidarity. "Selfies." Going out partying. But it’s also about visibility. Most people say, “I don’t know a trans person.” You can now go on Instagram and see that there are trans women actively living and thriving in the world. They are happy. They are engaged. I think that’s a powerful tool of visibility. You’re showing that you’re a trans woman and that you’re unapologetic about being a trans woman. And that’s especially important in a world that tells us that we shouldn’t exist. (Picture: Janet Mock in an Instagram photo sent by @benleenyc)
Loop 21: What do you hope to see for this hashtag? Do you see a collection of the tweets in book form?
JM: I’ve been doing a lot of research on what is needed. Just like I’ve created this small online space, it’s a virtual space, but it’s still real. I also want to have a real lived space. I think about what Black Girls Rock has done. It started off as a T-shirt. And then from a T-shirt they went to an event. So it became an empowerment tool for young black girls to show their image. I want the same thing for young trans women. Within the next year, I have thoughts of starting off with a T-shirt, and hopefully raising money so we can have a real lived space in New York City.
Janet Mock plans to detail her life story about becoming a transgender woman of color in a memoir titled "Fish Food." It is scheduled for release April 2014 by publisher Simon & Schuster. Click here for more info.
PHOTO CREDITS: Aaron Tredwell Photography