The last post from the Instagram account @femme4memes_ was published Dec. 4, 2018. It was a selfie of the account’s curator, Nia Loy, with the caption “love you.” It has become a kind of online obituary, where trans women from across the world have left sentiments and anecdotes about Loy, and the impact her memes had on them. Loy had died from suicide shortly after making that post. “There’s really only a few ways young trans people die,” says Sophie Dash, Colorado Springs resident and self-described “princess of memes.” She was an admin for the Facebook meme pages “Tranarchist Sad Girl” and “Spooky Sad Trans Girl” before Facebook removed them.
Memes are an iconic part of the internet experience that the dictionary defines as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” They are best known as pictures, usually from stock photo accounts or random pop-culture sources, like Spongebob Squarepants, with captions that attempt to convey a very specific experience. “I love memes because they easily convey quick messages or points,” says Dash, “they’re great for releasing my sadness and making other people feel sad because they relate to it. It’s just a quick way to create something that hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people can relate to.”
Memes are good at conveying very specific feelings, and existing as a trans person is a unique experience that can at times be alienating and isolating. Memes let trans people know that they aren’t alone. Dash says: “I made a meme about hot-railing estradiol [a synthetic estrogen used in hormone replacement therapy] and crying — not that you should do that — but people could relate to that.”
Femme4memes had become one of the most popular and recognizable meme accounts amongst the trans community. “Her memes were very different stylistically: queer and trans memes with this crude and in-your-face humor that was very punk,” says Dash. Loy’s memes, featuring brightly colored fonts over stock images, addressed not just aspects of the trans experience, but also leftist politics and anti-fascism, Pokemon, anime, punk rock, and the kind of radical, inspirational positivity that becomes a hallmark of insular queer communities.
Loy and her memes built upon an archetype of trans womanhood. “There are these weird spectrums of transness that seem to exist in the world,” explains Dash, “where there are the hyper-femmy, socially acceptable trans girl, and the angry, anarchist lesbian trans girl. I’m kinda in-between there. I think a lot of trans women are just like ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Memes are a way to just convey obnoxiously being stuck in that spot. ‘Hey I’m gonna be obnoxiously trans,’ but in a wholesome, positive way.”
The wholesome positivity of meme pages like Loy’s is a way of coping with a harsh, unforgiving world. In January of 2018, Loy was targeted by the website Kiwi Farms, a site designed to essentially facilitate cyber-bullying, run by the kind of vitriolic, socially stunted edgelords who populate online communities like 4chan. Kiwi Farms mocked Loy’s appearance, memes and band, and revealed her deadname, the name she was assigned at birth. Such harassment is common for trans women on the internet. Dash says she experienced similar treatment while serving as the admin for her pages. “People said really terrible things. It was alarming how quick these people wanted me to die because I was a trans woman taking up space.”
Loy was specifically targeted for her memes that used hyperbole in an attempt to empower the trans community. “Unless you were trans you weren’t gonna understand them, like the over-the-top anti-TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist], anti-cis[gender, those who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth] people, anti-straight memes,” remembers Dash. Loy often used her memes to subvert the status quo and vent against a society that seems determined to punish trans people for existing.
The last post on the femme4memes Facebook page is full of comments from people with anime avatars, saying “40%,” a reference to the high suicide rate within the trans community.
Loy’s memory continues to inspire the next generation of trans memers, who remember her positive impact. “I tell people they’re special and great,” says Dash, “and it’s nice to have people tell you that, but knowing that someone who is doing that and made people feel better still couldn’t feel OK is a hard thing. Sometimes memes aren’t enough.”