Article 1

The subject of this article can be viewed here:

As I watched Kitboga plaster his surprisingly voluminous lips with a vibrant shade of red, it crossed my mind that his cosmetic products bore an awfully close resemblance to those of my own mother, the ones that have sat waiting for me in her bathroom cupboard for as long as I can remember. I wish I could say that their use brought me temporary relief from dysphoria, but in reality, the presence of makeup on my face only seems to accentuate the stubble that surrounds it. After all, lipstick and facial hair form an incoherent picture with respect to the two gender categories whose demands I once considered appropriately unyielding. Imagine my surprise that Kitboga was willing to show this mismatch of features not only to a general audience, but also to someone who was prepared to scrutinize his mug with far more prejudice than the average viewer. I bit my nails more than once waiting for the video call to begin.

After further consideration, I realize that Kitboga’s actions have never been alien to me, not even in my pre-trans days; I both wake and make myself up every morning without expending conscious effort. My dreams are consistently fantastical and often transform me according to the likeness of someone or something else. When it comes time to start interpreting the sensory information of my body in lieu of whatever white noise is used to construct phantasmagorical dreamscapes, my brain must first decide that I’m no longer the Secretary of State or a newborn ant. I begin to remember what I look like, though not all details materialize at once. Still half-asleep, I run a lock of hair through my fingers in an attempt to discern what shape it has adopted over the course of the night. This is essentially the task that Kitboga undertakes live on Twitch, outsourcing the otherwise drawn-out process of being made up to his gender-compliant chat. He too grasps his own face in his hands in order to apply a thin layer of yellowish foundation, but he’s wide-awake in doing so—perhaps a little too awake for his own good, visibly nervous at the thought of his upcoming evaluation.

Depsite the unusual nature of his circumstances, it’s easy for me to understand why Kitboga appears apprehensive about video chatting. His usual pipeline of interaction with the scammers is a heavily compressed stream of auditory information—a simple voice filter single-handedly maintains his feminine veneer. With the caveat that I am not a neuroscientist nor an expert in human evolution, I am going to posit that we are better equipped to extract information from visual cues rather than auditory ones based off the contrast between scammers’ massive success in constructing personas over the phone and their inconsistency in perpetrating ruses when face-to-face interaction is involved. As Kitboga weeps for the fate of his bank account on the telephone, the scammer’s empathy rises to the fore, yet this is not so once his tears are joined by a live video feed of his face. Talented actors and genuine sufferers don’t crack a smile when crying out of pain, but Kitboga’s talent for manipulating voices does not translate to total command over his facial features.

During the video call, I begin to identify the scammer’s indifference toward Kitboga’s plight. He’s got the face that customers would put on for me as a cashier at the local discount store whenever something went wrong with the transaction. In the same sense that the phone scammer initiated the video call with the sole intention of gazing upon the feminine visage of his beloved, old folks are also quite capable of laser-like focus when it comes to the acquisition of cat food and other such materials. There was no way they could ignore the panic in my eyes whenever a coupon didn’t scan, and more than once I received a terse apology for the “inconvenience,” but any empathy I invoked could not overcome their frustration towards me and my perceived role in obstructing the pathway of their desire. The scammer clearly feels as if he has been wronged, judging by the disappointingly flat affect of his voice after so many days of amorous messaging between the two. Kitboga isn’t offering a relationship, but rather, a face that can be made malleable for the purposes of financial gain—and beneath it all, for the purposes of performance. And even though Kitboga can’t restore the gendered consistency of their relationship, the scammer still feels as if some form of payment is owed, eventually pivoting back to the company line regarding wire transfers and reverse transactions before giving up on the scam altogether.

So, what did I gain from this exercise? Before delving into that, it seems important to clarify that I myself value appearance and the various ways in which it can be changed. I generally ignore attempts to conflate gender identity and appearance out of self-preservation. Nonetheless, I wanted to decode any lessons implicitly transmitted through Kitboga’s video call because of how unsettled I felt after bearing witness to a miniature Judgment Day. Watching that footage and departing with the notion that gender norms are simply not to be transgressed without the expectation of repercussions seems like a less-than-useful interpretation of the events that transpire within. We all have experience with the fact that gender categories are defective by design, a characteristic of life that poses ramifications far beyond the scope of Kitboga’s scam-baiting career. As a consequence, it is absurd to conclude that we must not throw categories into crisis just because they are particularly fragile. My brain can barely process the “you’re not an ant” dogma when I’m asleep, but as a waking, feeling, thinking human, I’m capable of recognizing the falsehood inherent in such stringent essentialism.