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Trans streamers need better discoverability on Twitch

‘We lost a lot of our ability to directly search for and easily find people like us’

Twitch logo combined with the Transgender pride flag Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon

Back in 2018, Twitch removed its user-generated communities. As a replacement, it introduced a tag system — but unlike communities, streamers can only choose tags from a list provided by Twitch itself, leaving notable gaps. For nearly two years, transgender streamers have been dealing with the absence of a trans tag. “With that change, we lost a lot of our ability to directly search for and easily find people like us,” explains Veronica “Nikatine” Ripley.

Twitch advertised the new tag system as a “way for streamers to describe their live stream in more detail,” giving examples of just how detailed the system could be, for example playing a specific hero in Overwatch. But without the ability to describe themselves in the tags, trans streamers say it’s been harder for viewers to find them.

This is something that has an impact well beyond streaming itself.

“Finding your tribe can be literally lifesaving – literally!” says Steph “FerociouslySteph” Loehr. “Minority identities need spaces they can feel safe in, and usually that means finding someone who understands the struggles first hand. Trans people are just more likely to feel safe and empowered in trans spaces.” (Loehr is now a member of Twitch’s Safety Advisory Council, but provided this interview before taking on that position.)

Twitch does have an LGBTQIA+ tag, but this is very broad. Ripley points out that the existence of the tag itself is a positive. “On any other platform, branding your content that way would get you demonetized,” she says. “But to truly thrive … we need more discoverability to connect content creators with the viewers who are looking for them.”

She says that when she first joined Twitch, she wanted to find other trans people like her. “If I were to do that now, the most I could narrow it down is by LGBTQIA+ … [that] means manually filtering through a lot of content that doesn’t look like mine, and for a new viewer on Twitch that extra layer of work to discover the content they want to see might be discouraging.”

Like Loehr, she points out that this doesn’t just limit discoverability for streamers, but also produces a “feeling of isolation” among trans viewers. “My whole argument from the beginning has been based on the idea that it should be as easy as possible for those two to connect. It would be better for the viewers and the streamers, and that means it would be better for Twitch as well.”

Ripley compares the breadth of the LGBTQIA+ tag to other tags, which can be far more specific. She brings up the example of fiber arts, where a streamer can distinguish between whether they’re doing knitting, cross stitch, or quilting, unlike those who want to specify their identity within the LGBTQIA+ acronym.

“To be absolutely clear, this is not an indictment of fiber arts,” she notes. “My stance is ‘the more tags the better’ or more specifically ‘better discoverability for everyone’.”

The push for a trans tag received some extra attention earlier this year when Twitch added a drag tag. Both Loehr and Ripley are again clear that they don’t have any problem with the existence of the drag tag, but that it provides a direct comparison for the discoverability that they don’t have. Ripley is also careful to point out that it wasn’t a particularly igniting moment, either: “The conversation never really stopped for us.”

One reason that Twitch is apparently resistant to the tag because of the potential for harassment, a fear that was also brought up to me by an anonymous non-binary streamer. “A Twitch representative told me that when there was a trans tag, moderation actions increased, which was ‘unacceptable’ to them,” Loehr explains. Twitch did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

It is, unfortunately, unsurprising that some would use the tag to target trans streamers with abuse. But tags are optional, meaning that any streamer who chooses to use them is making an informed decision. “Instead of either doing something to moderate their webpage themselves, or giving minorities the ability to opt into this responsibility, they removed the choice altogether,” Loehr says. “That’s just letting trolls have the ultimate victory, and hiding trans people away.”

While the tag remains absent, streamers like Ripley have come up with their own solutions. She founded Transmission Gaming, “the largest trans gaming Discord server,” and an associated team on Twitch, which viewers can use to “reliably find a list of trans streamers.”

She says that when Transmission Gaming reaches Twitch’s front page, she gets messages like “this is the kind of content I’ve been looking for,” or “I wish I could have found this stream sooner.”

“It always breaks my heart a little bit because it means there are people out there looking for content like mine and feel like they can’t find it. I want the trans community to have that discoverability all the time,” she says.

Still, she’s hopeful that they’ll eventually be able to again. “I have had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Twitch directly about possible solutions several times,” she says. “The fact that Twitch has reached out and brought me to the table and opened that dialogue is a very good sign. The company is staffed by some incredibly creative, intelligent, and passionate people, and I am excited to see what [they do].”

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