(WGHP) — The term “transvestigator” is probably not something in your daily vocabulary. 

On the surface, it seems to be an incredibly niche conspiracy theory that exists primarily in insular social media groups, occasionally spilling over onto Twitter or Reddit when particular claims get a lot of attention, but the attitude of “transvestigators” might not be limited to conspiratorial spaces.

“Transvestigation”

“Transvestigators” are people who believe that a large swath of the population (usually celebrities and politicians) are secretly transgender. They often demonstrate these beliefs by imposing shapes over pictures of celebrities to demonstrate the “male” qualities of women’s bodies or the “feminine” qualities of men. Some people within these groups do the same to regular people they see out in public, secretly photographing them to critique the shape of a woman’s collarbones or the way a man stands, using all of this as “evidence” that people everywhere are secretly transgender. 

Pictures of celebrities like Henry Cavill are shared with comments about eyes and brow ridges used as “evidence” of some sort of trickery. 

The tone of discussions within the Facebook group tends to lean in a more esoteric religious tone than a political one, with people whose pictures are shared referred to as “Baphos,” which appears to be a reference to reference to Baphomet, “an invented pagan or gnostic idol or deity that the Templars were accused of worshipping,” apparently drawing a connection between the celebrities and occult forces.

Conspiracies in public office

A few hundred people sharing pictures of celebrities and claiming that the curve of their spine or the length of their finger indicates that they’re not the gender they were assigned at birth doesn’t seem like much of an impact, but as recently as July, the Associated Press has had to debunk satirical news stories claiming that Michelle Obama is “secretly a man” or a transgender woman. Politico published a fact-check in 2020 about the subject as well, as it has been a persistent conspiracy theory for many years. 

North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson came under fire prior to his election for public Facebook posts on a variety of issues, including a 2017 post in which he wrote “Michelle Obama is an anti-American, abortion and gay marriage supporting, liberal leftist elite and I’ll be glad when he takes his boyfriend and leaves the White House.” 

State Senator Jeff Jackson shared the screenshots on his Facebook post in 2020. News outlet WRAL quoted Robinson as saying “I’m not ashamed of anything I post,” when asked about the controversial Facebook posts in September of 2020. 

Legislative impact

Accusing cisgender people of being transgender has escalated to the national stage. In recent weeks, a young girl was investigated for “possibly being transgender” after she took first place in a sporting competition. There is no indication that this child is transgender.

Utah’s governor vetoed a law making it illegal for transgender children to participate in sports on teams that matched their gender identity, citing that there were only four transgender student-athletes in all of Utah, and only one of them a transgender girl. His veto was overruled. A judge reversed the ban on August 19.

While adult transgender athletes like Lia Thomas have been the center of scrutiny for perceived advantages, cisgender female athletes have also been barred from sporting competitions if they’ve been found to have elevated testosterone levels, which can occur naturally in cisgender female athletes. 

Trans scrutiny

As people, both cis and trans, begin to feel the legislative impact of these laws across the country, there are also personal effects that this level of scrutiny on LGBTQ+ people (or people incorrectly deemed “transgender” by outsiders who might not even be LGBTQ+ or otherwise gender non-conforming) can have, especially in the social media age. 

“LibsOfTikTok,” a social media account with hundreds of thousands of followers, reposts videos and pictures of LGBTQ+ people, often with “incendiary framework” and the goal of outraging the viewer. The Washington Post article describes an LGBTQ+ teacher whose video offering words of love and support to LGBTQ+ students who felt rejected by their parents was shared on LibsofTiktok, resulting in harassment and death threats from followers of the account. 

A forum called KiwiFarms, described as an “alt-right forum of doxing and unmitigated hate,” is currently under increased scrutiny after doxing a transgender activist and Twitch streamer, driving her from her home. The person who allegedly swatted Marjorie Taylor Greene identified themselves as a KiwiFarms user, but also as a transgender activist.

KiwiFarms’ users target transgender and non-binary people on the internet, often “arbitrarily” picking people for harassment and doxing campaigns that can lead to serious real-world consequences. 

Since 2017, a transgender game designer named Chloe Sagal and a non-binary web developer known online as Near both took their own lives, with friends, family or social media posts blaming KiwiFarms campaign of bullying for their deaths.