I first came into contact with the femboy concept many years ago, in the annals of tumblr and various highly niche forums. It’s an outdated fetish term originating in the 90s when the porn-consuming populace didn’t care to differentiate between crossdressers and trans women. Androgynous bodies, some growing anew through transition, were exoticized and fetishized, captured on web and video for the spectating pleasure of people, particularly cis men who never would have encountered them a mere decade ago. In the early 2000s this concept joined up the Japanese Otaku fan-culture surrounding otokonoko, a term for men who have a culturally feminine gender expression.
As 4chan came into existence in 2003, various forms of being extremely visible online converged into one cesspool. This new-yet-old concept of the femboy coaleced–a perfectly feminine boy, underage in appearance, who imitated girlhood to perfection so therefore straight men would not technically be gay for being attracted to them. All of this paralleled another concept I was already all too familiar with–bacha bazi, or “boys play.” I’m of Middle Eastern descent and I fit this particular fetishistic beauty standard. The femboy fetishism I had observed from a distance simply re-confirmed a dark truth I already knew intimately about the desires of men. The male fetishization of nubile, underage male bodies from ancient Greek pederasty to bacha bazi, to the prostitution of some kabuki actors, is a tale as old as human history. All this is to say: this is not my first time at this rodeo.
Fetish mining is the act of soliciting or sourcing fetish material from the unsuspecting/unaware online.
This is commonly seen in the phenomenon of supposed potential customers asking for pictures of shoes or stockings “being worn” on sites like Depop, or people being spammed with anonymous messages on sites such as ask.fm with requests to see them crushing bugs, tickling, showing their feet; anything that could seem innocuous enough to someone not in the know. The mining victim might end up providing fetish material in the form of feet pics, or videos of them belching or tickling themselves, or pretending to be a giantess stepping on the camera. The same materials that could be sourced for a fair price from specialized online sex workers are instead procured from civilians without payment or proper consent.
This act of fetish freeloading can be even more insidious in the hands of femboy fetishists. They’re people who are already notorious online and they know how to get what they want from it. The internet has amazing capacity for short-term historical revisionism and this has an immense benefit for people who want to mine fetish content from the unsuspecting and all too often, underage. The trend of the TikTok femboy is a premier example of this. By attaching the femboy concept to a new wave of Gen Z gender expression, you produce an amazing thing for the sketchy fetishist: thousands of teenagers in maid dresses and cat ears, dancing around and laying prone under the convenient #femboy hashtag. Forming a community around the fetish allows you to be in close proximity to teenagers and other potential victims of fetish mining, on subreddits, on Discord servers, or even directly in their DMs on social media. They do whatever they can to source their material for free with plausible deniability for the real reasons that they “support the community.”
This is commonly seen in the phenomenon of supposed potential customers asking for pictures of shoes or stockings “being worn” on sites like Depop, or people being spammed with anonymous messages on sites such as ask.fm with requests to see them crushing bugs, tickling, showing their feet; anything that could seem innocuous enough to someone not in the know.
This is what is happening on my own personal Safe for Work social media account and to so many other trans people. Transfeminine or transmasculine, it doesn’t matter as long as you fit a specific type–thin, young-looking, androgynous and often actively in the early stages of medical transition. Beyond proliferating the use of the word femboy in conversations conserning gender fluidity, fetishists have picked up the language of the contemporary trans community–searching for terms like “transfem” and “transmasc” and following networks of trans hotties, some of whom are sex workers who might benefit from this attention, but very often it’s other civillians like myself who by no means consent to being viewed as fetish material. Every pretty young trans thing I know, regardless of demographics or profession, has a slew of fetish freeloaders like this in their Twitter and Instagram following.
Femboy is a porn term. I don’t use it to identify myself and I definitely don’t produce that kind of content, but I’m not here to pass judgment on people who do, either for pleasure or for profit. I am just a trans person, with fairly SFW social media, who happens to be the closest living thing to some people’s fantasy; a wholly fictional concept which subsumes my humanity in the eyes of the people who save my pictures for later.
I’m disgusted by the sheer amount of people, nearly entirely cisgender men, who mined my personal social media to fulfill their fetish without once considering my comfort, humanity, or continued existence.
So I set forth an ultimatum: Pay me or get blocked. Not a single one of the fetish accounts in my following complied with this request, so I went through my following with a fine-tooth comb, blocking everyone who I recognized as a fetish freeloader.
I write about this issue not to shame people who engage in fetish responsibly, but to encourage marginalized people to guard themselves from a particularly insidious form of exploitation. It’s easy to write off this voyeuristic surveillance as coincidence; a few unorganized creeps stumbling across the accounts of people who fit their target demographics. However, it is my sincere belief that the efforts of femboy fetish miners are far more organized and calculated. When you consider how many people in online trans spaces are underage and how much of this widespread fetish mining operation is conducted on youth-oriented sites such as Tiktok, the propensity for cisgender people to be attracted to trans people specifically because we appear youthful takes on an especially dark, dangerous air. I’ve reached my limit with this dehumanizing form of online interaction. I’ve decided to insist upon my humanity.
About the Author
Skylar Swift (he/they) is a mixed MENA transmasculine illustrator, fine artist, and signed model. Their work focuses on LGBT+ storytelling and increasing the amount of trans people both in front of and behind the camera.