British transgender activists frustrated by a lack of online representation are claiming Maine’s beloved new lobster emoji as their own.
The group, Lobsters Against Transphobia, launched an online petition last month to push Unicode, a nonprofit consortium that signs off on new pictograms, for a pink-and-blue flag emoji. Until they get their own flag, the group urged supporters to turn to the lobster, one of 157 new emojis that Unicode approved this year, as a substitute.
Lobsters can display both male and female characteristics.
“Emojis are a way for the world to connect and trans people shouldn’t be left out of the conversation,” the group said. “Unicode granted the lobster emoji proposal, which argued that people suffered ‘frustration and confusion’ at having to use a shrimp or crab emoji instead of a lobster. Imagine if that was your gender. Surely we deserve the same rights you have afforded crustaceans?”
Trans advocates are jumping on board the online campaign by adding the lobster emoji to their Twitter handles, dressing up as lobsters during Trans Pride parades and decorating colorfully polished fingernails with lobster stickers. On Twitter, they have gathered under the single banner of #ClawsOutForTrans.
As of Sunday, three weeks after it was posted, about 2,450 people had signed the petition hosted on change.org. But it has not gotten much attention in the land of lobster, at least not yet – no one at Equality Maine, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization, had heard of the campaign before being contacted by the Press Herald.
“I would be surprised if this caught on here,” said executive director Matt Moonen. “It’s basically already a symbol of our entire state.”
The Mainer who kicked off the online lobster emoji campaign, Luke Holden of Luke’s Lobster, said he doesn’t mind sharing.
“Lobster is for everyone,” the Cape Elizabeth native said by email. “So until Unicode does right by the trans community, we fully support using the lobster emoji to advocate for their right to be represented.”
The campaign is the brainchild of Charlie Craggs, a British author, activist and nail artist, but she is not the only one asking Unicode for a trans flag emoji. Another group of activists, including Washington, D.C., physician Ted Eytan and Georgia Navy veteran Monica Helms, who created the trans flag back in 1999, started asking Unicode for a trans flag emoji two years ago.
“I respect the frustration and creativity that has come together for #ClawsOutForTrans,” Eytan said. “Successful social movements often have these elements. I am completely in support of their health, safety and enjoyment of life, made better through visible representation of their existence.”
Unicode hasn’t outright denied the trans flag symbol, Eytan said. Rather, in correspondence with him, Eytan said the consortium said it needs more information, such as proof that it is needed and that desire for the symbol isn’t already covered by the gay pride flag emoji. But activists point out that many trans people, who represent about a half a percent of the U.S. population, are not gay.
But why the lobster? Why not the softball or the pirate flag that was added in the same class of new pictograms as the lobster?
Some trans advocates say it is a good example of transgender people being passed over for a much smaller but mainstream group – 20 million trans people worldwide versus 1.3 Mainers – but others like the idea of claiming the lobster as a symbol of trans pride because it can be a gynandromorph, or have both male and female characteristics.
According to Rick Wahle, a lobster biologist at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center, it is rare for lobsters to exhibit both female and male anatomy, but not impossible. It is an anomaly that happens early in the embryonic development, he said. Its sex chromosomes do not divide properly, leading to divergent anatomy on different sides of the body.
Trans advocates call this biological fact – one also found in some birds, mollusks and fish – a nice “twist of fate” for their mission.