Identity and sexuality on Tumblr

No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love. -Barack Obama

Considering the nature of an online sampling from Tumblr, it’s impossible to discuss broadly how gender roles operate online.

Tumblr is known for providing a space for teenagers to discover and explore their sexuality in a realm where they don’t have to share more public information. This study of sexuality, and a brief glimpse into the queer Tumblr community, brings about some interesting research on Tumblr as an outlet for self-discovery and coming out narratives.

Having a space to explore their identity and sexuality lets these teenagers explore what makes them them. As Chris Priestman explains, “I go on their [Tumblr] archive and just scroll back over the years, and you can see these kid’s aesthetic evolving right before your very eyes” (Priestman). Through the archive function on Tumblr, it’s easy to see tastes evolve and change over years, or even months. These teenagers find different welcoming communities they become consumed with. This aesthetic allows them to secure a sense of their identity online, something they can then translate to their everyday life.

The majority of accounts I saw on Tumblr outwardly identified as female. Dawn Obeidallah and Felton Earls completed a study in 1999 looking at depression specifically in adolescent girls:

Depressive feelings may feed adolescent girls’ indifference regarding their own personal safety and the consequences of their actions (Obeidallah).

It comes as no surprise, then, that girls would seek the safety and anonymity of a space like Tumblr, where they can discuss their stressers with peers. Many of these stressers in the mental health community surround feeling of identity and sexuality, ranging from homosexuality to self-esteem (sometimes taking the form of disordered eating or an eating disorder).

As a digital generation, teenagers are often called anti-social for their inclination towards technology. Instead, they are creating friends online and finding spaces where they can connect with a community depending on their unique interests. Tumblr operates as a place where they are “pulling their attitudes and actions towards connecting with each other, exploring identities, and tackling the greater turmoil of the world at large” (Priestman). With Tumblr working as one of these spaces, eight percent of teenagers have met a romantic partner online (Haelle). Fandoms like Harry Potter and followings of popular television shows have a large fan base online, and the popular Tumblr blogs become a community of likeminded individuals.

For the LGBTQ community, Tumblr has become a sphere for exploring sexuality and gender. One article called “Thanks to Tumblr, I’m Genderqueer,” talks about the availability of LGBTQ information on Tumblr (Mamone). As Trav Mamone from the article explains, “I started looking up information on being genderqueer on Tumblr and reading stories from other genderqueer people.” There is no limit to the queer information a teenager can find, and the community that will welcome their journey of discovery. Tumblr can become a platform to explore what that identity feels like without the repercussions of publicly identifying themselves.

Users on Tumblr are also willing to disclose their identities and sexual orientations on campus, finding strength in their queer identity. Having the confidence to post messages like “this user is bisexual” or “this user is transgender” allows people to confront what that identity feels like online, building up to revealing that identity to their family and friends.

Works Cited

Haelle, Tara. “Online Risks Are Everyday Events for Teens – But They Rarely Tell Their Parents.” Forbes, 28 Feb 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2017/02/28/online-risks-are-everyday-events-for-teens-but-they-rarely-tell-their-parents/#76f62ff3861c.

Mamone, Trav. “Thanks to Tumblr, I’m Genderqueer.” SpliceToday, 13 February 2017, http://www.splicetoday.com/writing/thanks-to-tumblr-i-m-genderqueer

Obeidallah, Dawn A., and Felton J. Earls. “Adolescent Girls: The Role of Depression in the Development of Delinquency.” National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, 1999.

Priestman, Chris. “How Tumblr is Shaping the Next Generation of Teenagers.” Kill Screen, 27 June 2016, https://killscreen.com/articles/tumblr-shaping-next-generation-teenagers/.

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