Tumblr users often imagine their interactions and activity on the site as constructive of a space that is very real in its affective dimensions and vestiges of belonging and un-belonging. What does the virtual/physical space of Tumblr actually look like? What lines its walls and fills its air? How do the constituents of the space create a sense of which presences or elements belong and which do not?
I have found the most concrete description of Tumblr as a space within users’ self-reflexive and often affective sentiments and textual observations Focusing on users’ perceptions of Tumblr as a physical space with specific characteristics, I am thinking about how phrases like “on Tumblr,” “on this site,” and “only on Tumblr” create the site as a space of exception in users’ everyday concepts of identity and expression. I am interested generally in how these perceptions of space on the site work within concepts that we have discussed that collapse virtual and real divides and lean towards identity formation steeped in digital technologies. In this post, I will focus on the roll that feelings play to create the mood, atmosphere, and means of communication within queer and feminist of color Tumblr communities.
‘So many feels’
When I think of the air that is breathed in and the elements that constitute the atmosphere of the site, I think immediately of how frequently users deploy personal/emotional stories and their current moods to relate to their followers. These stories within queer and feminist of color Tumblr communities often relate emotions such as rage felt from daily microaggressions, accomplishments related to mental health, or feelings of loneliness that they attempt to alleviate through interaction online. There are often direct and personally stated through a text post or similar sentiments are expressed through photos, photosets, or gifs. Some examples of these posts:
While emotional output such as this allows users a unique space in which to vent and seek succor it also does important work in creating a ‘Tumblr logic.’ Affect has come to serve as a ‘terms and conditions’ that users must agree with in order to navigate this community: one must agree to participate emotionally, directly or indirectly, in order to be recognized or understood on the site. Emotions serve as a logic on the site, with which to analyze everyday occurrences, create solidarity, and reject normative structures. This is not to say that emotions online are somehow inherently different from those deployed skin to skin, but rather that they serve a more critical, performative, and political purpose within Tumblr communities that I observe.
Emotional output of this sort that happens within queer and feminist of color Tumblr communities is often derided as indulgent, over the top, immature, unproductive, etc. I argue that these users employ and relish in bad feelings and communicate through them to build a basis of support and larger movement within a present environment that is not invested in their happiness. It is an act of resistance to not respond positively to the hand that one is dealt and to not succumb to narratives that strive constantly towards happiness.
There is a queer refusal and anti-relationality that is at play in these communities but unlike theories that call for a complete removal from participation in oppressive politics, a Tumblr logic operates differently. It calls for a creation of a space and means of communication that is built on emotion and engenders emotion and that serves as a site of resistance to everyday norms of relationality. So rather than refusal, there is queer subversion. Rather than ‘productive’ feelings of determination, resiliency, or positivity, users choose to revel in their bad and their uncomfortable and speak their unspeakable. The controlling logic of feelings in this sphere creates an atmosphere that depicts Tumblr as a definite space that is importantly removed (with a different controlling script of communication than mainstream society) but also embedded within the lived experiences of Tumblr uses (as evidenced by their personal stories).