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Tumblr and/as Identity

Tumblr and/as Identity

Examination of queer and feminist of color Tumblr communities requires an attunement to how various categories of identity are employed within the site. José Muñoz’s “disidentification” combats the fiction of stable identities and is “descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that…punished the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship” (Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, pg. 4). In this vein, I would like to examine the creation and tactical sublimation of identities on Tumblr; specifically how established identity labels are used in profile descriptions and usernames to disidentify with regimes of homonormativity. Tumblr profiles feature identity descriptors such as “ambisexual,” “bigender,” and usernames such as “gentlemanlylesbian” and “blackgirlqueering” and are riffs and derivatives of commonly held identity labels. They are used to situate users politically within the sphere but also become mutated lexicon often not acknowledged or understood outside of the Tumblr sphere. Additionally, users change these labels at will as they discover more fitting terms or simply as a reflection of their mood or happenstance. 

Much of the fat/body positivity movement originated on Tumblr, most often in queer and feminist communities. It was here that “fat” became an identity label that one could claim proudly and adjacently to sexual orientations or racial labels and is taken out of its pathologized, negative connotation. This is reflective of the Tumblr practice of embracing states of abjection (in which fat bodies in recent history have resided) and creating a subculture/space of the proudly abject. 

This “About Me” blurb is a representative sample of many pages within the particular social justice queer and feminist of color sphere. This description prompted me to Google search several terms listed that I was not familiar with and this action on my part, as the un-acclimated viewer/reader, is part of the work that these identity labels. Often amalgamations or derivations of “normative” or homonormative identity labels, these identities are fantastically pragmatic invented currency and modes of relationality on Tumblr. Though they may be formed and exist in print exclusively on Tumblr, these identities labels serve as tools for users to navigate all aspects of their lives. 

 

This username, “postwhitesociety,” and the accompanying quote that they have listed in their “About Me” section highlight the other-worldy and disruptive aesthetic pervasive in this Tumblr community.  The username is both hopeful and critical and the quote communicates the user’s attitude towards those who may not agree. 

I particularly admire every aspect of this username and description. It is imaginative and oppositional and beautiful. The aesthetic is campy and aims are ambitious (untenable some would say) but they are supported by the every day actions of this user. They are supported in what she posts, believes, and enacts on her blog (the utopia she has carved in her corner of cyberspace).

At the base of my study of this community is the disruption of a dualist view of real vs. virtual worlds. There is an interstitial space between the screen (the Tumblr sphere), the viewer, and the environment around them in which identities are fleshed out, tried on, and acted out.  In “I=Another: Digital Identity Politics,” Kara Keeling argues that digital media creates the formula, I=Another, that focuses on the sense of transformation rather than rupture that characterizes contemporary liberation movements (56). Keeling claims that digital identities are invested in earlier workings of difference while also attempting to exceed, transform, and make new and creative connections. In this vein, an identity within the workings of a Tumblrontology (the state of being within the space and time of Tumblr) is created and enacted from a mixture of the real and hyperreal (that which exceeds and transmogrifies), through the material of affective relations, and movement between and through difference. There is a hyperreal onslaught of fantastic, multiple, and often conflicting identities that forgo and exceed their “real” referents and become a discourse of their own. The result is the collapse and combination of the virtual/real and evidences a sphere of in-betweenness that looks towards an imagined queer future that makes the present inhabitable

 

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4 comments

It must have been fun to do a rhetorical analysis of tumblr usernames. You probably did not want for interesting source material. In general, I think usernames grant fascinating insight into internet denizens and their communities. Almost nowhere on the internet are names handed down as authoritatively as they are real life. Perhaps in spite of this, meaningful names and their associated naming conventions have become the currency of the information society. Like money, usernames have both symbolic and actual meaning - as the handle associated with an online identity and as a self-constructed summary of that same identity. However, I would say tumblr to some extent tweaks that model. If, as it seems from your post, that tumblr usernames can be changed indiscriminately, then the value of the signifier may be increased in concordance with organically produced naming conventions on the site. In general, I would speculate that very few sites allow or encourage their users to change their usernames over time. As a result, prospective users must rigidly adhere to site wide naming conventions in the initial signup process or create their usernames without guidance - before they have integrated with the site community and thus established their identity therein. While this format might lead to greater site diversity, at least in terms of usernames, it prevents users from strengthening and solidifying their online communities by naming themselves relationally. Tumblr, by contrast, offers solidarity and community in names - they become community gel instead of indexical distinctions - tools for mapping out a cumulative understanding of a user’s identifying relation to the community space instead of an absolute identity existing universally. With this in mind, Tumblr usernames offer tools for a community-centric political identification that offers dynamic growth potential not commonly found in more static online communities.

 
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First of all, I have loved reading all of your posts this semester. This one in particular provides such valuable insight into a part of Tumblr that I and many other overlook. I am curious about the degree to which the username acts as a true reflection of the identiy they create through the content of the blog or merely as a performance. You get at this in the end as a general reflection, but I wonder about whether there are patterns within certain communities about the meaning of usernames and how it falls in that spectrum of real/hyper-real. That exceeds what someone could reasonably figure out for a project like this but I wanted to say that your post did make me think. I was also intrigued by the creation of a new language of sorts on Tumblr, wherein users create terms with suchh a surprisingly, impressively intuitive nature that many don't have to be looked up (even though some definitely do). Again, I wonder if that translates onto other platforms or if it will remain a unique quality of Tumblr.

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