Trans Movements on Tumblr

The abstract of this article can be found here and it’s full version purchased from the same link.

The above article is a four-year study on the transgender movement on the social media site Tumblr. This article very succinctly combines all the ways in which GSM expression on the internet is a very real and valuable tool to such individuals. The article is an interview transcript between Marty Fink, a Postdoctoral Fellow from Georgia Tech and Quinn Miller, an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oregon. A few meaningful quotes are given below:

“Quinn Miller: Since debuting in 2007, the website Tumblr has fostered cultural exchange among people who identify as queer and transgender. The image-oriented pages of transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming people have created intricate networks of digital self-representation. These networks connect Tumblr users who collectively oppose traditional systems of gender distinction and who are also queer in terms of their sexual practices and conceptions of sexuality. Through the site, these users, like others, circulate everything from fashion, pornography, and life updates to theory, protest, and event publicity.”

“Marty Fink: It is these specific elements of the Tumblr interface that have allowed the site to host the “disidentificatory” (Muñoz 1999) work of queer users wrestling trans sexu- alities out of a white, middle-class, cisgender (non-trans), mass-consumption para- digm and toward an individually tailored, polyvocal, margin-based, and personalized form of distribution.

QM: Yes. The genderqueer and queer trans expression this environment has fos- tered crystalizes a lot of recent innovations in offline queer culture. I’ve been espe- cially interested in examining the ways in which tumblrs focused on art, fashion, and activist culture feature objects of desire and/or identification. Many people, especially fat trans femme snarksters of color, are at the forefront of a field of inquiry Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman (2010) discuss as “looks studies,” one focused on interrupting and restructuring dominant modes of perception. ”

“MF: Given the silences and fetishistic misrepresentations in public culture around trans existence, the Internet facilitates information exchange and self-exploration for many trans people. Vastly different types of trans people with vastly different self-understandings and sexual identities create a broad range of communities online. Tumblr has been a prolific outlet for queer trans people, in particular. On any given day, one might, whether according to whim or design, post a series of photos found elsewhere, images from one’s own digital camera; a popular meme; and some brief comments or hashtags annotating the popularity or significance of the posted content.

QM: Yes. Tumblr is a system of simultaneous consumption and production within which pleasures of juxtaposition, repetition, and recurrence are frequent and fast- paced. Its temporal and spatial dimensions are fascinating. Depending on the time of day, day of the week, and a host of other variables, including how many pages you follow—I’m currently at 475—there may be several new posts or there may be hundreds every time you refresh your dash. Every moment is a provocative illustration of the Benjaminian concept of “now-time,” or the revolutionary possibility in the present. Through posts and commentary, I can sometimes see which people, of those I follow, follow each other. I often explore new networks by viewing the pages of people who reblog or like something I post and cruising their seemingly most tangential connections. These elements make tumblr’s taste-based subcultures different from the pro- files on a site like FaceBook in that, to thrive within Tumblr’s format, you need to labor and gain credibility according to particularly intense systems of distinction. Within this system, genderqueer and queer trans tumblr users can displace the pernicious norms conditioning representations of trans people within the constraints of mainstream spaces (online and off). Spaces of antinormative trans self-representation within the Tumblr network compel a nuancing of current scholarly understandings of trans and genderqueer sexualities, identities, and representations.

MF: To appreciate the impact of queer trans tumblr production, it is important to consider the acute need for new media spaces for trans cultural production, given the long history of obstacles to self-representation that transgender, gender nonconforming, and gender variant people have faced. Trans identities have been recurrently co-opted, oversimplified, fetishized, and erased by mainstream media outlets and cultural productions.

QM: Without a doubt, even with the increase in exposure over the past decades, main- stream media productions focus on middle-class, professional trans people, compelling them to provide personal stories of anatomy and physical transformation. The biographical focus on gender norms within the transition narrative—rather than on pressing issues of access to documentation, education, housing, employment, and health care— forecloses an analysis of the social and economic factors that shape trans lives (Namaste 2005, 49).”

I encourage you to read the previous quotations (and the entire interview if you have the time), as they speak volumes about the importance of electronic communities and social networking for the expression of members of the trans/GSM community. There is little analysis to do, as they somewhat speak for themselves, so I will leave you with the extremely poignant closing to the article’s abstract:

From at least 2011 to 2013, people collectively oriented in opposition to dominant discourses of gender and sexuality used Tumblr to refashion straight cisgender norms and to create everyday art in a hybrid media space.”


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