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Content warning: This article contains brief participated in the study said she was a big part relationships on Tumblr happened naturally tions for his outlook on sexual and romantic
mention of addiction. of the fetish community on Tumblr—specifi- as a by-product of their everyday social me- relationships. He noticed he wasn’t enjoying the
cally cybersex, taking and sharing nude photos dia presence. As one young male participant intimacy of the people he was sleeping with and

M ichelle* had been called a dyke before and more. “My particular interests aren’t some-
she even knew she was interested thing I can talk freely about on Facebook or
in women. Finding it hard to make friends IRL,” she said. Hart also noted that most of the
put it, “Tumblr lets you be yourself, and oth-
er people be themselves, just by doing what
they do...so relationships happen at their own
was overlooking potential romantic partners
throughout the years. His Tumblr was always
enough, but now he feels it was holding him
in middle school, she transferred schools young, heterosexual people that participated in pace, with greater emotion.” back from pursuing relationships offline.
in Grade 9. Despite her anxiety and severe the study were more interested in developing Participants also looked at people’s blogs for “My expectations of what sex was supposed
ADHD, she was still an outgoing kid who intimate friendships, as opposed to the rela- traces of authenticity. If, for example, that person to be or what technically gets me off is content
yearned to be social and joke around. She tionships sought by queer participants. talks about aspects of their life over a number of that’s curated to be exceptionally beautiful,”
desperately wanted to make friends and Additionally, Tumblr’s cross-pollination months or years, that might be seen as authentic. he says. “I was way too old when I digested the
meaningful relationships with her peers, but of different communities and social advocacy “The perception that we young people are naïve idea that the stuff that I was seeing on Tumblr
was terrified of coming off as gay. almost unintentionally taught youth about in- in this day and age is a bit annoying. We know was never going to be translated into my life.”
Born and raised in Cobourg, Ont., she dis- tersecting social issues. Not only did Michelle what Tumblr and the internet is, and how to use As of Dec. 17, 2018, Tumblr no longer allows
tinctly remembers the isolation she felt in her access queer content, but also learned about it, over the mounting number of adults who as- “adult content” on its site, including any imagery
small town of 20,000. She especially didn’t issues facing trans youth, other sexualities and sume otherwise,” one participant said. that features “real-life human genitals or female-
have much interaction with identities different topics like slut-shaming and guilt. At 15, Dee flew out to meet her partner for presenting nipples, and any content—includ-
to her own, such as trans people or people of One day in her upper years of high school, the first time—making up some lie about a con- ing photos, videos, gifs and illustrations—that
colour. So, like so many closeted teens do, she Michelle noticed one of the girls in her class ference she was going to so her parents wouldn’t depicts sex acts.” The move hasn’t sat well with
turned to the internet, looking to connect with on Tumblr. She leaned over cautiously and get suspicious. Within the first few days of stay- many of the marginalized communities that in-
anyone like her or who felt how she did. “The whispered, “I use Tumblr.” What formed af- ing with her, Dee could tell something was off. habit Tumblr and rely on it as a safe place for
whole idea of someone making fun of you for ter was a group of five to six friends, most of Her partner was spending lots of time in the self-expression. Stefanie Duguay, an assistant
what you are before you even have the words whom were women and non-binary, almost bathroom and sneaking off in the middle of the professor of communications at Concordia Uni-
to identify it is really hard. I wasn’t ready to put all queer and all definitely on Tumblr. Call- night. When Dee confronted her partner, she versity, told the CBC that queer youth could log
that into words because I hadn’t heard other ing themselves the “meme queens,” Michelle told Dee the truth: she was addicted to heroin, onto Tumblr and see a vast representation of
people talk about it,” Michelle says. finally felt like she could be a regular teenag- and had been for some time. “I ended up tak- sexual and gender identities, and content about
She has always been someone who loves er—that is, herself, without having to worry ing her to rehab in that same trip. We broke up relationships, embraces, kisses and sexual con-
learning and reading, and wants to experience about what others thought of her or who she right before she went into rehab because I was tent. This meant queer kids could see themselves
everything. “That’s really hard when you live was attracted to. They were the first people like, ‘I can’t do this, this is fucked.’” represented in similar ways to how prevalent
in a small town,” she says. “I spent a ton of she came out to. She would still get calls from her ex in rehab heterosexual content is in the media.
time online as a kid because of that.” every now and then. According to Dee, her “[Nudity] is a general part of people’s self-
On Tumblr, Michelle found there was a
degree of anonymity and separation between S ophia Dee** began her six-year stint on
Tumblr at the age of 13, joining her other
her and the people she interacted with, mean- friends on the site. As a shy, queer, introvert-
ex hasn’t used heroin in the seven years since.
“I was absolutely traumatized. I saw a lot of
stuff during that trip that I was way too young
discovery, especially when you’re a young per-
son and you’re determining things about your-
self and your sexual identity,” said Duguay. “If
ing she could be herself and experiment with ed teenager who couldn’t connect with many to be exposed to. I feel like I was forced to it’s not allowed on Tumblr, this content seems
identities she wasn’t comfortable sharing in of the people in her Vancouver suburb, she grow up in a lot of ways through that experi- more marginalized, it seems more to-the-side
her offline life. Better yet, if she didn’t like the and more stigmatized than it was before.”
online community she had stumbled into, she After the content ban, Jake deleted his ac-
could simply...log off. “It’s a very low-risk so- count and walked away from the site for good.
cial environment...kind of like a trial mode.”
“Tumblr made me realize “I thought, fuck, I just dedicated the last de-
cade of my life to this. Now it’s just gone,” he

L aunched in 2007, Tumblr was envisioned

as a microblogging social networking
says. “I was super invested into something
that wasn’t even tangible or real.” Since then,
site. Users could upload and share text, visual
and audio content. But for LGBTQ2IA+ and
other marginalized youth in Canada, the plat-
I’m not this crazy outlier” he’s migrated to Twitter and is trying to learn
from his mistakes on Tumblr.
“I don’t need that affirmation anymore, that
form allowed them to find community and my interests are proper or inappropriate. I
intimately connect with others in ways they have that amongst my community.”
weren’t able to in their offline life. Tumblr has turned to Tumblr for access to the wider world. ence,” Dee says. “It gave me a better sense of
always had a culture of using pseudonyms to
obscure offline identities, meaning users can
In time, she expanded her following to see
more content from the queer community. As
how much of an illusion someone can create
through social media.” A lthough she deleted her original Tumblr
years ago (it was just too cringy to keep),
feel safe and free to engage with an online
community of like-minded people who they
otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Those who
one of the only openly queer people in her high
school, Dee used Tumblr to further explore her
sexuality. She hoped to find someone she could
T wenty-four-year-old University of Ot-
tawa communications grad Jake* wasn’t
on Tumblr to look at porn, he was just in it
Michelle partially credits the platform for giv-
ing her the foundation to be confident in her
queer identity through adulthood. Tumblr
inhabited the site during their most forma- talk honestly with, someone who she could de- for the aesthetically pleasing pictures. But as opened her eyes to social issues and differ-
tive years appropriated this it into something velop a mutual understanding with. She would anyone on Tumblr would know, it’s incred- ent lived experiences outside of Cobourg, but
much, much more. send messages to the queer femmes she was ibly easy to fall down that rabbit hole. it also made her feel a little more normal by
Alex McKay, executive director of the Sex following and had a crush on, but also just to For Jake, it started with content that was allowing her to interact with other marginal-
Information and Education Council of Can- make friends and build relationships she wasn’t simply risqué—sexually suggestive rather than ized and queer youth. She came to realize that
ada, has been studying human sexuality for able to foster IRL. explicitly pornographic. As the porn commu- just because she didn’t fit the narrative of her
over 30 years. He says that young adults today Dee’s first Tumblr relationship began at age nity on Tumblr started increasingly permeat- physical location, that didn’t mean her experi-
are “more knowledgeable and savvy around 14, when she came across a 20-year-old trans ing his dashboard circa 2012, so did his use of ences were wrong. “[Tumblr] made me realize
sexuality than any previous generation in hu- woman who also posted original music on her the site for not safe for work (NSFW) content. I’m not this crazy outlier, like, here are these
man history,” in large part, because of inter- blog. She shot her shot and sent her a message It was affirming for him to know that other people, they exist and they’re exactly like me.”
net communities. “If you were queer in the saying she appreciated her music, and that they people were into the same things that he was. As a bisexual woman, people are always look-
pre-internet age, living in a small town, you should collaborate. They started flirting, send- Jake wasn’t into popular porn sites like Porn- ing to categorize her as either gay or straight.
were really all alone,” says McKay, who also ing each other their music demos and critiqu- Hub, and watching porn on a social media site “There’s a stereotype that bisexuals are confused
teaches the social context of sexuality course ing one another’s work. Inevitably, they started like Tumblr made him feel less guilty. “I felt or whatever. I’ve never really been a person
at Ryerson through the Chang School. “To- dating. Sometimes they would Skype for hours, like I couldn’t be implicated by it.” Besides, to who’s waffling over whether or not I’m bisexu-
day, because of the internet, you’re not alone but other times, months would go by where Jake, the images were hyperreal and more vi- al, I just know it and I’m okay with that. I’m very
anymore. You can reach out and find people Dee wouldn’t hear from her partner. sually appealing, the people were exceptionally unapologetic and open about it,” says Michelle.
that you can communicate with, you can find Dee couldn’t just check in on her, since she beautiful and there’s just something captivating “Because of my time on Tumblr interacting
a community.” lived almost 5,000 kilometres away in New Jer- about four to five-second NSFW gifs. with so many other bisexual people, it gave me
According to a 2015 pilot study on youth sey. “I felt invested in her life. It was really hard “I found things that were very specific to my what I needed to grow up into someone who
intimacy on Tumblr, University of Leicester for me to connect, so when I did find some- interests, which, at the end of the day, was just was very confident in their bisexuality.”
researcher Matt Hart found that participat- one I connected with I really cherished that,” men. Exceptionally attractive, younger men,” “I wouldn’t have had that if I hadn’t been
ing users noted Tumblr as a site of “emotional Dee says. “I think everyone who had a first love Jake says. “It was mainly all twinks.” able to explore that online.”
authenticity.” That is, a space where young when you’re a teenager understands that feel- A few years later, Tumblr became his sole
people could represent themselves online with ing like you’ll do anything to keep it.” source for watching porn through his teen years. *Last names have been omitted for privacy
sincerity, “from how they look to who they are Participants of Hart’s study said despite ini- Now, Jake is realizing his habits for consum- **Name has been changed for anonymity
fundamentally as a person.” One woman who tiating their own relationships online, their ing porn on the site have had major implica- With files from Catherine Abes