I consider myself someone who cares deeply about acting as an activist for issues I care about – I’m a bi-racial feminist LGBT ally concerned about the environment and also whether my eggs are from free-range chickens or not. I use Tumblr for my art portfolio, but I’ve discovered that many teens and 20-somethings (who populate most of the micro-blogging site) are using Tumblr for something more than pretty pictures.
Tumblr isn’t a totally original concept. Blogging platforms have been around for years, and before people were gathering on Tumblr they were on message boards, IRC forums and sites like Livejournal. But community activism has flourished on Tumblr in a much more mainstream way.
Offline (and really, in most places online), social justice is “the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.” Large Tumblr communities have emerged where users blog about rights for feminists, LGBT activists, fat activists, vegetarians/vegans and more. But despite the huge numbers of Tumblr users discussing issues of racism, sexism and prejudice, no one wants to identify as a social justice blogger. In fact, being called a “social justice warrior” (or “sjw”) is usually meant as an insult. Despite this, social justice culture is flourishing on Tumblr – even developing its own vocabulary and catchphrases. Bloggers are often told to “check their privilege” or to stop “derailing” an argument. Both are extremely valid points in meaningful discussions, but have been thrown around so often in Tumblr social justice communities that at this point they are often seen as cliches and tropes. The SJ community is also very capable of eating its own – sex-positive education blogger Laci Green left Tumblr due to death threats and hatemail from users who had found out some ignorant things she had said before she had gained a large following. But by no means do I want to discount all of the meaningful and intersectional discussions on social justice happening on Tumblr, as well as the nuanced critiques of the community – it can be a great place to meet young people engaged in active conversation.
On Tumblr, social justice sometimes extends to more than just humans. So what are otherkin? The otherkin community is made up of people who believe that they were born trapped in the wrong body. While most otherkin argue that these identities are as valid (and as oppressed) as trans identities, it’s important to note that this is a group of individuals who range from believing they were really meant to be a dog to those who identify as a “shapeshifting water-dwelling humanoid fae-kin.” A 2012 Gawker article profiled Eric Draven, a 20-something-year-old “fictive and otherkin who, in previous lives, has been a Deku Scrub and a dark elf.” A “fictive” is an otherkin who identifies as a fictional character. Kinspeak, a tumblr blog that functions as a platform for otherkin to “share their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and ideas in an environment free from anxiety,” has a Directory of Kin listing many active otherkin. The list includes a machinekin, a batperson and many kin who consider themselves “multiples” (as in, more their body contains more than one type of non-human identity). While not technically otherkin, transethnic (those who believe they are meant to be another ethnicity), transabled (those who believe they were meant to be disabled) and transfat (those who believe they are meant to weigh more) Tumblr users are also attempting to re-define identity politics. These emerging identities are not without criticism, but the backlash against otherkin and similar identities may only increase users’ activism.
Rabid fans are everywhere (remember everyone who camped for days outside theaters for Twilight?), and they have a heavy presence on Tumblr. Fandom discussion isn’t limited to plot development and actor news – role-playing, fan-fiction, multimedia fan art and fan image posts (especially using GIFs) are all popular – and interaction between fans is easy and frequent. Fanartist Reapersun told the Daily Dot, “Tumblr’s the first place I’ve ever encountered this kind of community. It’s so overwhelmingly positive, for the most part, and everyone’s so accessible; it’s fantastic.” It’s not all rainbows and ponies (although let me tell you, there ARE ponies), as some parts of fandom can get pretty bizarre. Shipping, the idea that two characters should be in a romantic relationship, is common, especially between male characters. Many users mourn the breakups or the lack of a realized relationship in their OTPs (one true pairings, AKA their dream fictional couples), and write/repost slash (romantic/sexual relationships for same-sex characters).
If you’re still confused, I would suggest browsing some Tumblr tags to delve deeper into the weird – sometimes wonderful? mostly weird… – world of community activism. (“otherkin,” “social justice,” “POC,” “WOC,” “OTP,” “cissexism” or any search of a popular TV show should get most of the bases covered.)