So You’re An Asexual Cat Vegetarian: A Primer on Tumblr Activism

by Malia Schilling on March 6, 2013

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.

tumblr social justice

image via deviantart user lionsilverwolf

Social Justice
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.

otherkin problems

Otherkin
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.

image via totalfangirl221b.tumblr.com

Fandoms
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.)

  • Jordan Bennett

    This was a really interesting article, Malia! I’m not too familiar with Tumblr, but now I’m really curious to see the types of things that are on it. I had no idea social justice on Tumblr was such a huge phenomenon, and I still can’t get over all of those crazy names for different ideas. My personal fave is definitely Otherkin.

  • TaylorOlson

    Wow I had no idea social justice was so big on Tumblr, but it makes a lot of sense as a way to get other people involved in your cause. I’ll definitely have to check some of these out. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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  • http://twitter.com/lillianma8 Lillian Ma (???)

    This could be one of my favorite posts so far… what an interesting article! I’m so intrigued to find out more about these communities on Tumblr!

  • http://www.daniellegrayphoto.com/ Danielle Gray

    I. Love. Tumblr. I am not ashamed to say that I am part of the directioner fandom who LIVES on Tumblr.

  • Monica Nguyen

    Thanks for sharing this Malia! This is an extremely interesting an informative post. I think you did a good job laying it all out for us because I was definitely confused at first haha. I’ve never really used Tumblr but it’s amazing that social justice and so many other causes are really big on Tumblr. It’s a great way to raise awareness. I’ll definitely browse through some Tumblr tags to delve deeper into the weird world of community activism.

  • Malia Schilling

    Haha I love it!!

  • kazeminy

    I am really confused….lol…but then again I am not a Tumblr user, so that might explain it. I think any program, app, technology, etc. that allows people to bond together in niche communities based on similar interests is great. Everyone should have someone else who understands them and who they can share their likes with, even if it is as weird as the “otherkin” concept. Great post Malia. Way to think outside of the box : )

  • ceciliauc

    Tumblr..!! Haven’t been on Tumblr in so long… I love how Tumblr has its own community culture, in which the users share many similar values. I think this helps in building that push for social justice or support for a cause. Tumblr has so much potential in being the vehicle for social change.

  • Susie Plascencia

    I don’t use Tumblr, but I’ve definitely come across it–especially for funny memes and gifs. I think every social media platform could be used for social justice etc. but I agree that certain subjects are better communicated through a platform like Tumblr. Super informative post, nice job! :)

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  • Dr.Rational

    Otherkin, the nice way of saying delusional fucktard.

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