People talk about how dangerous it is for young folks to meet strangers on the internet, as if the only possible outcome is that the innocent young girl they think they are talking to ends up being some old creepster guy with designs on their virginity or bank account.
These people don't know a damned thing about Tumblr—at least, not the part of it where I hang out, where it's basically the opposite. Lots of us have names and personas and pronouns that are different from the ones we have in "real" life, but we aren't using them in order to deceive anyone. In fact, we are re-creating ourselves in our own image in order to be seen for who we actually are. But that's because I hang out with genderqueer/trans/two-spirit folks online.
The internet is where my genderqueer community resides right now. I moved away from Seattle a while ago. Since then, I've lived in a sea of black-and-white gender roles, and it's a bit rough to be the only person I know in town who wants to float in shades of gray.
To be honest, some days this makes the prospect of leaving the house daunting. When the only way everyone looks at me is to fit me into an either/or, I end up caving to the prepackaged gender roles offered and finding a way to fit in. By the time I get home, I'm exhausted with all the tiny lies and self-betrayals involved in trying to squeeze myself into an identity that isn't quite mine. Why would I leave the house and deal with that, when I can get online and interact with others without having to package myself in any shape but the one I've got?
Tumblr isn't like Facebook, where the people I interact with have met me in the flesh and have already formed opinions of me based on what they've perceived. Facebook friends include extended family, high-school acquaintances, even colleagues at work, many of whom I might not be comfortable sharing my gender journey with.
Tumblr provides a level of anonymity in the act of self-creation—of constructing my blog persona—that gives me freedom from others' preconceived notions based on my body. Because it's all about what you say, not how you look. For a gender-variant person, especially one who lives where the spectrum is hard to see, that's a rare and much- appreciated gift.
Especially on days when it feels overwhelming just to have a body at all—no matter what its shape or how people perceive it—I find solace in the fact that my followers will listen to my thoughts on the performance of masculinity, are amused by my random forays into fan fiction, and might even agree with my rants about how a certain actor gives me a bad case of FUBU (where I'm not sure if I want to fuck you or be you). Seeing them "like" or reblog my posts, sometimes with commentary, sometimes with amusing tags, always in the interest of making connection and continuing conversation about the things we deal with on a daily basis, helps keep me sane. It's to the point now that my community on Tumblr feels tighter than the one I have where I live, because we check in with each other constantly and know things about each other that we might not feel comfortable saying to the people we interact with in person. I've had conversations with fellow Tumblrers about coming to terms with gender identity, major depression, and the death of a parent. Somehow these folks, without even knowing some supposedly basic things about me, have created a safe space where I can be my most authentic, uncensored, almost fully ungendered self.
And yes, that space may be made up of a bunch of "strangers" who might look different than I imagine, but I can bank on the fact that their reasons for befriending me have nothing to do with my body. And I can't tell you how comforting that is.
Ray Van Fox spends way too much time in front of a computer, but at least 25 percent of it is spent actually writing (links and excerpts at rayvanfox.com). Ray grew up in Chicago, came out in Iowa, changed pronouns in Seattle, and finds family in queerdom.