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Essay Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Disturbing Hegemonic Discourse: Nonbinary Gender and Sexual Orientation Labeling on Tumblr

By Abigail Oakley, 2016

In this article, I examine lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA) Tumblr bloggers’ bio boxes and “About Me” pages to show the ways gender and sexual orientation identities are constructed through community-regulated and community-generated labeling practices. Tumblr encourages counter-cultures (and labeling practices) to not only form but also to thrive due to its distinctive affordances including tagging and blog formatting. This article examines not only how these affordances shape usage and, subsequently, identity construction on Tumblr but also the ways in which Tumblr bloggers have embraced affordances to create community-accepted conventions of identity construction. Additionally, building upon online identity scholarship by Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons and Tiidenberg, this article discusses true self and nonbinary gender and sexual orientation labeling as forms of identity construction that allows LGBTQIA identifying individuals a method for nuanced descriptions of feelings and desires. However, far from perfect, these labeling practices are also grounded in hegemonic female/male, feminine/masculine binary discourse. In a Foucauldian sense, bloggers construct discourse within existing power structures that ignore or erase LGBTQIA as sexual “abnormalities.” Although it is nearly impossible to fully break away from the dominant discourse, these labeling practices can be a useful starting point for conversations about genders and sexualities that lie outside of the hegemonic binary. Keywords identity, labeling, gender, sexuality, affordances

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