The world is starting to open up again and the social landscape we’re reentering looks markedly different than before, not least because many of the spaces we used to frequent are gone. LGBTQ+ third spaces were particularly hard-hit. And it’s not just physical queer spaces that are disappearing: online spaces have been, too.
We’ve been thinking about queer spaces for a while now, when recently, Tumblr recently crowned itself the queerest place on the internet. Both a site that exists firmly in the internet’s past and a stubborn contemporary presence, Tumblr boasts that its users are 200% more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than users of any other platform. The source of this information is a bit nebulous (I certainly didn’t get a survey), but it’s telling that Tumblr is rallying behind it anyway especially as the site itself exists on the fringes of the social media landscape.
In contrast to other platforms, where content is intrinsically tied to a face and a person, and the experience is dictated by algorithms, someone’s Tumblr presence can be entirely anonymous. This anonymity allows users, especially those that are queer & questioning, to engage with their identities in a way that can shield them from potential harm. They can connect with others, build community, and participate in discourse without necessarily having to reveal themselves and without as much interference as other platforms.
Tumblr has shown its dedication to its LGBTQ+ users through color-coded LGBTQ+ tags, an animated logo, and two dedicated blogs, The Queerest Place on the Internet and Celebrate. Both blogs, however, are mostly just LGBTQ+ flags and UGC pulled from Tumblr’s 30 Day #ShareYourPride Challenge, with a few bits of history thrown in. Ultimately, it all feels like the rainbow-washing of every other site.
Because, if we’re being really honest, Tumblr itself doesn’t fully embrace the LGBTQ+ community that apparently makes up a quarter of its users. Its now-infamous ‘adult content’ ban of 2018, which was an effort to “make the site safer” (and appeal to advertisers), has effectively purged years’ worth of content from the site and disbanded its LGBTQ+ communities.
Queer users’ posts detailing everything from their transitions to their art to just their everyday lived experiences were deleted, creating a void in what was essentially a massive queer digital archive. Since the ‘adult content’ ban is still in effect, the ‘queerest place on the internet’ isn’t actually all that queer.
That’s because expressions of queer identity are still constantly policed and subject to intense scrutiny, on Tumblr, on TIkTok, on Twitter, on FB, and in real life. Queer spaces are also absurdly precarious; they easily disappear, and as The Lesbian Bar Project explains:
Only the sanitized, brand- and advertiser-friendly versions of our lives are safe from censorship on social platforms, meaning we are rarely allowed to fully be ourselves online. And as Pride becomes increasingly corporatized, this same censorship extends to our physical spaces and celebrations, as the endlessly recycled discourse of Kink at Pride shows. So it’s worth asking: what are, truly, the queerest places on the internet? And because Pride is becoming increasingly corporate, how can brands foster safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community?
Truly queer spaces are those that we create ourselves. They do more than celebrate our myriad flags (which are undeniably great but still) – they celebrate all of who we are. Right now, one of the queerest places on the internet is not Tumblr, but the newsletter Salty, which creates digital space for LGBTQ+ people to write about the full spectrum of their identities, from the messy to the neat to the stuff in between. Salty is also recognized by the United States Library of Congress as a digital artifact of historical importance. Its contents will live on in the national archive (unlike Tumblr) and anyone who contributes to the site is contributing to a living, breathing history.
That history isn’t just made online; it’s made in third spaces too. The most obvious, direct way that brands can foster queer third spaces is by opening up their purses not for the sake of recognition or accolades, but to share resources that keep queer spaces alive and thriving. For example, there’s The Lesbian Bar Project, mentioned earlier, a campaign that acts to preserve the scant 21 lesbian bars in the US; they’re collaborating with Jägermeister’s Save The Night fund, a hub that shares resources with creatives around the world.
Spotify, too, is sharing resources through its Claim Your Space campaign, sponsoring queer venues and local organizations in cities like New Orleans and Detroit. There’s Haus Labs x Klarna’s creative studio HAUS LABORATORIES, that, whilst not explicitly queer, still functions as a space for underrepresented voices to be heard – which in and of itself can be an act of queerness.
Because ‘queer’ isn’t just a descriptor, it’s an action, too an act of imagining different possibilities. Of finding shared philosophies and new ways to create art and music, and to hold space for one another and for ourselves. Without restrictions and parameters. Just safe and free.
With love, Brenda Martinez (she/they)
Brenda Martinez is a culture whisperer who brings her observational superpowers to her work as a Junior Creative Strategist at creative agency New Moon. Having a background in anthropology and archeology has given Brenda a unique perspective on the cultural dig. Shes driven by the constant search for the why and the how to unearth compelling insights that speak to the human elements of culture.