Justice, anger, and the demand for perfection: why tumblr’s blogging culture isn’t making safe spaces

When I started blogging, I made two rules for myself:

Rule #1: Never write anything that I don’t think is productive.  In practice, that means no complaining about things being awful without offering solutions, no attacking other people’s opinions or ideas unless I have something constructive to say, no writing a post where the entire purpose of the post is to complain/vent and nothing else.

Rule #2: Never write anything that is so personal that I feel uncomfortable about it being on the internet.

I’ve stretched rule #2 a few times, but rule #1 has stayed pretty steady in the almost two years that I’ve been blogging.

There are a lot of reasons that I set those rules (especially rule #1) for myself before I started blogging.  For one thing, I see so much negativity in the ace tags on tumblr that I feel bad contributing to it when I have the energy and ability to contribute positively.  For another thing, I generally try to be a positive person, and I don’t like talking about things going wrong for me unless talking about it will help someone else.*  I prefer to be constructive and educate others when I can; I’ve always said that I would like to be the kind of person who could have helped teenage me (who was a pretty confused and unhappy person).

Recently, though, part of the reason why I’ve started clinging to rule #1 so strongly is because of tumblr blogging culture.**  A number of ace bloggers have brought up this issue, most recently Asexual Cupcake (and here’re some additional thoughts from aceadmiral).  Tumblr’s atmosphere has had a fairly major influence on what I am willing to blog about as well as how often I write posts.  Although I have not been targeted with criticism recently (or much at all, to be honest), I’ve found that just seeing call out posts on my dashboard ratchets my anxiety up by about forty notches.  There have been days when I don’t let myself go on tumblr, because I know that going on tumblr will make me angry and anxious, and I have enough things in my life to be upset or anxious about without adding to that pile.

I have a lot of problems with call out culture, many of which I know will be immediately dismissed as “illegitimate” or “tone policing.”  On a personal level, my immediate response to someone being wrong on the internet (especially about asexuality) is, “Oh, this person hasn’t learned about [X concept] yet,” not “What a bigot, I’m going to tell them to die in a fire.”  If I don’t have the energy to educate, I don’t engage.  If I need to vent, I do so privately.  That’s a personal choice, though, and I’m not going to expect everyone to react the same way I do.  I also try to keep my tone civil until I get confirmation that the person is being intentionally inflammatory.  I don’t want to tell some teenager to go kill themself*** just because they haven’t been exposed to a particular concept or idea; as someone who was once ignorant about many topics (as I think basically all of us have been), I have a lot of sympathy for people who simply haven’t learned better yet, and I would prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt when I can.

On a less personal level, the lack of nuance in call out culture makes me profoundly uncomfortable.  I’m an academic (“Yes, we know, Queenie; you never shut up about it,” all my followers say), and a lot of the academic conversations I’ve been having recently have been about complicating narratives, opening up space for more possibilities, and not erasing heterogeneity.  Call out culture often does not have a lot of nuance, and tends to present things as monoliths–[X thing] is the absolute worst thing with no redeeming features.  (The opposite argument–that [X thing] is the absolute #1 best–never seems to come up.  Tumblr culture thus tends to be destructive rather than constructive in a way that doesn’t really jive with rule #1.)  This has come up in conjunction with AVEN in recent ace tag discussions, namely “AVEN made [X thing] and AVEN is irredeemably terrible, so [X thing] is therefore irredeemably terrible.”****

Of course, a lot of the time, [X thing] didn’t actually come from AVEN.  (The ace flag?  Not made by AVEN.  The concept of romantic orientation?  Did not originate from AVEN.  The term “zucchini”?  Was not coined on AVEN.  etc. etc. etc.)  Even if the thing did come from AVEN, even if you think AVEN is irredeemably terrible in every dimension, that doesn’t mean the concept itself is irredeemably terrible.  There are some academics I disagree with on a fundamental level–even some academics who were (or are) genuinely unpleasant people–but that doesn’t mean that their ideas can be dismissed without a second thought; their ideas have to be considered on their own merits.  But tumblr culture tends to be about labeling things “problematic,”***** and once something has been declared problematic, it must be burned in the fires of Things We Can’t Use Anymore.

The uncritical reblogging of criticism also makes me extremely anxious–this gets back to the “AVEN is terrible and this thing came from AVEN, so it must be terrible” issue.  I have seen those posts go across my dash three or four times without anyone bothering to, I don’t know, check that the information is correct?  Also, occasionally people will post something indignant in order to react to new information as quickly as possible without actually bothering to check that their information is correct.  (Occasionally they then make a follow-up post saying, “Whoops, didn’t get that right!” but, by that point, their first post has been released into the wild and is being reblogged everywhere because if it’s critical it must be correct.)  It means that misinformation spreads like wildfire, and criticism (especially criticism that seems impassioned) will always spread faster than positivity, constructive discussion, or any reblog that says, “Whoa, hey, this information is incorrect, and the situation isn’t actually as bad as you think it is.”

It also means that I see a lot of folks who genuinely have no idea whether what is being said is correct or not uncritically reblogging things (and adding commentary!) because JUSTICE, which makes me really uncomfortable.  (Most recent examples I can think of: white people reblogging commentary on race, white non-ace people reblogging commentary on how asexuality oppresses people of color,****** non-aces reblogging commentary on grey-asexuality, etc.)  I do not claim to speak for anyone other than myself, because to assume that I understand what it’s like to be anyone else is foolish to the extreme, and yet at least twice a day I see people whose circumstances are drastically different than mine being deeply offended and angry for me.  I don’t want people to be angry for me, especially not people who apparently aren’t invested enough in this issue to actually check that the information they’re reblogging is correct.  (It’s even more embarrassing when it’s obvious that the first person “calling out” the OP clearly misread the post, and every subsequent reblogger has just reblogged the criticism without checking that the OP actually says what the criticism says it’s saying.)

There’s also the matter of what I’m tentatively calling “appropriation of anger”; this is something that I see come up a lot with regards to race on tumblr.  I can completely understand a PoC or mixed race person reacting with anger to someone posting something racist–however, when white “allies” react with the same kind of anger, I kind of side-eye them.  (The same goes for men reacting to misogyny with anger, which I’ve been seeing a lot of recently.)  There’s a difference between being frustrated because of injustice and being angry because you personally are being attacked, and I think tumblr’s blogging culture–in which anger offers legitimacy to whatever you’re saying–allows people to forget that distinction.  My understanding of allyship is that a large part of it is doing all the education work that the group you’re supporting is too tired or too burned out or too upset or too whatever to do.  So if you’re an ally reacting to something that doesn’t directly affect you with “Go die in a fire, you huge bigot,” you’re not really getting anything productive done or helping the people you’re supposedly supporting.

I think the reason why I see so many allies reacting with BURNING ANGER to affronts on the groups they’re supposedly supporting is that tumblr culture codes anger as the way the “in-group” reacts to the “oppressor,” and so allies think that if they react with the same amount of anger, they will be able to join the “in-group.”  No, I’m sorry, if you’re not an ace of color, no matter how angry you get about someone saying ignorant things about aces of color, that won’t actually make you an ace of color.  I can only speak for myself, but if you really want to be an ally for me (in whatever dimension), I’d much rather you compile a linkspam for the person so that I don’t have to than send death threats and call them a bigot.  When you get angry about something that affects me and not you, you are making the issue about you and your anger, not the actual effect this issue is having on me.

When both allies and marginalized groups react with the same anger, it creates a culture in which any non-angry response is coded as “less legitimate” or “less invested.”  You get this ouroboros of anger, in which anger is reblogged and praised as the “correct” way to react, allies join in on the angry reactions, and people (like me) who don’t react well to anger or who would prefer not to express themselves angrily don’t feel like their reactions are “legitimate” enough to be voiced.  I have actually gotten in arguments with people who believed that my desire to not voice things angrily meant that I wasn’t really being affected by them, because if I was really being affected, I would respond angrily.  Um, no, anger is a legitimate reaction to someone attacking my identity, but it’s not my reaction and it’s not how I want to express myself.

There are also people who don’t respond well to anger–people who have anxiety disorders, people who have been abused, people struggling with suicidal thoughts (seeing death threats on their dashboards really doesn’t help those people, even if you’re not targeting them specifically, for the record), etc.–and yet the common response seems to be, “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”  If you base your entire blogging culture around who can react most quickly and with the most boiling rage, those people are either going to stay the heck away from you or are going to feel like they’re constantly tiptoeing through a minefield, which isn’t good for anyone’s mental health.  And, let’s be honest, not all of those people are “oppressors”; some of them actually belong to the marginalized groups that you’re trying to protect, but would prefer to find a safe space that doesn’t feel like a war zone.

I am all for critical engagement with other people’s writing–a huge chunk of my work as an academic is poking holes in other people’s arguments and figuring out where they’re lacking.  But, at the end of the day, critical engagement with other people’s work is always about how to improve my own work and the field as a whole.  If I’m not building something constructive out of that criticism–whether that means filling those holes or avoiding those pitfalls–it doesn’t really mean anything.  It’s very easy to say, “Wow, look how badly this person messed up” and just stop there; it’s very easy to be destructive, but much harder to be constructive, and construction is what we need to keep growing as a community.

I think to some extent I see a lot of tumblr’s blogging culture as coming from an insistence on perfection, and perfection is impossible.  The only way to always be perfectly clear and have perfect word choice and never misstep and never have people read things into your words that you didn’t intend is to never write anything at all.  That doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy way for a community to operate.  Nor does it seem like a good way to fuel discussion; if we’re dividing everything into two categories–the absolute #1 worst thing ever and things that are okay (for the moment, until we find problems with them)–there’s no incentive to ever release a half-formed idea.  And, yes, I know, the internet isn’t academia, but I’ve found that some of my best academic work has come out of sharing ideas that I know have pretty serious problems or that have gaping knowledge holes in them.  Some of my best blogging has come out of a similar process of discussion and exchange with other aces who I know will point out flaws in my logic and suggest ways to fill those holes rather than tearing into me for being the absolute worst person ever.

This expectation of constant perfection also sets an impossibly high bar for newcomers.  You just learned about asexuality fifteen minutes ago?  Well, you better know the history of every term in the entire community, which ones have most recently been criticized or come under fire, and also a bunch of information that seems pretty disconnected (like information on gender identity, race, ethnicity, identity politics in LGBT communities, etc.) so you might not even realize that you need to know this stuff (or that there even is stuff to know).  I have seen teenagers who only learned about asexuality earlier that week get dog-piled on for using the word “queerplatonic” without half a dozen disclaimers attached–if you’ve only been reading ace blog posts for a week, it’s pretty amazing that you’ve learned that word, let alone that you’ve even scraped the surface of the constant arguments around it.  In the weirdest cases, I’ve seen some kid post, “Wow, just found out about asexuality–I guess this explains why I’ve always found the idea of sex so gross!” and then get bombarded with people asking how DARE they imply that sex is gross and how DARE they imply that all asexual people are sex-repulsed and how DARE they erase sexually active aces…when in actuality, all they were doing was making a statement about themself.

I’m going to bring this back to me to close, because, at the end of the day, I can only speak for myself.  I am not perfect.  I have messed up before, and I am sure I will mess up again.  I try really hard, and I will always apologize when I mess up.  But seeing so much uncritical reblogging of criticism on my dash, seeing people dog-piling on someone who clearly wasn’t intending to be malicious and just genuinely didn’t know something, seeing people (especially people completely unaffected by what they’re blogging about) reacting to everything with BLISTERING RAGE and death threats, seeing the constant demand for perfection terrifies me, because no matter how hard I try, I will never be perfect.  And if the only people who have any worth are those who are perfect–because everyone who isn’t perfect is irredeemably awful–then the fact that I am an imperfect human being means that I am worthless.  I don’t want to believe that I am worthless, because that’s the fast-track to Really Bad Places for me, and because I am fairly sure (at least 55% sure) that I’m not actually worthless.  I don’t want to make anyone else believe that they’re worthless because they’re ignorant or because they misspoke, mistyped, or were just misread.  I was not born omnipotent (and I will never be omnipotent, since that’s another impossible upper limit), so I can’t reasonably expect other people to be.  If I can’t engage with someone else’s ignorance in a constructive manner, I step away.  And, yes, I’m not required to educate anyone, but if I have energy to educate, I will.  As much as I want a space safe for myself, I also want a space in which respectful dialogue is possible, not every conversation is an anxiety-provoking screaming match, and no one is required to be perfect all of the time.

*This is probably the only reason I’ve been willing to talk about sexual violence-related stuff; if there was someone else who was willing to assemble resources, I would very happily disappear back into the woodwork.

**I recommend this essay on call out culture, although it is quite long.  This essay has also had a pretty large impact on how I choose to engage with people on the internet.  Somewhat tangentially related, a friend sent me this essay on worldviews recently.

***It is wildly inappropriate to EVER tell anyone to kill themself, so I sincerely hope that you don’t do this.  It is literally taking all of my willpower not to write a disclaimer on this statement, because I know there are people who disagree quite strongly, but I’m not going to.  Don’t tell people to kill themselves.  I don’t care if you don’t actually mean that they should literally go kill themselves and you’re just trying to express anger–the words you are typing are “Go kill yourself,” and so regardless of the intention behind your words, that’s what you’re saying.  If you’re really interested in using proper words, you should know better than to say one thing and mean another.

****You might be thinking, “What, Queenie, no links?  Are you feeling okay?”  Honestly, I could link to half a dozen examples of each problem I’m outlining in this post, but I really don’t want to get into that fight, especially since the purpose of this post is to be constructive, not to drag anyone through the mud.

*****Again, coming from academia, that’s not what “problematic” means.  “Problematic” means something has problems, elides some complexity, fails to capture some nuance, misrepresents a situation–it doesn’t mean that it’s the #1 worst thing ever and you can’t ever use it.

******YES, of course there are issues with the desexualization or hypersexualization of certain PoC groups, but your argument lacks nuance and tends to create a homogeneous, monolithic “people of color” as well as a homogeneous, monolithic “asexuality.”  Let’s not do that, yeah?  Nuance: it’s actually pretty cool?  10/10, would recommend to a friend.

About queenieofaces

QueenieOfAces is a graduate student in the U.S. studying Japanese religion. She is a queer asexual. She also blogs over at Concept Awesome and runs Resources for Ace Survivors. She is never quite sure what to write in these introduction things, but this one time she accidentally got a short story on asexuality published in an erotica magazine.
This entry was posted in asexual politics, Blogging, Community. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Justice, anger, and the demand for perfection: why tumblr’s blogging culture isn’t making safe spaces

  1. Pingback: Justice, anger, and the demand for perfection: why tumblr’s blogging culture isn’t making safe spaces | The Asexual Agenda | Part Time Monster

  2. Siggy says:

    It’s not just tumblr really. Having read blogs for eight years, there has always been a lot of demand for perfection, heated criticism, and big pile-ons. Tumblr is worse in degree, and I have a lot of thoughts as to why: 1. Tumblr’s reblogging leads to lots of interaction between disparate communities. 2. On blogs, people often pile onto bloggers, but rarely bother with commenters. On tumblr, people pile onto minor voices, while actually giving established voices more benefit of the doubt. 3. People on tumblr are generally newer to blogging, and are therefore more passionate and less… tired?

    Another thing is that social justice people seem to have a very specific idea of how people should respond to call-outs. Their apology should be submissive and complete, and there are all these particulars that they need to get right. These expectations are basically never satisfied, unless it was something very small to begin with. Everyone says this is because terrible evil people only know how to dig in their heals. No one ever seems to consider that the expectations are a bit unrealistic.

    • Cleander says:

      Part of it may also be the tag structure, which makes even minor bloggers very visible to the communities they are posting about.

      For example, in more “traditional” blogging structures, if someone who has like a cheese blog or something posts about asexuality, they won’t be immediately noticed by the asexual community unless some aces happen to follow their cheese blog and link back.

      With tumblr, though, if a cheese tumblr writes about asexuality and tags it, anyone who reads the asexuality tag (including large portions of the ace community) will see it immediately (and will thus have the ability to jump on it if anything seems wrong).

      The reblogging feature leads to call-out-chain reactions too. Like, in traditional blogging if someone comments on a blog, you only see it if you go the blog’s comments; in forums, you only see callouts if you read the thread they occur in. But on tumblr, you cannot comment on anything (except by private ask) without also spreading that comment to every single person who follows you as well – and so as they all join in on the “calling out” it just spreads exponentially.

      • queenieofaces says:

        Yeah, agreeing with all of Cleander’s comments. I think also the fact that it’s difficult to follow comment chains on tumblr means that often you’ll get fifteen people separately reblogging the OP to call it out without checking to make sure that someone else hasn’t made EXACTLY THE SAME POINT already. You don’t usually get that on blogs, ’cause it’s much easier to see all the comments that have already been posted.

        Also, thanks to the tags (and the tagging system being broken, because occasionally things turn up in the tags that weren’t actually tagged with that thing), it’s very easy to go looking for people to pounce on…which I know some tumblr users actually do. It’s much harder to trawl through non-tumblr blogs to find Someone Being Wrong.

        To be honest, I’m fairly selective in my blog reading, so I’ve mostly avoided really vicious call outs on blogs. Which is probably good, ’cause I don’t really feel like amping my anxiety up any higher than it already is.

        Also, yes, I agree with your point about very specific apology structures. It gets especially uncomfortable when there’s a demand for the OP to apologize…for something they didn’t write, because the call out-er misread the OP. And then when the OP tries to point out that the call out-er misread the post, it’s seen as a further sign of just how terrible they are.

        • The other thing with how reblogging works is that even if the original poster did make a mistake that they own up to, and they apologize and fix their post, it doesn’t fix the reblogs! The original issue keeps getting passed around and no one ever sees the apology or correction, and so the attacks just keep piling on.

  3. Cleander says:

    “…if it’s critical it must be correct.”
    THIS.

    This is I think the biggest problem with tumblr’s aggressive call-out culture – that anyone who critiques or “calls out” anything out is assumed to speak an absolute truth and that to suggest otherwise just makes you an oppressor (and also wrong).

    Like, tumblr has many good ideals, but sometimes they are unthinkingly carried to extremes.
    “privileged groups will not necessarily have the same insights as members of oppressed groups” and “privileged groups should be careful not to always talk over oppressed groups” and “oppressed people should not be forced to educate everyone all the time” are all very valid concepts – when they’re used with sensible moderations.

    What happens on tumblr though is I feel like they get taken to extremes, and it turns into a rule of “the most oppressed person is always the most right and the most privileged person is the most wrong; the person claiming offense is always in the right and the person denying it is always in the wrong; and opprssed people never need to provide “proof” of anything or you’re being oppressive”.

    While it is nice to not let priviledged groups always talk over oppressed groups, that doesn’t mean that oppressed groups have magical knowledge and insight that priviledged people can’t – even about their own cultures.

    • Siggy says:

      I think there’s plenty of counter-criticism on Tumblr. It’s just that it’s only taken seriously if the counter-criticism is something along the lines of “actually by making that criticism, you are oppressing X and Y groups”. And then people just switch up the target of their pile-on.

    • ace-muslim says:

      Another aspect is that sometimes things seem to be treated as simple binaries. For instance, the endless debate over whether asexuals, or aromantic asexuals, are queer. All too often, deciding that we’re not queer results in treating us as straight and therefore privileged in exactly the same ways that heterosexual people are. Combine this with the tendency to take things to extremes that Cleander mentions here and these threads become deeply alienating and painful. It’s anything but a safe space.

      • Tumblr definitely has a binary problem. It’s not just in the framing of each debate, it’s also in the tendency to try and see everyone on tumblr as all good or all evil- which I’m pretty sure has been mentioned above. To me, it often feels like people are more eager to win glory for themselves and prove how awesome they are instead of trying to actually engage with the issues- it reminds me of allies who make everything about themselves instead of whatever cause they are allied with (which I suppose is something queenie touched on above).

        It also often feels like people are trying to find any excuse to lump someone into the “total evil” category, and then use that as a bludgeon to tear apart the person’s self identity and manipulate them into someone else (or just generally destroy them). Now that I’m typing this I’m starting to feel like a lot of the toxic aspects of tumblr call-outs are comparable to some abusive behaviors. But I haven’t thought about this much.

        I’m just glad I’ve managed to mostly avoid any fights on tumblr (except for in my early days, when I was more eager to try and argue, if only to flesh out my ideas).

        • queenieofaces says:

          …I actually thought about writing about how some aspects of tumblr call-outs can mimic or echo abusive behaviors and/or communication styles (which is part of the reason why they can be such a big NOPE for certain people), but then I realized that writing about that in any depth would be breaking rule #2 big time for me. Hopefully someone else will write about that at some point, though.

  4. Kat says:

    It might perhaps be useful to bear in mind how anger came to be held as a valid response and why. I believe that Audre Lorde’s essay “The Uses of Anger” was particularly influential in this regard (admittedly at least some of this belief is because I have it at hand right now to quote from). In it she speaks at length about how anger is a tool, comparing its use to corrective surgery. It was to facilitate conversations that would otherwise be silenced (particularly between marginalized groups who faced different forms of oppression). The view that she explicitly rejects, however, is that anger imparts moral authority. “Yes, I am Black and Lesbian, and what you hear in my voice is fury, not suffering. Anger, not moral authority. There is a difference.” Getting angry does not grant carte blanche and is not useful if employed indiscriminately. The goal is to have a conversation and make progress, not win an argument, purge negative emotions in a cathartic fit of rage, or especially display one’s moral authority. So, yes, anger has it’s place. But it is not every place. A more nuanced application might even make it more effective for the more limited circumstances where it is required.

    • queenieofaces says:

      I think that that’s a really important distinction between anger as valid and anger as moral, and it’s definitely one that I’m going to keep in mind in the future. (Also, I should pretty clearly read that essay. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!)

  5. I’ve been there.

    I’ve gotten a “Die Cis Scum” reblog chain because I asked what would be the appropriate language to use in a given scenario.

    I’ve been attacked for failing to mention Subject X, even though I was talking about Subject Y, which isn’t even remotely related to Subject X.

    I’ve been called out for using words that I didn’t use.

    I’ve gotten yelled at for specifically mentioning Subject X and only Subject X and not Subject Y, even though I said “I’m talking about Subject X here as an example. I’d like some feedback about how I’m talking about Subject X first, then I’m going to write the exact same thing about Subject Y.”

    In one case recently, I was looking for guidelines around some language usage involving a certain group. I had several people who were not in that group respond, and only one person in that group say anything. The people who weren’t in that group told me that it was terrible-horrible to use a set of words in any way whatsoever (without offering any kind of alternative), while the person who actually was a member of the group I was asking about said “Sure, go ahead, I find those words useful”. So all those ally vigilantes were ready to rip me to shreds over something that a person actually in that group didn’t have a problem with.

    It’s affected several projects I’ve wanted to work on. I’ve posted early, preliminary, basic thoughts about something, asking for guidance to get things right, but I only get ruthlessly torn apart over it. I’ve written 3000+ word posts, only to have it come crashing down because someone objects to one sentence.

    Know why my original questionnaire series fell apart? Because of this.
    Know why so many of my promised visibility poster projects or blog posts haven’t been delivered? Because of this.

    It makes me wonder why I bother. It makes me stop trying to care. It makes me give up. It makes me disappear for months on end. Because I can never get it right, so why try?

    • micah says:

      It’s sad for me to hear that you’ve been detracted from publishing valuable content (however imperfect) due to this ridiculousness. I get it. Just one negative comment can send me into a depressive cycle of questioning: why bother, why care, why put myself out there. But from one blogger to another, I admire all the work you’ve done. I also know you can never hear this enough. So please, keep going.

  6. Thoenix says:

    I should very much love to blog about my own experiences, either on Tumblr or elsewhere, but the culture of… I guess you’d call it enforced absolute perfection that has sprung up on the internet terrifies me. Whether on Tumblr or elsewhere, I feel like people only jump on the things they perceive as negative and ignore the positives.

    This creates, from my perspective, an issue of not just being afraid to say something for fear of being smacked down, but also of speaking into a vacuum.

    If you’re trying to increase awareness for people who collect water bottles, for example, and combat the ways that society says they are strange and horrible weirdos, but you only get people who collect beer bottles going ‘you are a horrible person because your water bottle bs erases us beer bottle collectors and that makes you a horrible person who shouldn’t be allowed on the internet,’ even if you are able to ignore the hate you’re receiving, how can you start up discourse about the needs of water bottle collectors? How can you get any grip to talk about the fact that water bottle collectors can’t get public service sector jobs because the people who collect rubber ducks have convinced the status quo that water bottle collectors are untrustworthy? How can you talk about your experiences as a water bottle collector if the beer bottle collectors and the handful of rubber duck collectors who support the water bottle collectors just keep talking about how you once mentioned your preference for contigo water bottles over kleen kanteen ones and how discriminatory it is against kleen kanteen preferers, so now no one is willing to discuss your experiences because you are being accused of demonizing the kleen kanteen fans?

    It’s not just the scary things that are a problem, it’s the vacuum created when people see that the rubber duck collecting allies and the beer bottle collectors are attacking you–all the other water bottle collectors are now afraid to speak up or speak to you and now, in your search for community with the water bottle collectors, you have found yourself a pariah.

  7. micah says:

    Whew. All. Of. This. And the comments. Especially “appropriation of anger” and “allying in anger to join the in-group” and the all-or-nothing-but-mostly-nothing.

    I’ve had literal panic attacks from the lambasting on tumblr. My policy is to engage as little possible. I’d be paralyzed by fear otherwise. I’d never write anything because anything I say will be offensive and wrong. NO. I already fight against these thoughts internally, constantly reminding myself that I have something to contribute, that people find value in what I write, that (even if I sometimes say the wrong thing) I’m not a horrible person. No need to add fuel to the fire. Ultimately, the whole “culture” is entirely destructive, it adds nothing of value to anyone. If anything, it detracts potential value from people who’ve been scared away from contributing.

    And I gotta say, it takes guts to publish this. Definitely breaking #2 in my book.

    • queenieofaces says:

      Thanks so much for this comment. To be honest, this is a post I’ve been meaning to write for…probably a year at this point, but I was petrified of actually starting to type it out. Even when I got myself to write the post, I waffled for a week about whether to post it or not. Mostly I finally decided to post it because I’ve had a lot of conversations offline about this topic with people who are too tired or burned out or scared to engage with people on tumblr anymore, and that makes me really sad, because they’re really awesome people with really awesome ideas.
      Most of the responses I’ve gotten have been really great, and I’ve had a lot of people thanking me for writing this post, which makes me feel like posting it was the right decision. One person said that this post made them sick to their stomach, which was definitely not the most pleasant thing I’ve read about my writing, and another apparently thought that I believed that all call outs were evil (funny, someone applying binary modes of thinking to a post arguing against binary modes of thinking, sigh), but so far the positive responses have far outweighed the negative ones.

      For the record, I’ve found a lot of value in things you’ve written, and I’m really glad you’ve kept blogging. I have a couple of your posts bookmarked to look at when I’m having a bad day. SO, there’s definitely value in what you’re doing and what you’re saying, and I’m really glad that you’re here to say it.

    • septimine says:

      I consider a lot of the appropriation of anger and “oppression Olympics” things to be bigotry, plain and simple. It implies that somewhat unusual people who aren’t all that far from the mainstream means that you’re just as oppressed (most don’t seem to be into actual history) and that all types of oppression are equal. It also assumes that minorities of any stripe are literally incapable of self-defense — we need allies because without some self-appointed ally, we can’t speak. Bull on both. I can speak, I speak English and I’m pretty intelligent. If something needs to be said, I’ll say it. Don’t be a narcissistic guy who gets his attention by writing about other people’s oppression. At the same time, don’t act like an insult is the same thing as discrimination or lynching.

  8. micah says:

    Coming back here after having read all the articles you linked. All this has helped concretely pinpoint and verbalize why this “call-out” culture is so toxic.

    I could go into how Tumblr’s structure specifically has been the primary vehicle that lubricates this, but that’s not as important. The reality is, it’s happening outside of Tumblr, in the wider blogosphere, in magazines and publications. It has even spread into offline, everyday life. It’s somehow the new norm. And it’s very, very dangerous, because everyone suffers.

    I don’t believe it’s in my power to stop it. It IS in my power to ignore it, in order for me to move forward and – in my mind – contribute to the lives of those who want to hear what I have to say.

  9. ace-muslim says:

    Katherine Cross has had some really good posts about “call-out culture” that I recommend reading if you haven’t already:

    http://quinnae.com/2014/02/06/the-chapel-perilous-on-the-quiet-narratives-in-the-shadows/
    http://quinnae.com/2014/01/03/words-words-words-on-toxicity-and-abuse-in-online-activism/

    Queenie, thank you for writing about this. It expressed a lot of things I’ve felt but haven’t been able to put into words or felt that I could validly speak.

  10. Dreki says:

    I know I’m seeing this late, but I’m very glad to see that people are pointing out how toxic tumblr is. There are a few communities that practically only exist on tumblr now, and it’s incredibly disheartening what has happened to them. People also aren’t really allowed to be in communities unless they’re willing to be activists, which is a problem.

    “It’s even more embarrassing when it’s obvious that the first person “calling out” the OP clearly misread the post, and every subsequent reblogger has just reblogged the criticism without checking that the OP actually says what the criticism says it’s saying.”

    Ooooh, this. There are three moments that made me cut ties with activism for a few years- and this was one of them. Pointing out that I literally had not said what I was being accused of saying and being attacked with “Oh, because intent is magic, right?” and “Gas-lighting”? Yeah, this activist train has officially derailed.

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  13. AceBunny says:

    Thank you for raising this topic. Just to talk about it in personal terms, this isn’t intended to place blame, or anything, simply to illustrate the effect. I have an anxiety disorder, I have OCD (hyperscrupulosity as part of it, so, I really will get wound up over feeling like I’m a bad person, an oppressor. Which I see as my own problem, it’s not anyone’s fault). Guess what the aggressive social justice culture does? It, predictably, stops me speaking up about these issues or my asexuality, because I can’t handle being shouted at (I have a *lot* of bad memories around people shouting), I can’t even deal with other people being shouted at because OMG, it’s all my fault somehow, argh conflict, panic attack. Even some of the concepts and the specific way they’re phrased sometimes, for instance ‘you are [sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, acephobic] because of the culture, and it’s your responsibility to unlearn that’ are, well, at the very least an absolutely terrible combination with OCD (it doesn’t matter it was undirected and a general statement not aimed solely at me, you might as well straight up tell me I’m a bad person and leave my OCD to get on with torturing me for the rest of the day). I feel like there’s a lot of us vs. them dynamics, that kind of lets the real oppressors, the ones with the actual POWER here, off the hook at times, when marginalised groups get distracted into infighting.

    I don’t want to communicate with people in such negative ways. People are basically more decent than they’re getting given credit for I think, and I know it’s hard to see that if you’re hurting and justifiably angry (trust me, I really do), but I’d rather reach out and try to educate in a positive way first, to see if that will move them, to see if they will understand and be more accepting or open minded, because even if someone is being hurtful, they’re not always doing it on purpose. Never underestimate how innocently clueless people can be, basically, hee. I think that’s part of it, because people involved in this stuff, become so knowledgeable about various issues and think about it such a lot, that of course it seems really really obvious that someone just said something shockingly problematic, and amazing that they could say it and not know why it was an issue, but they forget that the person who said it, really *doesn’t* necessarily actually realise what the issue was, because their background isn’t the same. And talking about tone policing just ignores how people work. Regardless of the situation, people do not like being shouted at, it tends to make them shut down, get defensive, shout back, panic – that’s just people being people. It’s a lot easier to work with basic human nature than against it, the fact that your cause is just doesn’t actually change that being calmer is a more effective communication strategy. By all means be angry when you’re sure it’s justified and it’s at the right targets. But I’m not sure it should be such a go to, knee jerk response. It doesn’t mean you have to be calm and unemotional, being passionate is fine, good even, but it’s different from being aggressive. We’re not at a political protest, here, shouting about injustice is different to targeting one individual who really may just have not thought through what they were saying. If they’re not actively being a jerk or bigoted, is shouting at them the response most likely to get good results? And sometimes, there’s other people also following a discussion, who, even if said person actually is being a bigot, will still be likely to respond better, and be more likely to learn stuff, from attempts to educate instead of just shouting, even though said bigoted person won’t, while if they see someone who just made a mistake get yelled at, they’re just going to be pushed away from learning more. It just depends on thinking about the specific situation and what response is most appropriate, I think.

    And I think with asexuality in particular, we really don’t have all the answers, the one truth. We’re constantly figuring stuff out, exploring nuance, looking at new labels and new models (and while I like that we put so much effort into doing that, let’s be realistic here, of course people outside the community are going to be surprised and perhaps express that, including potentially insensitively, if they suddenly discover zillions of sexuality labels they’ve never heard of), the intersections of identities. So it’s not really appropriate to say ‘this is right, you must not deviate from accepting this or you’re a bigot’, because in so many ways, we often don’t fully know, either, and we’re trying to map something that isn’t a straightforward totally objective to see thing, something very complex. I’m personally strongly motivated to know, while having to learn to live with doubt, so the last thing I want is to see discussion closed down.

    Thinking about it constructively, maybe if the focus is on harm in more concrete terms? Prioritising? What probably affects more asexual people, is just the *systemic* invisibility of asexuality. If that was addressed, the person on the internet insisting it wasn’t real/you haven’t met the right person/you all just want to be special snowflakes, or whatever they’re saying, probably wouldn’t have even thought that in the first place, they’d have been more likely to accept it. Bigger picture, basically. Look at oppressive systems moreso than just lone individuals, such as one random internet person who may not have that much power to perpetuate them in the first place.

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