The majority of my friends know me as one of the most unfiltered voices they know. For me, “taboo” is a dirty word in itself and I’ve never been known to hold my tongue on my opinions on politics, religion, or sex.
But in reality, my relationship to sex and sexuality has always been a sacred and private one. As a queer Latinx woman who grew up in a Catholic household where my sex talk involved being scared into celibacy by my mother who was a teen mom herself, I was always nervous to bring it up. In addition to this, spending 14 years in Catholic school, I was always taught an abstinence-first approach to sex.
But as a teen growing up in the late aughts, one of the main escapes for all of my angst was Tumblr. Tumblr was our aesthetically pleasing refuge from all things mainstream, where we could healthily obsess over all fandoms, ships, and tributes. We used it as a space to muse over all the things that most adults roll their eyes about when teens open their mouths to speak.
It was also the first place that most of us saw porn.
Tumblr was our aesthetically pleasing refuge from all things mainstream…
I was always scared of the idea of watching porn growing up. I knew from reading plenty of women’s magazines that the content wasn’t representative of real sex and I honestly felt intimidated by the idea of watching it. Everything about it seemed plastic and fake, devoid of any of the intimacy that I craved from what I wanted my first sexual experiences to look like.
But Tumblr porn felt more accessible. I was able to see normal women who looked like me, all soft curves, stretch marks, and barely-there makeup, dressed in lingerie with no airs about them. I saw GIFs of cam girls smiling coyly at me as they flaunted cut up t-shirts and Hanes underwear. People who looked like the guys and girls I admired in real life filled my screen, playfully grabbing each other’s asses and making each other excited.
Tumblr has also helped plenty of queer and trans sex workers build, curate and elevate their platforms. Whereas Instagram and Twitter would take down explicit content quickly, building a following for adult content and promoting premium accounts via Patreon and Snapchat on Tumblr has proven to be effective. Not only did this help support sex workers, but it also created a safe community around queer sexuality, where instead of being demonized, belittled or fetishized, queer people (particularly femmes), were seen just as they are—sexual beings who deserve to be respected, admired, and compensated for their work.
Tumblr made the announcement on Dec. 3 in a post titled “A better, more positive Tumblr” that they would be banning adult content in an effort to remove “child pornography” from the platform. On Dec. 17, when the ban goes into effect, any photos, videos or GIFs that display human genitals or “female-presenting nipples” along with any content depicting sex acts will be prohibited. Any nudity related to art, political speech or “health-related situations,” as well as written erotica, will be exempt. The new policy comes two weeks after the Tumblr app’s removal from Apple’s App Store after “child sexual abuse material” was found on the site. Tumblr says it immediately removed the content.
While in this post they commented that “there are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content,” they fail to recognize the ways in which their decision is disenfranchising queer and trans folks who made a living off of this platform. If a more fastidious change was implemented in order to filter “child sexual abuse material,” like their claim states, there would have been more attention paid to fixing the issue at hand instead of taking down content that people have literally built their careers off of.
For this type of action to be made, on International to End Violence Against Sex Workers Day no less, isn’t just disrespectful, it’s dehumanizing and invalidating of everything that Tumblr says they set out to do. A platform that has prided itself on empowering people to create content and unity around shared passions and interests is now breaking up one of the most intimate communities that exists on the internet.
Tumblr used to be a space for so many queer folks to express their sexuality safely, myself included—now that it has become so sterile, where will we go?