Credit: Deidre Olsen/Xtra
Stories
5 min

How Tumblr helped me find community and love

We found each other in the endless wastes of the internet

When a girl’s arm brushed against mine in Grade 12 yearbook class, it sent shivers up my spine. Just like that, I realized I was queer.

I returned to that moment over and over again for two years. At first, I didn’t allow myself to consider I was queer. But later, as I fantasized about dancing with her as Cat Power’s “Moon” played in the background, I relented.

It was the mid-to-late 2000s, and at that time, compulsory heterosexuality tricked me into believing that my femininity meant I was straight.

Conversations about gender, sexuality, consent, sexual assault and mental health were different then. I thought that I could quantify self-worth based on the amount of attention boys paid me. I understood neither bodily autonomy nor consent and was routinely coerced into sex with or taken advantage of by teenage boys.

All of this changed when I discovered Tumblr.

When I joined the blogging platform at age 20, I found a whole new world of queer identity, community and belonging. At the time, I lived with my parents in a Vancouver suburb while attending university and spent wide-eyed evenings sifting through the platform’s endless hashtags and blogs.

I quickly learned that my outward appearance doesn’t change who I love, that sex requires enthusiastic consent and that I can derive self-worth in the things I’m passionate about and how I treat others. Discovering all the innumerable, magical ways in which queerness is experienced and expressed repeatedly shattered the ideas that I previously believed were absolute truths about myself and the world.

I found myself undergoing a process of continuous unlearning that was both freeing and unnerving. Ultimately, this opened up space in my life for the thrill of experimentation and vulnerability.

What started as passively scrolling through content turned into “following” strangers’ blogs. From my little, closeted corner of the world, I peered into the lives of queer young people in other towns and cities. I read their accounts of coming out to friends and parents — for better or worse — as well as their unrequited high school crushes or desires to meet people in other countries they’d fallen in love with online. I empathized with how their sadness and isolation were remedied only through virtual connection and being themselves authentically in the digital realm.

Soon enough, I began posting my own photos, poems, journal entries, thoughts and feelings. I learned my queer birds-and-the-bees from the blog and made lasting friendships with people I’ve still not met in real life, realizing that thousands of teenagers and young adults out there were just like me — even though I felt alone in my little British Columbia farming and fishing town. We were connected in mutual naivety, loneliness and longing in the endless wastes of the internet.

In my search for connection, I stumbled across the Tumblr blog “Girls Who Like Girls” where queer women post photos of themselves, their age, location, dating status and sometimes a personal blurb. I spent hours looking through their photos, returning nervously each night in the hopes of meeting someone new.

And then one day, I came across a post by a girl with similar interests who was pursuing the same degree at my university.

I messaged her. She messaged back.

We bonded over our shared love of politics, feminism and the Lord of the Rings. We messaged for roughly three weeks — first on Tumblr and then over Facebook messenger — before deciding to meet up in real life. Every time I saw her name appear on the screen of my iPhone 4, I felt a rush of butterflies, something I never felt when dating boys. As we continued messaging constantly, I tried to seem cool, even though I was bursting at the seams with excitement.

We decided to meet at a vegetarian restaurant called The Naam a block away from her Kitsilano apartment. I arrived first.

It was dark and cold outside as I cozied up in my seat at a corner table by the window, biting my nails anxiously while waiting for her to arrive. When she walked in, I immediately recognized her from the internet.

We exchanged uncomfortable smirks as she sat down. Struck by her beauty, I tried not to stare. The setting was intimate with few people nearby, making it feel like it was just the two of us in the world, and in our adolescent awkwardness, we struggled to keep a conversation flowing between long pauses and fleeting eye contact. At that candlelit table, I was equal parts elated and terrified on my first date with a woman.

We went on more dates over the next month and a half, although I couldn’t admit to myself that they were indeed dates.

On the night of our fifth date, we watched a Hayao Miyazaki film in Chinatown. As we sat together in the dark, she reached over and held my hand. I felt the world around me spin. My palms begin to sweat.

She grasped my hand loosely before tugging into a tight grip. I was frozen from head-to-toe as I let her take the lead. But then, I tugged back.

We held hands for the entire movie and after it, too. After the movie, I couldn’t stop smiling as we walked hand-in-hand for awhile before going our separate ways. We said our goodbyes but as soon as we left one another, we started texting. She said she had fun and I said I did too.

She said she should have kissed me. I said the same.

An hour later, we met back up not too far away, next to Waterfront Station. We walked to the fence at the end of a parking lot overlooking the SeaBus terminal and ocean, each grappling with the bars of the fence as our eyes nervously darted up at each other and back down at the ground. After what seemed like a lifetime, she moved towards me and kissed me.

Unfortunately, right as our lips touched, a man yelled, “I’d like to get in between you two. I haven’t had any in 15 years.”

We both burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation and how much tension had been built up only for the moment to be interrupted by a passerby. I was flustered by the man’s words while simultaneously ecstatic about finally having my queer first kiss, I felt as though I were floating as I walked towards the train station after our second goodbye of the night.

I recalled that I had come out a year ago at a New Year’s party in my hometown. A friend had asked me bluntly, “are you queer too? Because I have a feeling you are.” I had never said it out loud before, but I responded, “yes, I think I’m bisexual.”

It was a simple answer, but the question gave me the opportunity to vocalize my blossoming sexuality to one person — and this, in turn, made it easier to tell others. From that point on, I knew I wasn’t alone anymore in my hometown. And that single queer kiss confirmed for me, at last, what I already knew: that I love women.

We dated for four years, an at first blissful and later tumultuous period during which we learned to love and be loved in return. Eventually, we outgrew one another and went our separate ways.

I don’t use it anymore, but my Tumblr account still exists. I think I’ll keep it around forever as an artifact of queer adolescence, longing and desire. Without Tumblr, it would have taken me longer to find my place in the world and fall in love.