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Paul Byron does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Tumblr is a site that can leave many adults confused.

But for more than million users worldwide it is a visual medium for self-expression where anything from politics to fan groups goes. What makes Tumblr special is the mix of content you will find there. Think of it as the long-form, image-centric version of Twitter — but more personal. Above all, Tumblr characterises itself as a space of creative freedom. Like most other social media platforms, it is also ripe with peer networking, community building, and opportunities to explore gender and sexual identities.

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And despite the panic that often surrounds the perceived effects of social media on young people — such as fears about Facebook and privacySnapchat and sextingand Instagram and narcissism — Tumblr is often left out of the debate. This makes it a perfect venue for queer and questioning youth to hang out. Inwe organised a research project called Scrolling Beyond Binaries to explore the ways young people of diverse genders and sexualities use social media. To do so, we surveyed over 1, people aged who identified in these ways.

So why are this many young queer and gender diverse Australians using Tumblr?

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For many, it offers an intricate network that supports safe explorations of identity and a sense of self. For instance, writer and Tumblr user Jonno Revanche said it provides social connections that are otherwise unavailable due to geographic isolation and social anxiety. Others have used Tumblr to foster mental health support, such as Mea Pearsonwho took to the platform to chronicle her experience with borderline personality disorder. While care must be taken when associating mental health with queer identity, these matters often intersect.

Many of our respondents said that Tumblr was crucial to nurturing their individual identity.

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One person said it helped them identify as agender loosely defined as without gender. I actually learnt about agender and all the other genders from Tumblr. One participant described how Tumblr assisted them in coming to terms with their pansexuality attraction to all gendersand finding a space where this was more accepted and not reduced to bisexuality:. I came out as Pan on Tumblr a few years ago, when being Pan was seen as just a fancy way of saying Bi. I felt very alone for a long time, but found other Pan people to talk to.

For many Tumblr users, the platform is a supportive place. Engaging with online peer networks can be easier, and less risky, than talking to close friends.

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Young people reported making friends on Tumblr too, and most of them felt safe in doing so, citing the ability to block and unfollow others if needed. At the same time, these digital spaces come with their own challenges. Although Tumblr is often used daily, it also seems to have a limited lifespan — which is unsurprising, given the intensity of interaction and content that many users report. Some respondents discussed their need to disconnect from the site to avoid drama, to free up time, or to spend more time in other social media spaces.

I stopped [using Tumblr] because I often used it to talk about my problems and it got to be really upsetting to have such a negative space. I feel like it just fed my mental health issues. In this sense, Tumblr can be productive for a time but it can also become overwhelming. Users manage this by moving between platforms and taking breaks. At a time when young queer and gender diverse people are in the spotlight, with support programs gay sexting tumblr under fire and human rights being trampled upon in political crossfires, they continue to find and build their own safe spaces.

Be Curious — Leeds, Leeds.

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Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. More young people are turning online for peer support networks.

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