Queer/Trans Research, Quickly

Part of my research is with my own queer and trans communities, and it often turns out that some of what I’ve written about would be useful to all of us in our discussions. If you’re here, you’re probably in a group with me, or you saw some of my Tiktoks – here’s what I was talking about!

Personal Social Media Ecosystem

The overlapping set of relationships between an individual social media user, their presentation-relevant social contexts (past experience with showing identity, local norms of behavior), the user’s associated imagined audiences, the platforms the audiences are imagined to exist on, and the perceived technical properties of these platforms

“Too Gay for Facebook”: Presenting LGBTQ+ Identity Throughout the Personal Social Media Ecosystem

Your personal social media ecosystem is your constellation of sites and services where you present yourself as queer. Queer folks use their personal social media ecosystems to keep themselves safe while still expressing themselves. For example, you might keep queer stuff off Facebook because you’re not ready to be out to grandma yet, but your Tiktok might be you posting a video about being gay every day because, hey, so are the rest of us. A good personal social media ecosystem lets you be as out as you want to be, without putting you in danger.

We choose different sites for different things within our ecosystem based on a few factors:

  • how we’ve been treated re: queerness there in the past
  • who we think might be part of our audience on the site (mostly queers? Say anything! Family? Maybe not!)
  • what you can actually do on the site (Tiktok might be the place where you’re most welcome as queer, for example, but it’s a bad place to post a long essay)

Latent Harms

Harms which are not tightly coupled to conflict due to a delay in negative effect or action through a secondary mechanism, such as a pervasively harmful set of norms or expectations imposed on those being harmed

“‘More Gay’ Fits In Better:” Intracommunity Power Dynamics and Harms in Online LGBTQ+ Spaces

Discrimination and stigmatization can hurt queer folks right away, but sometimes what’s worse is what it does to us long-term, and how that can stem from our own attempts to protect ourselves. Think about it: you might leave a group where you feel you’re not welcome, but in the long term, you’re still being hurt by the situation because you lost access to that space, and those resources and support. Or maybe you’ve responded to discrimination by trying to educate – and now you’re tired and burnt out and can’t participate in the community at all. You’re still being hurt – even if it takes a while to show it.

Identity Flattening

The practice of collapsing down a multifaceted identity into a less complex presentation of identity that the individual believes will be more acceptable within a space

“‘More Gay’ Fits In Better:” Intracommunity Power Dynamics and Harms in Online LGBTQ+ Spaces

Most queer folks have pretty complex identities – many of us are far more than one thing. But sometimes it’s easier to be just one thing around certain people, isn’t it? Maybe you’re in a lesbian space, and you’re actually bisexual, but you’re going to keep that quiet because last time you mentioned it everyone got kind of mean about it, and a mod calling herself a “gold star” threatened to kick you out. We flatten our identities to be more acceptable to the people around us, and it usually works – for a little while. Long-term, though, that just contributes to erasure (here, bi erasure), and can damage your mental health by forcing you to still hide part of your identity, even around other queer folks.

Validity Conflict

Conflicts which center around whether someone should be considered a part of the LGBTQ+ community at all, and therefore part of an online queer space.

“‘More Gay’ Fits In Better:” Intracommunity Power Dynamics and Harms in Online LGBTQ+ Spaces

Ever applied to join a queer group and been told you’re the wrong kind of queer, or not queer enough? Or maybe you joined a group for queer folks, and suddenly your type of queer was treated as not valid? This happens to less-powerful groups within the larger queer community all the time, and it’s called validity conflict. For example, if a bisexual person joins a queer group and people start questioning if they should even be there because they should just “pick a side” and decide if they’re queer or not – that’s a very nasty validity conflict. Validity conflicts often take the form of gatekeeping what “queer” is, and they rely on the fact that some queer folks are more powerful than others in our society. For example, a cis gay man has far more overall power than a bisexual transgender woman, and can use that power to discriminate even within the queer community.

Normative Conflict

Conflicts which center around how identity is expressed or explained, but do not bring the validity of the identity into question

“‘More Gay’ Fits In Better:” Intracommunity Power Dynamics and Harms in Online LGBTQ+ Spaces

Ever have a nasty fight over words with another queer person in an online group? Maybe you called yourself a “bi lesbian” and they got mad, or maybe you said you were attracted to “both men and women” and that upset some nonbinary folks, who felt excluded. That’s called a normative conflict, and it’s basically a fight over how we express our queer identities in queer spaces. What seems like a simple statement could really hurt someone with an identity you don’t fully understand – and that can turn into a pretty nasty fight between people that actually have a lot in common, and are ultimately on the same side. Without someone to step in, the fight can get worse and worse – and if a traditional moderator steps in, maybe two people fighting over very little are now both banned from a group. One solution: educator-moderators, a specific kind of moderator who can’t ban or block, but can temporarily mute or bring you to a separate space where you can work things out with their help.

Queer Design Values

Most social platforms are designed for the lowest common denominator user: a white, cisgender, heterosexual American man. It may not surprise you, then, that the values behind these platforms are pretty white, pretty cis, pretty hetero, and very male. Queer folks have different values which we need to design around: self-determination and inclusion.

Queer Design Value: Self-Determination

The ability of an individual and/or group to make decisions about the people, norms, and technical structures they will be impacted by

– Values (Mis)alignment: Exploring Tensions Between Perceived Platform and LGBTQ+ Community Design Values

A platform designed around self-determination lets queer folks decide what happens to them, and in their groups, instead of just leaving it all up to the platform. When it comes to algorithms, that means opting in or out – not every queer person wants to go viral, and that could really hurt someone who isn’t very public about their identity yet. When it comes to moderation, that means the group decides what the standards for content should be. For example, “queer” itself is often flagged as a slur by platforms, which can result in warnings, bans, and deletions – but we know, inside the community, we’re not using it as a slur at all. We can make platforms more supportive of self-determination by taking power out of the hands of algorithms, and putting it back in the hands of queer folks. Maybe an algorithm can suggest which posts could be trouble, but a queer moderator with deep community experience makes the final call.

Queer Design Value: Inclusion

The ability of an online group to widely welcome, support, and reflect the breadth of the community the group engages with while still maintaining group safety

– Values (Mis)alignment: Exploring Tensions Between Perceived Platform and LGBTQ+ Community Design Values

A platform designed for inclusion helps folks keep themselves safe while doing everything it can to cut down on toxic gatekeeping behavior. Since that gatekeeping is often done by mods and admins, that also means keeping them in line is part of inclusion, too. It’s pretty reasonable for us to worry about letting people into our spaces – folks could be looking to troll, to mass report so everyone gets banned, or they could just be good old fashioned assholes. The more we worry, though, the more we’re tempted to exclude – and often, the people it is hardest to vet are the people who need our spaces the most, like baby queers. We can make platforms more inclusive with some technical tricks; for example, imagine if new members had to be in a sandbox for a while, with members that are specially trained in helping people get up to speed and solving conflicts – no one’s excluded unjustly, but the group gets a chance to make sure the new person understands and can handle the rules. Of course, none of that means anything if the admins and mods aren’t inclusive, and there’s no guarantee that the people who started a group are the right ones to run it once it gets big. To be more inclusive, platforms could require regular leadership elections, and maybe even walk you through writing a lightweight “constitution” for your group once it gets to a certain size.