I’ve put absolutely no structured thought into this yet, but there’s a thought that sort of bubbled up to me as I was reading through some of the recent “then and now” posts like this one, which mention the great proliferation of hyper-specific identity labels that has occurred in the more recent years of the ace community. And I started wondering if that proliferation was encouraged at all by the nature of tumblr’s tagging infrastructure, in which having a single unique identifier is often the easiest way to build conversational communities.
To start off with a definition – when I say “microlabels”, I’m thinking of labels that are meant to convey very specific flavors of ace-spectrum community experiences, rather than just degrees of asexuality/aromanticism (as “grey-A” or “A-spec” do) – things like “autochorissexual” and “aceflux” and “cupiosexual”, etc. One could argue that this is a trend that started with the much earlier creation of “demisexual”, as a label that was created to carve a very specific space out of the asexual-to-grey-A spectrum. There’s a lot of them now, although many are so specific they may be used only by a handful of individuals or even a single coiner.
In my head, I tend to think of microlabels as different than modifiers like “aromantic” or “sex-averse”, in that they tend to replace rather than supplement ace identity (“Hi, I’m Andy, and I’m autochorissexual”, as opposed to “Hi, I’m Beth, and I’m an aromantic asexual”, but modifiers and microlabels are likely affected by the same factors and may function in similar ways.
(It’s also important to keep in mind though that the distinction between labels, modifiers, and microlabels in this post is completely subjective and arbitrary, and some of this may just be me being a curmudgeonly old fart shaking my head at the kids these days and their new-fangled slang)
In general, I get the impression (although I haven’t looked at it empirically) that the creation of new microlabels for specific ace experiences is much higher on Tumblr than it is on forums like AVEN or blog platforms like WordPress. Some of this may simply be a factor of ace community growth and tumblr’s overall popularity (more users = more labels), but I wonder if the specific infrastructure of tumblr way have contributed to the growth and popularity of microlabels. Specifically, the following factors:
- On forums like AVEN, or even on blog posts, commentary on shared experiences was often organized and developed around threads, where many users could chime in and go back and forth – but tumblr’s reblog tree structure makes ongoing conversations unintelligible, so another method is needed to aggregate commentary on shared experiences
- Tumblr doesn’t really have threads, per se, but it does have “tags” – the ability to assign a few key words to each post for searching and sorting purposes.
- On Tumblr, therefore, the alternate solution is often to have a specific “tag” for each chared experience – and tags both reflect and are reflected by new identity labels.
- Tumblr’s search function is also abysmal, which further encourages the use of tags to access new content
- Posts only index the first five tags, which further encourages users to condense as much information as possible in a single tag rather than multiple tags.
- Because most users only see content from users they follow, there is increased fragmentation of the community which means that many disconnected splinter groups may develop unique terminology for similar or overlapping experiences, thus increasing the total number of terms.
In general, my hypothesis is that the importance of “tags” to tumblr’s infrastructure may encourage the use of “tag-like” hyper-specific microlabels among communities who use it – because they spend so much time thinking about keywords while blogging, the “tag” approach carries over into their thought processes for identity description as well.
At this point, I have no real backing for this hypothesis either way, but I’d be curious to hear others’ opinions on the subject.
For anyone curious, the post that prompted this line of thought was this one from Rotten Zuchinnis, although it touches on the subject only briefly. They also have an older more in-depth post that analyzes the proliferation of hyper-specific identity labels through the lens of neoliberalism, which is good reading and food for thought on other possible contributing factors.