Intentionally Public, Intentionally Private: Gender Non-Binary Youth on Tumblr and the Queering of Community Literacy Research

Megan M Opperman


In this essay, I uncover the ways in which the non-binary gender community challenges what we know about privacy and reciprocity within community engaged work. Using my experience as a program coordinator for an LGBTQ youth center, I illustrate the myriad of privacy needs of non-binary gender teens and young adults who expect to be simultaneously both public and private in their online writing on Tumblr. I argue that for the non-binary gender community on Tumblr, direct contact from the researcher not only may invade their intimate space but also cause physical or emotional harm as many non-binary Tumblr users are underage and participating on Tumblr in secret.  Instead, I demonstrate how the study of non-binary gender literacy practices can be done without engaging with or quoting directly from publicly published content, instead favoring an emergent thematic methodology. Additionally, I make a case for a queer methodology which instead seeks to recruit participants in the real world and be invited into their digital community once trust and reciprocity is established should interviews be important for further study. 

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Publication of the Community Literacy Journal is made possible through the generous support of the English Department and the Writing and Rhetoric Program at Florida International University. The CLJ is a journal of the Conference on Community Writing.