Redefining Intimacy in the Age of Tumblr

There are things that are so personal that they can only be said to someone who is not close. Someone you don’t know. A person who is not an intimate friend or relation. There are things too personal to be shared with intimates.” – Hunger of Memory

Richard Rodriguez’s quote rings incredibly true for the millions of people logging into sites like Tumblr, where all is required of users is a username and a desire to blog (whether it be one’s original thoughts or the ‘reblogging’ of others’ thoughts to express one’s own or show solidarity) to become a part of a community that either does care or very convincingly gives the illusion of caring about each other. Juana Maria Rodriguez, in Queer Latinidad writes that “Sex, love, quarrels, and reunions [are] mediated through technology” (115). Not only are internet relationships able to become intensely emotional and intense with the aid of technology, but more communication, in so many different forms has also been increased, possibly enhanced for people in real life relationships. However, Rodriguez’s definition, just as most of the dictionary definitions of intimacy, talk about closeness, warmth, and understanding, but all in the context of a relationship that has been created and maintained in person.

Is being able to bare your soul to a group of complete strangers, be it on some form of social network or in person with folks that you’ve never met or may never see again a form of intimacy? Is this type of act (full disclosure to complete strangers) possibly even more intimate than trusting these details with the people that we’ve known and have known us for a long time? Can intimacy be achieved in anonymity? The definition of intimacy itself is “Close familiarity or friendship; closeness,” but does one have to be familiar with the person they are interacting with in order for closeness and intimacy to be achieved? In creating an authentic connection with someone, even if it is temporary, are we achieving intimacy, or are incredibly raw, impersonal personal moments in our one night stands and blog posts less intimate and valuable than the intimate relationships that are developed over time?

Intimacy, like the World Wide Web as mentioned in Queer Latinidad, is rhizomatic, no particular beginning, end, or center, as well as it can grow and flourish (albeit in many drastically different ways) wherever it is planted and utilized. People emerge and exit; “linkages assembled and dismantled.” (Queer Latinidad, 121) With the growth of use of social networking sites, people are allowed to express as much of themselves as they want or create whatever persona they desire to be read as by their readers and viewers, which adds a new dimension to intimacy that allows for transparency and anonymity, which often cannot exist in spheres outside of cyberspace. Users are able to represent only the parts of themselves that they wish to make public. In a realm where people are simultaneously present and absent, intimacy can be achieved in being able to bare one’s life of truths to a complete stranger while missing the traditional ‘intimacy’ of being physically close and in near proximity to one another.

Sites like Tumblr, specifically, allow for users to communicate aspects of their identities that may have been difficult to talk about in person or with people who they interact with in person that have already developed ideas of who they are and how they feel. Talking about one’s feelings to a group of users who have made the conscious decision to follow you, often because they are picking up what you’re putting down or at least trying to. People that aren’t familiar or someone regularly interacted with cannot say “this isn’t like you” or “I didn’t know you felt like this,” nor can their opinion of you drastically change because of what you posted, because they don’t know you (yet;) they can only listen or read what you have to say.

In Maria Irene Fornes’ play “Fefu and Her Friends,” one of her characters, Paula, articulates that relationships (and breakups) include different parts of the self: the brain, the heart, the mind, physical belongings, physical space, and the memories of it all (38). These are all things that she argues are a part of long-term, intimate relationships, then do interactions that are missing only the physical aspects but include the brain, heart, mind, and memories (the parts of relationships that are arguably the most important and meaningful) less intimate than those that exist within a physical space? When two people interact on the internet, “language is disjointed, fragments of thoughts brought together to create a mood and meaning understood by only the two participants, the white spaces of personal history and emotion haunting the lines of the text,” (Queer Latinidad, 116). Both what we choose to include and what we choose to leave out in our interactions with strangers on the internet aids in the redefinition of intimacy and allows us to define what intimacy can mean with each person we choose to become intimate with.

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Religion in America: Willamette’s Premiere AES MOI

“Like all people, we perceive the version of reality that our culture communicates. Like others having or living in more than one culture, we get multiple, often opposing messages. The coming together of two self-consistent but habitually incomparable frames of reference causes un choque, a cultural collision.” – Anzaldua (78)

Instead of holding class on Tuesday, February 12, the instructor of Willamette’s Religion in America class requested that the class attend the Joel Salatin lecture instead of going to Eaton for class as we usually do. Salatin, the United States’ premiere sustainable farmer and Willamette’s second highest paid speaker ever, began his presentation by saying that his presentation was more valuable and important than watching President Obama’s State  of the Union address. He continued by calling latin names for things “squiggly words” and “mumbo jumbo” all while his faithful audience yelled “Amen” and “Preach!” from the stands. He reaches his followers through semi-funny anecdotes and a call to action regarding changing their entire lives to accommodate local farming and organic food consumption all with zero analysis of the fact that capital is required not only to start a farm, but also to maintain one. At the very end of his lecture, a man in the crowd asked “What about the people who cannot afford it? Those who are working three jobs and can literally only afford Wonder Bread?” Joel Salatin responded that if he could go into the house of someone who “claims” they cannot afford to garden and farm and they have a cell phone, a television, name brand clothing, etc., then they are not doing their job to support local farming. This idea was shocking enough on its own; however, Salatin continued his rant by concluding with this gem of a final line “Why worry about that one percent [of people living in poverty] when we can focus on what we’re doing?” to which the crowd stood and applauded.

The same person that posted “So apparently the term “Illegal Immigrant” is racist? Ha. And I am a racist for supporting strong border security? Hmmm. I guess that’s the type of crap you have to deal with going to a school like Willamette!” as a Facebook status after Willamette’s Border Fence Project in November of 2011, in the reflection discussion that we had about Salatin’s lecture, first told me that he thought it was “absolutely ridiculous” that I would claim that Salatin’s lecture was “threaded with racist and classist ideologies” (my words exactly) and proceeded to tell me that I can’t be serious. Another classmate, a woman of color, addressed the class saying that she believed that some people (as the class all directs their glances in my direction) are just “trying to twist [Salatin’s] words to make him sound like a terrible person when he’s not.” This is where Anzaldua’s quote about the different versions of reality that we experience based on our surroundings. Perhaps it is being an American Ethnic Studies major that has given me the tools necessary to not only see racism and classism in various spaces, but to also talk about it and confront it head on; maybe it is the fact that I have lived my entire life as a queer woman of color that has allowed me to view the world with a lens that makes me question Salatin’s claim that anyone and everyone can farm. However, I cannot seem to reconcile the giant divide that exists between me and the rest of the classmates that chose to respond to me in our discussion about Salatin’s lecture. The “cultural clash” as Anzaldua writes about was tense and painful enough that I was brought to tears by the same Border Fence protester as mentioned above. In trying to explain how racism and classism are relevant to Salatin’s lecture, I tried to reach the class through saying that farming requires a great amount of sacrifice, both monetarily and in terms of time. Further, claiming that “anyone” can farm by going to the nearest vacant lot and starting up a food share program completely ignores all of the people that are living in areas with no vacant lots or garden space as well as people that have been intentionally placed in areas with unarable soil. People continued to be non-receptive of what I was saying, so I elaborated by talking about food deserts, housing projects, and Native American reservations. There are high concentrations of people of color in all of these places, and saying that local farming isn’t attached to issues of race and class is absolutely preposterous.

Attending a school that continues to talk about caring about diversity, and being in a class that is marked as an American Ethnic Studies credit all seems like a fallacy when I can talk about something that is, with zero doubt in my mind, racist and then be told that I am twisting around words to make good people sound like bad people. I may not have the same wild tongue that Anzaldua speaks of in her book, but I have a very vocal, antiracist, feminist, anti-heterosexist tongue that has steadily been asked to step back, sit down, and “move on from social justice or whatever” (as another woman of color told me to do.) Allowing people to leave this class believing that they have taken an American Ethnic Studies course is disheartening; especially knowing that the last question asked to me by one of my peers was “why don’t people just move out of the projects? It’s not like anyone is holding them there at gunpoint.” If Willamette cares so much about diversity or about retaining students of color, it might be valuable to stop cutting out the tongues of everyone who tries to resist.