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I began this project by studying the possibilities and limitations of the internet’s resistance to capitalist heteronormativity by looking at 2010s Tumblr as an archive. I ended up finding that I was more so interested in the queer understandings of time and space I found on Tumblr; understandings that become pathologized under dominant structures of capitalism. With a rise in tech company monopolies and widespread commercialism, corporate interests dominate the late-stage capitalist internet spaces that people once imagined as a possible democratized media realm. The supposed failure of Tumblr is symptomatic of late-stage capitalism’s hegemonic grasp over the internet. Drawing from my intersecting lived experiences with trans identity, Chinese diasporic identity, and mental illnesses, I interpret what Tumblr signifies about the internet in order to propel us past normative structures toward queer potentials.


I. As a Computer I Fear Intimacy


I hate the unpredictability of my body. I hate having to eat, having to sleep, having to use the bathroom… I hate these so-called needs that get in the way of everything I want to do. I hate having a face I can no longer get away with putting so much makeup on, having a voice that pitches itself up whenever I’m nervous, people seeing my body when it’s relaxed, unposed… What I actually need is to do it all like a machine, precisely and perfectly. Always performing. There's a lot to be said about techno-orientalism and the feminine Asian body and this sense of robotic performance. No matter how androgynously I’m perceived though, I think as long as people know I have a vagina, my body will be inevitably sexed as an Asian “female” body (3). It’s a different way of experiencing femininity compared to how a lot of white transmascs do, I think. Reducing it down to cultural differences and standards of model minority excellence oversimplifies and dangerously generalizes things.

It’s not like I had a tiger Mom hounding me to get straight A’s — Actually, she’s the one who taught me to notice how failure can be a sign that the standard system doesn’t meet your needs. She didn’t care what grade I got as long as I was happy. Still, for some reason, I could never bring myself to tell her when I failed math tests in high school and got put on academic probation in college. Happiness, though, is one of the few concrete expectations my parents set for me and one I continuously failed at. From my perspective, I’m always failing at everything. I even failed to turn in this very project on time, although I’m much more proud of it than I would have been if I had rushed my work to meet the deadline. Throughout my life, I internalized this sense that something was deeply wrong with me, I couldn’t do things right, and I had to make it up somehow by understanding myself as more computer than human. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone if a computer is happy, as long as it works. It’s a machine.

The thing about machines though, is that they’re much more human than we give them credit for. The computer too, glitches, refuses binaries, and fails to perform its programming. In Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russell embraces the glitch as a powerful refusal of the normative paradigms that limit our possibilities for alternative ways of inhabiting time and space. Russell emphasizes that “glitched bodies—those that do not align with the canon of white cisgender heteronormativity—pose a threat to social order. Range-full and vast, they cannot be programmed.”(4) According to Russell, blurring the categories imposed on our minds and bodies (although are they not one thing?) is one way we challenge the hegemonic norms imposed on us from birth. The glitch is a way of resisting and rejecting the status quo and its stagnancy. Relatably, the android performs race and femininity but has no inherent identity. As such, our glitched bodies can perform interpretations of identity yet resist the logic that demarcates our possibilities and renders alternative ways of existence invisible. The moments when we glitch are moments of failure brimming with potentiality. What kind of bodies are glitched bodies? Human or computer? Both or neither in the form of the cyborg?


“Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world. Failing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well; for queers failure can be a style, to cite Quentin Crisp, or a way of life, to cite Foucault, and it can stand in contrast to the grim scenarios of success that depend upon ‘trying and trying again.’ In fact if success requires so much effort, then maybe failure is easier in the long run and offers different rewards. ”

-Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure.(5)

Related to Russell’s embrace of the glitch, in The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam explores the idea of failure and what failure can signify in a world where measures of success for some rely on the oppression of others. For Halberstam, failure encompasses a productive force of becoming and unbecoming that can queer everything. Failure can be rewarding even if it does not amount to conventional standards of achievement. The achievement of failure lies in its detours from normative limitations on what our lives can and should be. Additionally, Halberstam extends this idea of failure to pedagogy. Instead of viewing the intellectual as a masterful and all-knowing expert, Halberstam puts forward that “while the ‘good’ teacher leads his students along the pathways of rationality, the ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ must actually allow them to get lost in order for them to experience confusion and then find their own way out or back or around.” (6) I hope that throughout this project, you will get lost along with me. I refuse to position myself as someone with authority on the ideas I discuss and the archives I utilize. Also, I want to let you know I’m getting psychiatric help and caution you not to get too mired down in my bullshit. But didn’t doctors prescribe psychiatric help when they pathologized being queer too (though I do feel really bad when I don’t take my meds)? It wasn’t hard for me to write about this: If anything, it would have been hard for me to write about these topics without talking about my life. All I can do is draw from my own experiences with these ideas and show you where they have led my thinking, in the hopes that you might find yourself getting lost and (maybe) found as well. But I hope getting lost in anachronistic time and space turns out to be more rewarding for you than a linear path to any concrete answers.

II. Dead Internet Manifesto


“What haunts the digital cul-de-sacs of the twenty-first century is not so much the past as all the lost futures that the twentieth century taught us to anticipate… More broadly, and more troublingly, the disappearance of the future meant the deterioration of a whole mode of social imagination: the capacity to conceive of a world radically different from the one in which we currently live.”

-Mark Fisher, “What Is Hauntology?” (8)

"“As glitch feminists, this is our politic: we refuse to be hewn to the hegemonic line of a binary body. This calculated failure prompts the violent socio-cultural machine to hiccup, sigh, shudder, buffer. We want a new framework and for this framework, we want new skin. The digital world provides a potential space where this can play out. Through the digital, we make new worlds and dare to modify our own. Through the digital, the body ‘in glitch’ finds its genesis. Embracing the glitch is therefore a participatory action that challenges the status”

-Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism. (9)

The internet we grew up with is dead but not gone. So don’t look at it through rose-colored glasses; you’ll forget it haunts us as a ghost. There is an undead futurity of the web. The web has a spectral dimension that the dialectic algorithm both can and cannot capture. People (used to) talk about the internet like a dream; they picture(d) it as something brimming with the possibility of what “could be.” Yet our screens are stained with time as our devices age at unnatural speeds and fall out of software compatibility. Regardless, we keep clicking and tapping in and out of time and space. Could it be true that with the acceleration of our combined clicks and taps, the overlapping sounds blur into a monotonous drone? Perhaps we might find that it resonates at a frequency that we, with our varying histories, have somehow always known.

The attention garnered by posts about the dead internet theory Wikipedia entry makes some of us wonder if the internet has fallen into mindless cacophony. Increasingly, this suggestion feels more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The digital landscape feels littered with abandoned accounts and broken links. It’s easy to dismiss it all as junk. People find themselves getting into impassioned comment section arguments with AI chatbots. I find myself becoming more and more computer, and the computer more and more computer-human. There is no artificial intelligence revolution to be feared if we evolve into phantasmic simulations of one another. When you feed AI databases with dead artists’ work, is no one in the wrong? I find myself trying to commune with the dead.

The internet we were born into, perhaps, was for the queers, the ones marked for death, (10) the rabiosexuals.(11) If we are to stay chronically online, we must embody the glitch in the machine, we must:

  • 1. Develop computer literacy.

    Not always the same thing as learning programming languages. The first step to escaping the virtual arena of late-stage capitalism is to understand how the machine works. The technocracy hopes we’ll have to rely on their explanations. They hope we’ll have no other choice but to buy their products and autocharge our bank accounts for their monthly subscriptions. When you theorize how the machine works, you can navigate inside of its discourse. You start to recognize the matrix. Only then, can you break out of it.

  • 2. Debug.

    We must use our understanding of Capitalism’s machinery to circumvent the increasing commercialization, surveillance, and depersonalization of the internet. Can we see that these developments are not necessarily a failure of infrastructure, but more so a symptom of the functioning machine? It feeds on us. (12) Parse through the code of the digital simulacra, ask who wrote it, and debug their errors. The internet already holds all the tools you’ll need.

  • 3. Archive.

    We must collect everything we wish to hold close because corporate oligarchies want nothing to belong to us. Don’t over-rely on digital formats; they can age out. Screenshot posts before they’re taken down. See past the cloud to the physical space the warehouses full of servers take up. Understand that they too, can erode or burn down. With every newly updated terms of use agreement, we hand over what could have been ours to corporations without a guarantee of continued access.

  • 4. Republicize.

    This does not have to mean buying physical media. If you cherish a mode of understanding the world, hold onto it, carefully. So that someone else might see it too.

  • 5. Ask for more.

    The undead future of the internet must move beyond the structures of oppression that hegemonic ideology naturalizes over time. Do not become desensitized to the slop they feed us. As the digital subaltern, we must demand: An anti-capitalist internet. A transformatively queer internet. A decolonized internet. A public internet. To demand what we deserve, we must be able to see past the present to imagine a transformative future. And we must be able to look for the potentiality embedded in what remains with us from the past.

  • 6. Defy productivity.

    The influence that economic interests have weighed on our governments during the ongoing COVID pandemic, deterioration of human rights, and expansion of Western imperialism, exemplified by the occupation of Palestine, has proven time and time again that those in power will only let us have media and technology when it benefits them. Watch companies cut back on remote work and telehealth services as we slip deeper into manufactured collective amnesia. Watch israel shut down news networks and murder journalists. In this world, our lives have no value if we don’t meet certain standards of production.

On the internet we deserve, time and space are broken out of their chains. And if we keep an eye out for ghosts, we may already see how the glitches have always been phasing through the matrix’s code.

III. A (Failed) Homecoming


What’s coming home only to find it full of strangers? Or are they ghosts? The years I spent away from Tumblr felt like years spent away from myself. Tumblr’s reblogging system and referential humor taught me to be both referential and self-referential. And so, to get an idea of what I’m talking about here, you must get to know my cultural context a little. Something to know about me is that I’m afraid to sleep in front of mirrors. In Chinese mythology, mirrors serve as gateways to the spirit realm. Growing up, I tried to push this idea away, delegitimizing it as superstition, even though spirits are not necessarily dark forces in much of Chinese epistemology. I came of age only to find that I was more afraid of waking up in the middle of the night to see my own reflection than I would be to see a ghost. At my grandfather’s funeral, I began to understand that we don’t have to fear the undead. What I’ve been calling ghosts are family that we once held close, and what we call haunting propels us to make new worlds come to life.


When I began to research Tumblr in my Research Methods class, I conceived of Tumblr as a failed queer technology. But Tumblr was also where I really began to historicize a trans-inclusive feminism. Carolyn Bronstein contextualizes that before the adult content ban of 2018, Tumblr had been “providing a space for realistic, positive depictions of trans bodies and trans sexuality and communicating to viewers that those bodies and practices were worthy of pleasure and desire.” (14) The content ban was a nail in the coffin since many had already criticized the administrators of the platform for stigmatizing LGBT content as NSFW. Therefore, a considerable portion of users left the site. Scrolling through the account I used from 2014 to 2017, I was surprised by the sheer number of posts about trans lived experiences and transitioning advice that I had saved for future reference. In my recollection, I was pretty certain I had no future other than one of perceived cis womanhood until I tried out new pronouns in college. Responding to the legacy of feminist theory in the manner of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous quote,(15) Legacy Russell distinguishes that, “the glitch posits: One is not born, but rather becomes, a body.” Russell specifies that “though the artifice of a simple digital Shangri-La—a world online where we could all finally be ‘freed’ from the mores of gender, as dreamt of by early cyberfeminists—is now punctured, the Internet still remains a vessel through which a ‘becoming’ can realize itself.” (16) Whether I knew it or not, the time I spent immersed in the online world was a time of becoming a body. As I spent more and more time trying to keep up with my physical environment, I arrested my development down the trajectory of a body’s becoming.


Home is a strange thing. During high school in California, I could not physically nor virtually inhabit my “return” to the united states. I was so out of my body, desperately grasping at the shape of a girl I was not. The idea of home has long evaded me. As a child, I had trouble answering the question of where I was from. Homeland is not the same as home. When I went back on Tumblr in the summer of 2022, I met myself again. I created a new account, the screen refreshed, and it felt like coming home as a new(er) self that no one recognized. The blogs I used to follow have been long-forgotten, yet I reblog images from deactivated accounts I never came across before. One day, I hope I can bring myself to walk into my parent’s house as a newer self that they won’t recognize. Will they still reach out to embrace my cyborg body, pulsing with plastic and chemicals? Every time I inject the testosterone into my muscle I can hear the sand trickling through the hourglass. There’s only so long before they begin to notice. Unless parents are never able to see their children as more than a ghost of who they could have been? In my adolescent bedroom, I confront those memories and possibilities. The screen makes it easier to see. I look back at images of myself growing sideways, feeling like someone— something else — is encoded in the memory of who I once was.

IV. Backward Birth


The sand in the hourglass keeps trickling. Whether it's falling or flowing upwards is a matter of perspective, sometimes. Being queer and mentally ill means getting used to the idea that progress isn’t linear. As Kathryn Bond Stockton reminds us in The Queer Child: Or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century, heteronormative society pushes the idea that the normal straight individual pursues a direct trajectory of growth that moves from milestone to milestone. “But for those who [related to aspects of the gay child and its ghostliness growing up,] a telling kind of ghostliness hung about their growth. This is something that childhood studies and queer theory have yet to discuss: what I call the gay child’s ‘backward birth,’ which has piercingly postmortem features.” (18) Stockton points out that queer subjects do not experience the same kind of normative growth trajectory from child to adult. Additionally, Stockton posits that the child is always already queer. I propose that the queer adolescent internet has experienced this “backward birth” too. When does the internet become queered? Is it always already queer?

As I explore how the internet facilitates queer adolescence in the context of Tumblr, I borrow the term hauntology coined by Derrida in Specters of Marx. But more so, I am influenced by how Mark Fisher extends this terminology to analyze the digital world. Fisher dives into the history of the music genre of Hauntology, identifying a confrontation between twenty-first-century culture and an inability to envision the future. Fisher elaborates that, “Haunting, then, can be construed as a failed mourning. It is about refusing to give up the ghost or – and this can sometimes amount to the same thing – the refusal of the ghost to give up on us. The spectre will not allow us to settle into/for the mediocre satisfactions one can glean in a world governed by capitalist realism.”(19) Fisher theorized that under capitalist realism, society is unable to imagine a future outside the bounds of what already exists. Instead, we are led to believe that there is no true alternative to the present we have, even if it does not meet our needs. Within this internet culture of hauntology, Tumblr is no exception. When I like Tiktoks and textposts that romanticize Tumblr’s legacy throughout the years and reflect on its turnover in userbase, I fail to mourn what I have lost. We refuse to give up on the ghost of Tumblr and it refuses to give up on us. It pushes us to break past the boundaries of internet commercialism to demand the digital revolution we deserve.

My chemical transition is a second puberty that likewise disrupts a linear growth trajectory. I have tried to think of it as a delayed coming of age, but that’s not quite it. There’s humor in growing a penis that will never quite approximate a cisgender phallic ideal. I thankfully no longer have to deal with pre-menstrual depressive cycles, but my pubescent acne has returned. If I ever go off testosterone, there’s a chance that my periods will come back. What is coming of age for the queer perma-adolescent? Was I genetically predestined to resonate with all these diagnostic labels before any of the trauma occurred? Was transitioning an inevitability since I was born?

V. Ghosts on the Horizon


In Cruising Utopia, José Esteban Muñoz speaks to a queer potentiality on the horizon that drives us towards a different kind of reality, a different here and now. Muñoz introduces that “we may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.”(21) By positioning queerness as being on the horizon, Muñoz posits that we never fully reach queerness. Instead, by nature of being non-normative, queerness constantly pushes us to critique present conditions and look for different possibilities embedded in ideas and art we are already familiar with. On Tumblr, Mark Aguhar exemplified this way of moving through time and space with her online presence @calloutqueen. Although I did not recall coming across her blog as a teenager, I find that its archive really captures a sort of queer Tumblr sensibility. Reflecting on her art, Roy Perez observes that, “Rather than a quest for authenticity and final actualization, social identity the way Aguhar practiced it (including racial, sexual, and gender identification) can be viewed as a space within which we work. Identity does not walk into a room fully made, but takes shape in the refraction and refashioning of social relations as they shoot through bodies in space.”(22) The way of understanding identity and body that Aguhar encapsulates resonates with this idea of queerness always being on the horizon. We never actualize. We never fully become. Instead, we are bodies moving through space, becoming and unbecoming.


[Content warning: Discussion of Suicide.]

I glitch in and out of hospitals, from therapist to therapist, on and off my meds. How do I move beyond a flattened romanticization of radical negativity? I have wanted to die for as long as I can remember. Part of why my life is such a mess is likely because I never imagined myself growing this old. It didn’t seem worthwhile to prepare for it or picture what I wanted my life to look like in a world so full of injustice. Despite the obvious downsides, this lack of ability to envision a concrete future has made it easier for me to become, unbecome, and embrace new modes of being. Not wanting to live has forced me to confront the reasons why: What about this world is so unacceptable to me? Thinking about how much my friends would miss me if I were gone doesn’t help me stay alive when I know so many of them don’t find life worth living either. Being unable to ignore that I want to die makes me wonder if I have the agency to transform the world into one I want to live in. But some would say that’s just my inflated ego, impulsivity, and unstable sense of self. BPD gives you a reduced life expectancy of 20 years, although multiple therapists have said they’re not sure if I fit the full diagnostic criteria (is my bipolar disorder concurrent or a misdiagnosis?). Add that on top of being trans and all the other comorbid mental health conditions I have: The math has never looked very good for me.


I wrote this a few years ago, weeks before the first time I was hospitalized for “behavioral health” reasons. I was kind of naive back then, but I’m thankfully even more idealistic now:

I feel guilty because I have been decaying. As if when you met me you thought I exuded some sort of brilliance and shine but the cold has made my skin crack and peel away to reveal that I am rotting inside. Every year I sink into winter’s grasp and hold out a hope that always feels so futile at the time, that when spring comes the person I “was” will return. But the sky will only grow grayer and darker. I will only get worse before the springtime comes.

What is springtime?

You felt so old and tired at twelve. You wouldn’t believe how young nineteen feels, with so much more left to learn. Nineteen feels like the ugliness of spring. Nineteen feels like a sea of pollen in the air, my classmates’ red noses, the tears they blamed on allergies. Nineteen feels like eczema and itchiness. But it’s spring. While you can’t shake off the fissures that winter has carved into your skin, there is the promise of something else to come.

The hand up your skirt becomes something you want again. Things happen in spring, a lot of things that you will forget for a while. A warm day in February is spring. Spring is half the year. Spring is always. In the spring of nineteen, I hope you may find what you lost again. Find what you could never lose.

Yet every spring treads too close to the heat of summer and then winter comes again. And I’m trying to figure out if I spend more time decaying or regenerating. What’s the cost-benefit analysis of getting better only to get worse again? Maybe this year I’ll stay rotten so I don’t have to go through the loss of forgetting who I am again.


As Muñoz theorizes, suicide can be seen as an ultimate rejection. Or an ultimate failure to fulfill potential. It’s like being fed up with waiting, fed up with trying to get better, trying to feel okay. Over time, my suicidality has come to feel like an old friend. It accompanies me as I grow older than I ever imagined, and fail and “succeed” in ways I never expected. However, Munoz also cautions that “...queerness and that particular mode of loss known as suicide seem linked. And to write or conjecture about suicide as a queer act, a performance of radical negativity, utopian in its negation of death as ultimate uncontrollable finitude, and not think about what it symbolizes for a larger collectivity would be remiss.”(23) As I grapple with the legacy of Aguahr and Fisher’s suicides, I wonder how I can queer our understandings of mental illness.(24) While I know firsthand the power of medication and therapy, talking through our experiences with my friends reminds me that it’s crucial to critically interrogate what being sane and well-adjusted means in a world like this. Rather than dismissing our psychological responses as abnormal and without just cause, I think we can only do ourselves justice if we also carefully think through the structural causes of suicide.

VI. At night I come alive. Please don't forget me in the morning.


“And as always, innocent like roller coasters

Fatality is like ghosts in snow

And you have no idea what you're up against

Because I've seen what they look like

Becoming perfect as if they were sterling silver chainsaws

Going cascading”

-My Chemical Romance, “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”(26)

Let me leave you with this: I think I am ready to be misunderstood.

What does it even mean to have a disordered personality anyway? Borderline personality disorder does not have any approved medications. Perhaps it’s less so genetic or neurological than a trauma response. The only standard psychiatric approach is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, one of the few therapy modes created by someone living with the symptoms themselves. I didn’t understand DBT for the longest time: a lot of the skills just didn’t work that well for me and it’s a pain to incorporate them into my daily life. Ultimately though, I think the way DBT works as a valuable tool for people dealing with similar things to me is less so in a literal sense and more so in a conceptual way: The only thing that really gets me out of the paranoid spiraling and debilitating suicidality is understanding that many things can be true at once and that none of what’s before us is definitively set in stone.

Despite its role in helping me meet the diagnostic criteria, I refuse to believe my unstable sense of self necessarily dooms me. Although some in the psychiatric field repeat history and misconstrue gender nonconformity in BPD patients as an inability to form a stable identity, I think the link between transness and BPD is perhaps partially due to the way living with both is about embracing multiplicity, agency, and believing in alternatives. More than anything else, queerness, anticapitalism, and liberation get me through the knowledge that extreme mood swings, dissociation, impulsive episodes, and general instability characterize my life. As many contributors in mad studies have suggested, it makes sense to be sad and crazy in a world that so drastically turns a blind eye to mass death.(27) I want that constant specter of death to keep me going. I want to resist the idea that any dream can ever truly die.


While exploring recent online discussions of hauntology, I noticed a pandemic-era optimism and a development of anti-hauntology in response to Fisher’s writing from the decade prior. In the online journal Blue Labyrinth, Matt Bluemink echoes Fisher’s original analysis of contemporary music and points towards artists such as Arca and SOPHIE as radical departures from hauntology.(28) The beginning of the pandemic was like a glitch in the machine. It seemed like, for a second, that we could imagine a future outside the bounds of capitalist realism.(29) We hoped that by building upon the histories of past epidemiology, we could push past the structures of capitalism to better serve our needs. The anti-hauntology Bluemink writes about is not the reverse of hauntology’s operation, but rather a propulsion from our failed mourning to act on our refusal to settle. As the pandemic rages on, it is unfortunately clear that capitalism keeps trying to stop us from picturing an actual life. Yet the ghost of what the future could have been haunts us and reminds us that we cannot settle for this.


It feels so wrong to work on a senior project when the tuition I spend on my degree funds more and more deaths every day. It also feels so wrong not to, when others no longer have the option at all. Perhaps queerness is dreaming and failing and dreaming. And failure can be more than enlightenment and suffering. Suffering doesn’t happen for just reasons. It’s just pain that doesn’t make you any better or worse of a person, pain that no one deserves. Trauma did not and will not make me stronger or smarter. Being sick in the head doesn’t make me who I am, yet it does determine how I understand the world. In a system that so vehemently devalues life, let us honor the dreams of every life that has ever lived; the futures that could have been must keep haunting the alive. They can still become. Always on the horizon.

Free Palestine. Land Back. Liberation is near.


So sing to me from the afterlife.

Purgatory is the spring of nineteen.

Ambiguity is my heaven on Earth.

I was once a rotting gxrl

who loved miserably,

but I try not to speak your name anymore.