Embracing my identity through 2014 Tumblr music

A student describes how she found belonging after discovering a community on Tumblr.


I’ve always struggled with feeling like I belong somewhere. 

After 13 years of Catholic school as a gay person, it seemed inevitable to have a crippling lack of self-confidence. I was being told every day that I’ll go to hell for my sexuality, but I’ll also go to hell if I try to be someone I’m not because God’s creations are made perfect. 

No matter how hard I tried to fit in, there was always this invisible barrier between me and everyone else. None of them had any deep-rooted self-hatred affecting every aspect of their life and painted over all their relationships. I was jealous of how much everyone seemed to love themselves and I resented how other people didn’t have the dark shadow of insecurity that was following me everywhere. 

As a result of that loneliness, I isolated myself, spending a lot of my middle school years with my headphones plugged in, listening to music, at any given chance.

I grew up during the rise of social media and at age 11, I started using Instagram. The platform didn’t feature people that I resonated with like other queer people. 

Additionally, the TV shows I watched, like Hannah Montana or iCarly, weren’t relatable and left me without a space to truly find comfort with myself. Music artists like One Direction or Justin Bieber didn’t pique my interest as I didn’t want a bunch of guys singing about how wonderful I was. 

Eventually, I found a place where I could connect more with my authentic self: Tumblr, a site where blogs showcased content about any interest imaginable. Communities for any niche could be found with a search bar and a few simple clicks. 

I joined the social media site at the peak of the ‘2014 Tumblr’ era, characterized by a grunge aesthetic, flower crowns and a romanticization of depression, addiction and eating disorders, which, for impressionable minds like myself, wasn’t good. 

However, I saw a lot of things on the site that helped me become more comfortable with being different. 

Tumblr had a variety of communities where I was able to find new artists, like Marina and the Diamonds, Halsey and Lorde, who would finally show me music I could relate to.

These three artists showed me a new side of music. Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart represented the unhealthy lengths girls would go to for perfection, Halsey’s Badlands was a metaphor for her struggles with bipolar disorder and Lorde romanticized her small town in songs that captured the emotions of outgrowing your home and needing more.  

These were things that I could finally relate to.

I knew all the words to The Neighborhood’s Sweater Weather, a bisexual anthem on Tumblr, and religiously watched Hayley Kiyoko’s Girls Like Girls music video, which focused on a women-loving women relationship. I cried a hundred times over to Troye Sivan’s Heaven’s lyrics: 

“Without losing a piece of me, how do I get to Heaven? Without changing a part of me, how do I get to Heaven?” 

Thirteen years of religious trauma and internalized homophobia were combined in that song. I’d been trying so long to convince myself my sexuality was a phase and who I was wouldn’t stick around. If I just prayed hard enough, God would make me better. 

I took a creative writing class during my senior year of high school. I happened to be in class on my 18th birthday when I officially became an adult. I didn’t realize how upset I was about becoming an adult until forty minutes into the school day. Our creative writing prompt was to write a short story about a specific song and explain why and how it connected. 

I picked the song “Ribs” by Lorde, which I’d been listening to since I was 13 years old. The song talks about the fears of leaving behind youth, getting older and the responsibilities that come with age. The one lyric that I connected with comes right before the bridge of the song. 

“And I’ve never felt more alone, it feels so scary getting old.” 

In that line, Lorde managed to describe how I felt about turning 18. After spending 13 years in school, I’d managed to collect enough genuine friends to count on four fingers. 

I wondered if I did everything — the choices I’d made, the people I’d met and the college I’d picked — right up until that point or if I was still the odd one out after all this time and never would fit in anywhere. Then I cried in front of my entire study hall. Thanks, Lorde! 

I’m doing much better now — if I could tell my younger self anything, I would say, “Hold on a little longer, you’ll be doing great in just a couple of years”.

My path wasn’t paved in gold, but I wouldn’t change my experience if it would change where I am now.

I recently saw Lorde in concert last year when she came to the Met. When she sang Ribs, I sang it a little bit louder for my seven-year-old, 13-year-old and 18-year-old self. I’d proven to myself that I wasn’t different or weird. I’d finally felt like I was in the right place in life, and after turning 19, I decided I was excited for what life would hold as I got older.

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