Petition for people on the internet to stop referring to themselves as trash.

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Commentator: Maggie Stiefvater
Date(s): April 17, 2015
Medium: online
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In an untitled post - referred to here by its first line, "Petition for people on the internet to stop referring to themselves as trash." - pro author Maggie Stiefvater discussed fans' increasingly common usage of the term trash to refer to themselves and their interests.

A response in a reblog of Stiefvater's original post was quoted in Lilian Min's 2016 article The strange story of how internet superfans reclaimed the insult 'trash'.

Original Post

Petition for people on the internet to stop referring to themselves as trash.

Love what you love while acknowledging its problems, or don’t love it. “Trash” is neither an excuse for a lack of critical thinking nor is it an empowering way to enjoy something flawed. “Trash” is a rubble-strewn road and all along it, I see problematic houses being built, thinly justified houses that are more subtly problematic than anything about the trash-road.

Example: I listen to Brokencyde, even though the lyrics to 110% of their songs make kittens wearily drink bleach. I’m willing to accept that I like their sound while accepting that I find the lyrics disgusting; when I become a one-person band, Maggiecyde, I will endeavor not to write lyrics like that myself. It do not call myself Brokencyde trash. I call myself a person enjoying imperfect media in an imperfect world (spoiler: there is no perfect media, although some of it is a little less imperfect than the kitten-bleach music).

Love yourself, world.




In reblogs of Stiefvater's post, fans discussed the evolution of the term and its potentially problematic or fraught connotations. Stiefvater also responded to several of these reblogs.

Most of the commentary on the original post echoed its sentiment, or added other criticisms of the term "trash."

This. I heard the term “shipper trash” for the first time at 221B Con and while I won’t ever tell people what they can and can’t call themselves, I have…issues with the term “trash” as applied to people, even in self-mocking jest. The word has a lot of social, economical, and cultural baggage attached to it that can be hurtful to people who grew up in less-privileged environments. It’s an ugly word, and I’m uncomfortable with people using it so lightly, with or without consideration to the people who suffer being called it in daily life.[2]

I’ll preface this by saying I haven’t done a lot of thinking about the racist/classist implications of calling oneself trash, as clevermanka pointed out, which is important to consider and I’ll need to give more thought.

Putting that aside, only because I can’t speak to it, I think there’s a disconnect between linguistic subgroups here. There are really interesting patterns of speaking that develop in online communities, which I mostly only noticed when I began to apply them to my outside life. We have very specific ways of speaking that people who aren’t part of these larger communities don’t understand. For example - to pick something that relates to both of us - if I am in a space with another human being and I suddenly leave off reading to put my hands over my face and drag them dramatically downward, that other human might ask what was wrong with me. If I tell them I’m mad, a concerned human would ask why, to which I would respond with some gibberish about Gansey’s stupid face and stupid mint and how much I hate him and Blue and cars and not kissing, you get the picture.

What I’ve said is: I’m mad. What I mean is: FEELINGS. I have never been able to find an accurate translation for these online colloquialisms, which is something I find interesting. I know what it means, and other people who see these expressions used regularly know what they mean, but I can’t define them as one thing or another. I can’t tell you what it means when people call themselves trash. I just know that it doesn’t mean literal garbage. Trash is more an expression of intensity, as best I can explain it? But at the same time it can refer to behaving in a way that is outside the social norm, often that is in some way transgressive.

EDIT: it can also be a coping strategy for lessening discomfort. After posting this, my anxiety about how certain people would perceive me spiked, which made it tempting to post something like “/writes a garbage meta before breakfast” to demonstrate self awareness i.e. if I judge myself first, no one else can judge me. A healthy coping strategy? Probably not, but sometimes it’s the only thing people have.

I’ve noticed a pattern that springs up in the internet subcultures I’ve been part of, where people refer to positive things by negative words. If I am particularly overwhelmed with love for a certain character, e.g. Ronan Lynch, I might say that I hate him. Except I do not hate him. I do not want to smash his face into a pole. I do not think he’s stupid. So why do I say things like that?

My theory is that these modes of expression arose out of a cultural fear of sincerity. People in fandoms often already like something “too much.” Why would you make art about a book you read isn’t that taking it a little over the top, etc, etc, etc. To lessen the discomfort of occupying socially unacceptable spaces, we developed a subculture around expressing positivity and emotion via negativity.

(Sidebar: I was raised in a situation that taught me, through no malicious intention, that genuine displays of emotion are uncomfortable and to be feared. I recently watched the finale of a TV show in which the main characters got married, and while I thought it was adorable and was very happy, I was also painfully uncomfortable and found it hard to watch. I suspect this may be true of people more than just me.)

I’m not necessarily arguing in favour of trash - personally I hate when my best friend refers to herself as trash - but I am arguing that it’s a more complex issue than you’re making it out to be, possibly because you’re an outsider looking in. To you, trash is an explicit expression of negativity and possibly even violence. To people who use it, it’s a much softer term, and may even be an expression of affection. I’m much more comfortable as an individual using trash to affectionately refer to characters than I am people referring to themselves as such, but when people do, I suspect what they’re expressing differs from what you’re hearing.

Since I accidentally wrote an essay about this, I wanna come back to what clevermanka said, because I hadn’t considered that before, and I think it is important for people to consider the overarching cultural framework around their narratives. Based on the racist and classist connotations of the word trash as applied to people, we should probably stop doing it. I am not the internet. I can’t make that happen. I can personally work on eliminating it from my vocabulary, but that’s an individual choice around which I haven’t seen any dialogue up until now.

Anyway. TL;DR internet linguistics is a fascinating thing.[3]

Stiefvater reblogged these two additions to her original post, responding:

Reblogging, even though it’s getting long, because I do think this is a really nice analysis of how “trash” came to have its current currency on the Internet, and I agree that’s the cause.

I still don’t think it’s productive, though. For starters, the world will never reclaim the word “trash,” so it’s not as if eventually calling yourself trash will universally mean that you’re just a grand fan of something. It’s always going to look like you’re putting down your choices.

Also, I have separate thoughts on the use of HATE as LOVE, but that is probably because this past month a blog kept coming across my dash that said I HATE MAGGIE STIEFVATER I WANT TO KILL EVERYONE WHO LOVES HER BOOKS I WANT TO CUT OFF THEIR ARMS AND THROW THEM IN DITCHES I HATE HER DESTROY EVERYTHING and I genuinely could not tell if this person really hated me, because that exists, or if she was overcome with love, in which case, do I still have to cut off my arms and throw them anywhere because I hope not?

Linguistics is a fascinating topic and I love it on and offline. But any writer out there is going to tell you that words are power, and words make reality. A whole generation of passionate young people calling themselves trash seems counterproductive.[4]

Fan commentary continued:

partly what’s going on is that people with class privilege can easily and comfortably refer to themselves as “trash” for psychological reasons in a way that people with less class privilege cannot. and fandom is a space in many ways orientated around a discourse produced by people with class privilege, so the forms of expression reflect that

it’s not noticed or important that is likely to make people who’ve actually been called “trash” as a classist slur uncomfortable

because of that experience of “never having [even] considered that”

personally i find it gross to see the word thrown around everywhere by people who’ve likely never been dehumanized by it

i’ve thought about this a lot, as someone from a background where my family/people in my community are called “trash”

considering the long, entrenched nature of classism i’m not entirely persuaded that any psychological motivations, no matter how sympathetic, really make it okay

i’m becoming more /shrug/ whatever about minor stuff in my old age, so it’s not like i’m going to unfollow someone for using it or something

but I think it is one of the many ways people in fandom define it as a space of class privilege without even thinking about it[5]

Stiefvater reblogged mswyrr's addition:

Yet more commentary worth mulling over. My home state still clings to “white trash” as a slur. It only takes about four seconds of thought to understand exactly how many different prejudices are required to keep such a phrase in use.[6]

And fan commentary continued again:

can I jump in on this just to say that, apart from the structural issues with the term going on as discussed already, I think there’s also something to be said for mental health? If you’re already in a bad headspace for whatever reason, constantly framing or seeing yourself, your friends, and your mutual interests/passions framed in such a negative way has the potential to be incredibly damaging, especially because the general atmosphere on tumblr can at times be somewhat negative regardless of specific language used. (otoh, in terms of specifically my online experiences–which may very well be the exception!–the people I most see tossing around the term don’t really fit neatly into the class paradigm you’ve set up? And I think it’s a little different when someone who *would* be pejoratively referred to as “trash” in the classist/racist sense discussed above sets out to reclaim the word or even just appropriates it for self-application outside of that context (which to me implies a less deliberate/explicitly political action than that of actively reclaiming, but like, also it’s almost 1am and I have no idea if I’m making my points understandably at all).)[7]

I’ve been just squirmy and disturbed ever since I starting seeing people refer to them as such and it’s gotten me profoundly paranoid over my OWN shipping to a degree I haven’t for a decade. I’m glad someone on my dash dissected why.[8]

I never thought I’d be blacklisting the word ‘trash’, but god, I had to (and had to unfollow people who referred to themselves as ‘trash’) because of all the negative feelings the word evokes in me.[9]

Great commentary, and I agree. I dislike the term very much for all of these reasons. I think the class and race discussions are entirely valid, but the aspects I’ve noticed most in the past are the sexism and homophobia. It’s nearly always young women using it to label themselves and their interests, especially slash shipping.

I even get why. With the mainstreaming of fandom, external commentators are really interested in letting us know we’re Wrong for being female and daring to like things outside of the white male box of Approved Art and Culture, and especially bringing the gay to their Oh So Straight texts.

It’s almost overwhelming at times, this need as a fan to say, “Oh, I understand it’s just my silly slash goggles and they aren’t *really* gay.”

Honestly, it’s exhausting. Why do all these people even fucking care if the characters are seen as gay or not? There’s only one reason they care, and that’s because they think it’s wrong to be gay.

I’m sick of it. Fuck them, and fuck the idea of fandom interests being trash. It makes me so sad to see women who feel they must trivialise their interests to try and escape mockery, often without any seeming awareness that that is part of what they are doing when they use this language.

(It makes me want to squish them all in a giant hug, and snarl at the whole world on their behalf, but I’m also aware these women are capable of dealing with it on their own in most cases, once they have the tools.)[10][11]

I also blacklist “trash” for all of the reasons cited above. Its fandom usage is as bizarre and uncomfortable to me as when straight boys in my high school used “gay” to mean “pointless and unenjoyable” (cf: “This class is so gay”).[12]

I am also not a fan of ‘trash’ because I feel like its function for many people, mainly girls and women, is to preemptively apologise for their investment in or fannishness of texts. I can’t help but read it as 'I’m sorry, I know it’s bad to have this many fannish feelings, but I’m just such trash.’ and, no. it’s not bad to have feelings. have all the feelings. love everything you want to love big and loud and hard and be proud of it and find other people who are proud of it and be friends and celebrate the things you love and how hard you love them. and never, ever apologise.[13]


  1. ^ Tumblr post by Maggie Stiefvater. Posted on April 17, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  2. ^ Tumblr post by clevermanka. Posted on April 17, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  3. ^ Tumblr post by silverbelled. Now offline. Accessed via a reblog on September 29, 2018.
  4. ^ Tumblr post by Maggie Stiefvater. Posted on April 17, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  5. ^ Tumblr post by mswyrr. Posted on April 17, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  6. ^ Tumblr post by Maggie Stiefvater. Now offline. Accessed via a reblog on September 29, 2018.
  7. ^ Tumblr post by missionlameturtle. Posted on April 27, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  8. ^ Tumblr post by bonehandledknife. Posted on May 29, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  9. ^ Tumblr post by ionaonie. Posted on May 29, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  10. ^ Tumblr post by cupidsbower. Posted on May 29, 2015. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  11. ^ Another branching reblog of the post deviated here, with ladyherenya's comments: "Oh, this is fascinating - because I’ve been thinking about my discomfort with people referring to themselves “trash” and this offers a lot of points I wasn’t aware of and/or hadn’t considered. (I’d concluded that it was possibly a me-thing, a result of “trash” not being part of my everyday vocabulary. In my part of the world, the term is rubbish, or sometimes garbage, and items being disposed of are chucked in the (rubbish/garbage) bin. I don’t think I came across the word trash until I was eight or nine… and perhaps because it was a word I learnt learnt in the playground, it felt like it was a bit crass. Not a swear word, but slang that was definitely less polite than rubbish. I had a similar feeling about another Americanism, “butt”. I know now that butt is as acceptable as bum, but it nevertheless still holds connotations of being crass/rude/inappropriate and I wince mentally when hear it. The same is true, if to a lesser extent, for trash. I doubt I’d feel quite so uncomfortable if people were simply referring to themselves as “rubbish”.)"
  12. ^ Tumblr post by havingbeenbreathedout. Posted on May 22, 2016. Accessed on September 29, 2018.
  13. ^ Tumblr post by sapphoshands. Posted on May 23, 2016. Accessed on September 29, 2018.