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Online is a safe-haven when coming out as LGBTQA+


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As the online world becomes an increasingly integral part of our lives, the concept of “coming out” for those along the LGBTQA+ spectrum has gained a new facet.

Being yourself online and informing those with whom we only have online relationships, has become equally important to real life relationships. Yet its potential for anonymity and lack of immediacy means it has a very different and interesting dynamic.

I asked people from multiple websites and identities to talk about their experiences. Almost unanimously the responses highlighted coming out online as the first step, even if it’s in the simplest of ways. Just recently YouTube creator Dodie Clark (Doddleoddle), when asked in a video how to come out, encouraged her viewers to do so in the comments, just as a starting point to get used to saying it to the outside world.

Adzie, who identifies as queer, explained that “to successfully come out online made it easier to come out in real life. I knew if anything bad happened in real life after I came out, I could always resort to the support network I had online.”

I found this in my own experience as well, as I spent up to a year talking to people online on a website which has now sadly shut down, QueerAttitude, before saying anything in real life. It gave me time to privately and freely accustom myself to the idea and terms used.

For many, the anonymity is integral to this ease online, with Ollie, a trans-boy, even feeling that he “could kid myself into thinking that no one I knew [in real life] would see.”

This comfort in coming out online also stems from the level of acceptance, which is arguably much higher than in real life. Tumblr is particularly well known for its large and diverse LGBTQA+ community, to the point where if someone is heterosexual, heteromantic, and cisgendered, they are considered unusual. Again unanimously, the responses I had were in praise of Tumblr and how it had been a very important step.

One lesbian, who spoke to me anonymously, explained that whilst her relationships and community in the real world were not particularly supportive or sometimes critical, “when I got Tumblr and I saw how so many people were LGBT in the community, I felt so safe there.” There is a notably casual attitude to LGBTQA+, as she reported that “I mentioned being interested in girls in passing at first, and nobody picked me up on it or really said anything about it […] I eventually posted things about my sexuality and outright told everyone that I was a lesbian, […] there wasn't much of a kerfuffle.”

One anonymous bi-romantic asexual said that the response had been nothing more than being “warmly welcomed with puns.”

Whatever the reason, websites like Tumblr have become a hub of LGBTQA+ discourse and knowledge. As I found myself years ago with QueerAttitude, Adzie noted that with “access to information about sexualities outside of heterosexuality [meant that] I was able to come out as pansexual/panromantic to myself first.”

Collette, who identifies as non-binary and queer, noted that the level of acceptance is because “within my online social groups, people are more educated on LGBT+ terms.”

This is particularly important for alternative gender identities, as “the broader recognition of NB identity through the internet and other media means that options for 'other', or even 'prefer not to say', genders are becoming more and more common online, such as in questionnaires, forms, social media sites like Facebook etc. Other websites don't ask for a gender at all, like Tumblr and Twitter.”

However, Collette did note that the heavy LGBTQA+ discourse causes some anxiety – “what if people think I'm making terms up, or that I'm not 'trans enough?” There is still some ignorance within the LGBTQA+ community, and with the heavy focus on it on Tumblr, this can lead to some feeling they are not “enough” of a sexuality or gender identity. I have seen some sexualities being denied as not gay enough, for example heteromantic asexual or bisexual. But these are fairly rare and are normally reprimanded, and Collette did say they’d “never had a bad experience coming out online.”

More commonly, people find that this fluidity of their online presence complimented the fluidity of sexuality and gender. Colette said their level of comfort online is largely due to the fact they “can discuss [their identity], be unsure of it, change it, hide it.” Changeability online is often considered much freer than in real life, which is likely to involve frequent, pressured and serious discussions with friends and family.

Many people told me that the labels they use online are not the labels their friends and family know them as, even if they are aware that the person isn’t straight/cisgendered. Another non-binary anon told me that “coming out online is great for someone like me, who needs time to prepare and the option to undo it”, and that “writing gave me a lot more time to think about my words and no one could interrupt me.”

That is not to say that the interaction between online and the real world isn’t often a turning point in coming out. The first time I came out was via a Facebook post, though I quickly regretted this as it meant I didn’t know who knew, meaning I couldn’t truly relax about being myself.

Ollie had a much more positive experience, as he “came out online and irl at the same time via Instagram post” and found that “Instagram people who have never even spoken to me at school told me how proud of me they were in the comments.”

There seems to be a particular relevance of online for those who fall into the non-binary gender spectrum. Many people report that they are out in real life in terms of sexuality, but not gender. Though society has come a long way, this is undoubtedly because gender is still not quite as widely understood as sexuality.

One person, who was happy to be named in this article when talking about sexuality, but notably not for gender, explained that “only a few of my friends know that I am genderqueer, but I wouldn’t have had the confidence to tell them (and what name I prefer to be called by), if it wasn’t for coming out online first.”

Once again, the internet was a fountain of specialised knowledge, with their self-doubts that they weren’t “‘trans’ enough or more specifically ‘non-binary’ enough” dispelled by “finding people who felt similarly online.” Internet trends such as the gender tag are noted as a casual yet important step for “describing my feelings about my body and the way people see me” by another non-binary anon.

The only place online that is rather disappointing in terms of its progressive attitudes is for YouTube creators. Adzie explained that “coming out on YouTube allowed me to connect better with my audience [and] also allowed me to talk about things I hadn’t before with anyone else”, but many feel that too much importance is placed on making a video about it.

I made a coming out video on my channel, but very reluctantly. I only did it because I knew I’d be mentioning it in passing in future videos, and I didn’t want people speculating or even arguing about it like I’d seen in the comment sections of other YouTubers’ channels.

In Connie’s (Noodlerella) video titled ‘My Sexuality (a NOT Coming Out video)’, she explains that “we seem to be stuck on this strange place on YouTube, where you are straight, until you make a coming out video. It doesn’t matter how much you openly talk about things you do with girls or boys or whatever online, you are straight until you make a coming out video.”

She goes on to say that “this comes from a particular conditioning which makes us very obsessed with finite categories to slot people into. Which is a shame because I consider YouTube such a progressive space.”

The reason for this being such a particular problem to YouTube is difficult to ascertain. I have two theories; one may be that the video format's similarity to real world conversations means that people expect, like they would in real life, a clarification or serious, sit-down conversation.

My second theory is that it may be a vicious circle where the tradition of creators making coming out videos means viewers expect them, so creators feel pressured to make them, and so on.

Despite disparities between websites, it is still clear that online is an open and international safe-haven for LGBTQA+ communities like we’ve never seen before. The internet is arguably the best thing to have ever happened for the overall well-being of the LGBTQA+ community in terms of education and support.

Over and over people told me that in real life they are “so far in the closet I'd be in Narnia”, that “simple interactions become terrifying and stressful and uncomfortable”, and that “I have received, and still do receive, a lot of negativity IRL.” By comparison, everyone exalted the virtues of the online world, because “online I can actually be myself.”

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