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.”
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