In honor of the glorious month of JUNE being our nation’s LGTBQ+ PRIDE month, I’ve decided to ring in this fabulous upcoming stretch of 30 days by celebrating all the ways the advent of social media has shifted and affected the process of “coming out.”
I will start with my own personal experience: I wasn’t exactly the girl everyone had long suspected to be gay.
As a long-haired, fashion-obsessed girly-girl, I didn’t exactly look the “part,” so to speak (what the part is “supposed” to look like, I haven’t a clue. My lesbian style guide seems to be perpetually lost in the mail).
I had a string of girl crushes and short-lived Sapphic flings as a teenager, but nothing materialized into much of anything, until the epic moment at 22 when I face-planted into the arms of love.
Like any Millennial girl sifting her way through the great expanse of Generation-Y -- it quickly became impossible to keep my newfound relationship off good ol’ Facebook.
After all, I am a shameless social media whore by nature.
I have been dutifully chronicling both the victories and pitfalls of my life on the Internet since the 2001 rise of LiveJournal.
I don’t believe anything actually happens or is real unless it’s been documented on the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (if you don’t know I’m being facetious -- I’m worried for you).
That being said, it wasn’t long before the following information spread like wildfire across the news feeds of my 2,000+ Facebook “friends:” Zara Barrie is in a relationship with [insert girl name here].
And BAM -- ever so suddenly, every relative, high school nemesis, ex-boyfriend, teacher, parents’ friend, friends’ parent and coworker from my past and present became aware I was HERE, and girl, I was QUEER.
Within minutes, my mother received a plethora of inquisitive phone calls (“So…I see Zara’s in a uh, new, a relationship…”).
In the heat of the moment, I didn’t realize with the simple click of a button I was outing myself to the world at large.
I hadn't grasped that in the social media world, word travels faster than the sweet speed of sound.
I was instagay.
This is a case when the rapid-fire effect of social media worked largely to my advantage. I’m grateful to have gotten the brunt of coming out over and done with in one giant POP.
Practically overnight, my boss finally stopped trying to set me up with her nice Jewish son because she knew I had a nice Jewish girlfriend.
Relatives no longer bombarded me with questions about when I was going to find a husband and, instead, harassed me about when I was going to marry my girlfriend (still annoying but a far better alternative).
The best part was the people in my life became acutely aware of their homophobic remarks and began to educate themselves.
I watched friends, teachers and coworkers become passionate allies of the community, as the fight for equality became far more personal to them after having the ability to attach a face and image to LGBTQ+ love.
While it absolutely can be overwhelming and intense to be out to the big bad world in an Instagram instant, it's also rather beautiful.
Social media platforms have given a whole new visibility and empowerment to the sorely underrepresented LGBTQ+ community.
So, how exactly did Facebook change the face of coming out?
We can take ownership of our sexuality.
I think one of the cruelest things a person can do is “out” a member of the community who isn’t quite ready.
While I feel the intense weight of social responsibility to be out and proud, I don’t bestow that pressure on to anyone else.
I am aware I live a vastly privileged LGTBQ+ lifestyle. I have the luxury of living in the notoriously forward-thinking island of Manhattan and work in a creative field with like-minded peers.
I don’t know where you come from, what your story is or what you’re up against -- all I’m certain about is this: Coming out is an intensely personal journey unique to the individual.
This is why making the choice to come out via social media is so empowering. Social Media sites give us ownership over our sexuality.
When we decide we are ready to tell the world whom we love, we can do it on our own terms.
We can curate pictures of what our definition of love looks like, and we can write about sexual identity using our own language.
We are no longer at the hands of the toxic rumor mill -- our sexuality doesn’t have to be reduced to neighborhood gossip or described in the words of others.
We no longer have to incessantly “come out” to everyone.
If breaking up is hard to do, coming out is really hard to do, regardless of how open-minded your family and friends are.
Before social media, LGBTQ+ identified people had to constantly come out to every person they met, in every new job they started, all the time, every single day.
After surviving the trauma of coming out to your close comrades and immediate family, one would have to deal with coming out to every old friend he or she ran into on the street corner whilst picking up a morning coffee.
That moment of:
“So do you have a boyfriend?” -- “Um no, I have a girlfriend,” is awkward for even the most confident, self-assured entity in the LGBTQ+ universe.
While this is still a conversation we’re still occasionally faced with, it’s a hell of a lot less often when you’re out on social media.
We are creating visibility .
I started to find myself consciously attracted to women around the tender age of 12. Puberty is the time when we want nothing more than to blend in -- and I was amidst the tragic realization that my “friend crushes” were indeed “crush, crushes.”
I was bathing in a tub of shame and humiliation. I prayed to the higher power up above that I would grow out of my gayness as quickly as I grew out of my training bra.
I felt like a lesbian freak, and the only information readily available through the media about gay culture was the epidemic of AIDS (which I was sure I had -- but that's another story).
If only the likes of Facebook and Instagram had existed when I was a closeted adolescent. Since the popularity of social media, never has there ever been so much visibility of LGTBQ+ identified people in our history.
We might not always penetrate major television networks and print magazines (though we’re most definitely starting to, which is madly exciting), but you better believe we are all over the Internet.
Can you imagine how empowering it is for kids residing in places without a large LGTBQ+ presence to see their sexual identity normalized online?
What’s so beautiful about social media is it has presented the broad array of great diversity in our community.
A decade ago, you would have never seen lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer identified people hailing from every background and culture, living successful, loudly visible lives.
We are cultivating community.
Young people who were once painfully alienated are now privy to the myriad of individuals who thrive in LGTBQ+ community.
Social media is a life-affirming vessel for kids who don’t fit into the sexual norm of their schools; it's the ship that shows them how BIG the world actually is.
Social media has cultivated a readily available sense of community in our culture, regardless of where you so reside.
It has provided a support system and just the very thought there are other people just like you in the world -- attains the ability to singlehandedly save the life of an otherwise hopeless kid.