Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Life Saver

Nurturing a community in the online world
Gay men and women embrace Internet as an equalizer and a bridge

I've talked before about how shows like Queer as Folk helped me get my footing as I came to grips with being gay. But if any one factor deserves the greatest credit for making that process possible, the Internet is surely it.

Before I had ever been online (in other words, before late 1996), the idea that I might be gay had occurred to plenty of people: kids in gym class, kids in gym class, and still more kids in gym class. And yes, I suppose it had occurred to me, too, but never for long; I assumed that everyone thought the best part of gym was changing before and after. Aren't the things we can make ourselves believe fun?

But the Internet quickly set me straight, so to speak. Confronted with a ready source for answers to questions I could never actually ask of another person, it became apparent rather rapidly that most freshman boys weren't having the same thoughts about their roommates that I was.

And yet I persisted for two more years, traumatizing at least three young women, including one, the last girl I ever kissed, who was definitely perplexed by the fact that I sat on her bed, in her empty dorm room in an empty dorm, and looked at her pictures of a recent trip out of the country with rapt attention. As she edged closer and closer to me, I never made a move.

How hard I tried to deny this aspect of myself! How long I toiled at an impossible task! What's horrifying is the realization that without the Internet, I might be toiling still. I might never have seen a porn video and noticed how undeniably my eye drifted toward the male in the encounter. I might never have read the stories of other people with similar experiences. I might never have understood that being gay didn't have to mean giving up everything I wanted for my future.

People talk about how kids growing up today come out sooner and have less fear about the process. They often attribute it to changes in society that have made it easier to come out and people who are more accepting. And that's certainly part of the story. But I think the Internet, so often derided for enabling teens to sneak into online worlds their parents cannot monitor or even understand, has enabled more gay teens to ponder the feelings they have in a private and honest way that simply wasn't widely available even ten years ago. And that can only be a good thing.

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