Throughout the research period, I will post research findings in an academic format to show off my fancy knowledge. This Research Findings report explains why queer people are turning to the Internet, and how much they get out of it.
The Internet is a likely place to find information about queer people, resources, and sexual health – mostly because if someone has a gay tendency, that’s probably where they live.
According to Hillier and Harrison’s 2007 article “Building Realities Less Limited Than Their Own,” the Internet served various functions in the lives of queer youth and their sexual development. What they found was that the Internet served as a good place to explore initial same-sex feelings and sort of test the waters of being queer, including elements like coming out, sex play, “learning how to be gay,” and forming an ideal self on the Internet:
“Many young people moved between an ideal or chosen homosexual identity on screen and real life where ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ […] threatened their emotional and physical well-being to such an extent that many worked hard at passing as heterosexual” (89).
For queer people who can’t be out and queer people who are alike, the Internet is a valuable resource for “practicing disclosure” as well. Many people come out as gay online before they do in the real world (and for reference, you can check my own Tumblr from October 29, 2010) – this allows the person coming out to build confidence in their identity while also giving other queer people a feeling of solidarity and community as they themselves come out (91). Hillier and Harrison also pointed to the extreme importance of the Internet as a vehicle for queer sex education and experimentation, ranging from sexual health sites to pornography (93).
Jack, 17, was interviewed by Hillier and Harrison about his experiences and reflected on how the Internet had helped him accept himself:
“The net has allowed me to realize that my sexuality is OK and there is nothing wrong with it… talking to people [and] visiting gay web sites [sic] has been very important to my development as a gay individual… I used to worry that there was something wrong with me but now thanks to the net, I know that there is a whole gay society out there and even if my immediate society decides to reject me I know there will ALWAYS be heaps of people and services out there to support me” (94).
Mary Bryson did similar interview-based research focused only on queer women for her article “When Jill Jacks In.” What she found was that participants, regardless of their technical training prior, made use of instant messaging, Internet communities, email, and chat rooms, and also shared knowledge, skills, and online space with other queer women using the web (242). She also found that homophobia persisted in all of the women’s lives in “the real world,” and that the Internet provided an escape from that regardless of geographical location or their status of “out” (243). All of the women saw the Internet as an essential part of their queerness as well (244), and in some cases discovered their queerness online:
“Rose: I had a friend who I met on the Internet, interestingly enough. We became very close friends, and I hung out at her house a lot and she had like, queer community newspapers ans magazines around the house, and I kind of went, oh, okay… it kind of transpired that she was bi. And we, like, got into having sleepovers and stuff like that, and I realized, I think I have feelings for this person” (245).
Rose, who is so very much so not alone in her experience (I feel you, and so does everyone on OKCupid), later went on to develop a femme identity and find more information online (245).
These findings are echoed by the work of Lori MacIntosh and Mary Bryson in “Youth, MySpace, and the Interstitial Spaces of Becoming and Belonging,” in which the authors found that young women often used the Internet to find resources about queer culture, and in many ways, how to “do” being queer (136). Social networking, they conclude, plays a large role in that teaching process in our current times – with social networks integrating sexuality into their basic layout, they normalize difference there and allow queer people to be seen as something besides who they are trying to sleep with (140). This kind of space online allows queer people to explore more about their culture than simply the coming out process and other static forms of queerness (140).
In a world where the Internet is fun for queer people and the real world sometimes isn’t, it’s becoming clear that online resources and social tools are important to the lives of queer women. But what does that mean for physical gay spaces and the gay movement?
Images without credits are always found innocently via Tumblr. Please let me know if any are yours!
Bryson, Mary. “When Jill Jacks In.” Feminist Media Studies. 4-3. 2004.
MacIntosh, Lori and Mary Bryson. “Youth, MySpace, and the Interstitial Spaces of Becoming and Belonging.” Journal of LGBT Youth. 5-1. Hayworth Press. 2007.
Hillier, Lynne and Lyn Harrison. “Building Realities Less Limited Than Their Own: Young People Practising Same-Sex Attraction on the Internet.” Sexualities. 23 January 2007.