Social media leaves little room for secrets, doesn’t it?
While Instagram, Twitter and Facebook certainly give us a slew of new mysteries—Who is that? How can they afford that vacation? When did they lose weight?—some of the old tropes are no longer enigmas.
Look at the long-standing tradition of the high school reunion. It’s dead. Reunions were a time-honored way for far-flung friends to catch up with one another, rediscover love, and mostly find out who went bald. Today? I already know who lost their hair, and how my freshmen-year crush is doing. It’s all there for me on social media.
For those of us among the LGBTQ community, social media has proven to be a game-changer for the biggest secret of them all: our own identities. Much like how the AIDS epidemic created fundamental shifts in gay culture, social media is dramatically changing the queer image, allowing for a knowledge transfer and support system unseen before, possibly nullifying the concept of the “closet” altogether. Let’s examine.
A New Generation of Role Models
To be honest, I never really liked Will and Grace. I was way more a Queer As Folk kind of guy. But regardless of which tentpole television show from which you drew your gay inspiration, Generation X and Millennials saw these as some of their first positive (and negative) gay role models.
In the digital age, we have some incredible bloggers, vloggers, tweeters and life-casters to connect with and be inspired by. I wish I’d had a Tyler Oakley growing up.
Even further, social media has allowed the parents of gay children to create meaningful connections with folks who can empathize and support. Social channels have allowed straight folks to maintain even casual friendships with their gay peers, and thru these channels they have been able to see their challenges, triumphs and tragedies. Watching their queer friends grow up and live happy and healthy lives has certainly prepared them to understand their children’s sexual identities more so than previous generations.
Role models, whether they be leaders in the trans community or grandparents who support their gay grandkids, have successfully used social media to spread acceptance. It doesn’t even have to be through think pieces on blogs; simply living your gayest life in your selfies is laying the groundwork.
Let’s Talk About Sex
Gather a few greying gays in a room and they will share their stories of hookups from AIM and Gay.com. Ah, the good old creepy days. Well, for the thirsty queers of today, those sites might as well be as legit as going to a public space to cruise.
Meet Hornet, the new kid on the block.
Most mainstream dating apps now have opportunities to meet gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and much much more different types of romantic folks. Grindr, Scissr, Her, Scruff (among many others) are so ubiquitous that many of our straight friends are as familiar with them as they are Tinder, Bumble and OKCupid. And now the fresh and frothy Hornet, the number one intimacy app in many countries, offers even more diverse and international cuties to date or dust.
C’mon… Check Out These Ads!
Social platforms like Facebook work overtime to ensure they know everything about you – sometimes even before you know it about yourself. Spending too much time ogling certain images, or surfing certain pages, will lead to you being served ads that mirror those experiences.
Simply put, if your straight boyfriend can’t understand why ads for Atlantis Cruises keep popping up in his feed, either the algorithm has pegged him wrong, or you have. Let’s not even bring retargeting into the picture.
It’s not just the old adage of “it if looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” anymore. Facebook isn’t one to stereotype. But it isn’t also one to ignore the empirical evidence of what you are liking/reacting to, looking at, and sharing.
And if you are being marketed to (whether that be gay cruises, lesbian dating apps or trans conferences) then remaining in the shadows almost feels a little antiquated, doesn’t it? If Madison Avenue can use my homosexuality as a marketing lever, then why are we arguing about my acceptance? If capitalism doesn’t discriminate, there’s your sign. I’ll take two of whatever you’re selling, hunty.
In 2001, I spent six months in Italy, and used Rome as a ground base for a completely gay gay gay tour of Europe. My (equally gay) friend Andrew and I were equipped with the 2001 Spartacus Gay Guide. It cost us about 20 bucks and was money well spent. Any time we would travel to another city, this well-worn book would supply us with where to go, what to do, and how to say “We can’t go to my hotel room!” in the local language.
Doesn’t that sound archaic?
This year, a gaggle of us are going to Amsterdam Pride in August. Why? Because last year the social posts gave us so much FOMO we couldn’t’ imagine not going. Shirtless Euros for days, and this year I’m diving in. Tours, hotel rooms, and even dinner plans are all being made via Instagram sleuthing. No need for that old Spartacus gay guide. No need for a book!
Beyond gaycationing, if you’re struggling with questions about your identity, and the plethora of YouTube experts aren’t helping, Social media offers an enormous opportunity at connecting with global resources. Hotlines, chatrooms, Facebook Groups, subreddits, and even the occasional celebrities are all keystrokes away from giving you the support you need to come out of the closet and into the light.
Exaggeration aside, the coming-out process is unique and challenging for any individual, even today. The sexuality and gender spectrum continues to delight and confound us, and that’s OK.
So while the closet might not have been entirely killed off by social media, our new digital spaces have certainly allowed us to have a much easier time leaving those closets altogether. One goal for a more progressive and connected society is to create a greater range of freedom of identity and from oppression. Hopefully, we as a culture have positioned ourselves—with the aid of a vastly expanding digital toolkit—to one day rid ourselves of the closet altogether.
We’ll celebrate at the closet’s funeral, and probably tweet a few selfies, too.