The thing about online queer culture is that it skews so young and so heavily towards certain demographics that it’s very difficult to get an accurate depiction of the diversity of LGBTQ lives. You seldom encounter posts written by gay folks who spent 15 years in a heterosexual marriage before coming out, or who had a child as a teenager, or who have been bashed or arrested because of their sexuality/gender identity, or who lived through the days of police raids and the AIDS panic. Narratives from working class, small town, and rural queers are hard to come by. People who don’t identify with the 400 identity labels tossed about online don’t get their voices amplified. The notion of simply wanting to live one’s life in peace is dismissed as less radical than infighting about how “lesbian” is an inherently oppressive identity.
I now live in a fairly liberal metropolitan area, where I can be out with minimal fear. I sometime get so caught up in online queer culture that I forget how frightening and dangerous it was to even contemplate coming out in my hometown. We had no GSA at our high school; the lone known gay couple in the student body was penalized and ostracized, and the school staff made it clear that anyone who followed their footsteps would end up the same way. There was no space for furtive same-sex flirtation, nor could you feel safe talking to your friends about it. It’s not until a few years after graduation and mass migration out of our hometown that my old circle started coming out in droves. It’s not because we were less evolved than kids in more progressive areas; we were influenced by ethnic, racial, religious, geographic and political circumstances that fell outside the lines of the stereotypical gay teen narrative, and which cannot simply be dismissed as “oppressive” or “backwards”. It’s very difficult to talk about that sort of thing online with peers who did not experience similar circumstances, and I am forever grateful for the older LGBTQ people in my life who have not only experienced the same and worse, but have created lives that are true to their background, their history, and their identity. Their stories and experiences ground us when all we would have otherwise is an echo chamber of ahistorical, young, white, urban, buzzword-dominated online queer culture.