Do you like to share? I always have, ever since I was in kindergarten. If I got a package of Twinkies in my lunch, I'd eat one and give the other to my best friend. His smile was worth missing out on that second Twinkie.
But in the world of social media, that's not how "sharing" works. When you "share" something on Facebook or Twitter, you're not handing over your second Twinkie. Instead, you're essentially shouting as loud as you can, "Hey, look, everyone! I've got two Twinkies!" And then you wait to find out how everyone else feels about your news. Instead of actually giving up something of value to help someone else, you're looking for other people to high-five you for how awesome you are based on what you have and are about to eat, or you're looking for people to be just as outraged as you are about your Twinkie being all squashed when you took it out of the package, except that this outrage is focused on soothing yourself rather than on the betterment of any kind of community.
So when we hear U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) equate homosexuality with bestiality, what's the result? We tweet and retweet. We post links. We upvote. And then we think we've finished.
But I question the effectiveness of this kind of armchair activism. Does any of this outrage on social media accomplish anything? Does it put a real human face on the millions of people whom Rep. Gohmert disrespected when he made his statements? Is it something that Rep. Gohmert has to confront, or can he just ignore it?
If you think that Rep. Gohmert cares about what gay people on Twitter think about him, you're wrong. He doesn't respect our existence in the real world, let alone in the world of social media, so it doesn't affect him.
But it should. People should be standing outside his offices, protesting his vicious remarks every day until the things he said get enough real-world attention that his hate becomes evident and he's removed from office. Remember when we used to do things like that? I do.
For many online gay "activists," their so-called efforts are not dedicated to real social change but to giving them a sense of accomplishment. They feel like they've done something to change the world by clicking links, when really they've done absolutely nothing in the way of any hard work to actually change things.
It's also a sort of intellectual laziness, a bland acceptance that changing one's profile picture on social media can convince the U.S. government to legalize gay marriage. Never mind the fact that the red equality symbols that popped up all over social media were created by the Human Rights Campaign and were based on its own logo. (HRC has a history of total exclusion of the "T" in LGBTQ. Thanks, Internet.)
Best of all for the armchair activist, though, is the fact that online advocacy doesn't have any real-world cost. In other words, you get to keep both Twinkies. In the real world, though, you have to actually be willing to give up that Twinkie if you want to make a real difference. That means doing more than just tapping a screen. It means getting out on the streets. It means confronting corrupt politicians. It means educating people about your cause in person. It means finding the causes that are truly important to you as a person. It means managing your time. It means picking your battles. Most of all, though, it means doing the basic self-analysis required to be a good person in your own life, and that means doing right by others, whether they agree with you or not, and whether they support your activism or not. It means giving up more than just a Twinkie or two. It means being willing to bleed for whatever cause moves you. And for a cause to move you like that, it needs to move you in the real world.
When you're giving away your real Twinkies to real people, you aren't going to unlock any online achievements. You're not going to get the smug self-gratification of being endlessly retweeted or getting hundreds of "likes" on Facebook. But who cares? Honestly, who cares? When do those online badges and accolades matter? Never. Does anyone look forward to a future where people's eulogies include details about their Reddit karma, or how many GetGlue stickers they unlocked? I know I don't. When I die, I want to make sure I've given as many Twinkies to my friends as possible. That'll be achievement enough.
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