Recently I got to speak with Alden Peters, a documentary filmmaker based in New York City. He is currently working on what looks to be a truly wonderful documentary, Coming Out, which captures footage of him coming out to family and friends. From the trailers and information Peters shared about the film, it promises to be an intimate look at what it means to be gay today, and also, given the complicated ways we exist in multiple media (e.g., on the Internet vs. in real life), how coming out has changed, and the new obstacles that young LGBT people face now that others haven't faced before.
Watching the trailer, you will witness the moment when Peters changes his Facebook information from "Interested in Women" to "Interested in Men," launching his public coming out to friends, family, and Facebook friends. However, before this scene, we see a group of friends talking to Peters about coming out, and one states, "It's not Facebook official! That means it isn't official yet!" I'm sure we've all heard this before, this belief that something like your sexual identity or relationship status isn't "official" until it's on Facebook.
Peters' experience struck a chord with me. Beyond the fact that most of my work and life revolves around looking at how LGBT lives and technology intersect, this story made me face a reality that I hadn't thought about in a while. I have been out to family and friends for a while now (I jokingly say all the time that there was no closet big enough to fully conceal my sexual orientation, so I didn't need to come out), but as of right now, I am not officially out on Facebook.
If you were to visit my Facebook, you would find that it's littered with lots and lots of queer-centric articles and topics. Based on my content alone, most people would assume that I'm gay, but if they went to the "About Me" section, they'd find that the "Interested in" field is blank. For as long as I can remember, there's been something about making my sexual orientation "Facebook-official" that has made me a tad uncomfortable, for reasons I have yet to understand. I think it's time to change that.
Today, Oct. 11, in conjunction with this year's National Coming Out Day, the day on which people come out or celebrate the visibility of LGBT folks, I challenge you to come out online. Change your Facebook "Interested in" field to reflect your LGBT identity, tweet using the hashtag #GayOnline, and do whatever else you can think of to recognize this day through your social-media platforms. Whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or anything in between, make it known in your social networks. Let's break down those digital closet doors. By doing this, you will be showing the world that you are here, you are queer, and you are online. It's time that we be proud in all aspects of our life, including on the Web.
Through coming out online and making our LGBT identities a visible part of our online lives, not only are we showing our pride, but we're also allowing others who may be questioning or wanting to talk with someone about their own identity a way to comfortably find a listening ear and reach out. When visible, you are allowing yourself to be a leader in our community, and you are also helping make the LGBT community as a whole that much more visible.
We have so much pride. Let's show it both on- and offline.
Follow Zach Stafford on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zachstafford