Lesbian on the Internet
About a week ago I had a stranger contact me through a group we both belong to and ask to talk to me about his sister, who had just come out as gay. This stranger knew that I am gay through comments I had made in that group, and thought that since he had no one else to talk to, I might be a good mostly-anonymous confidante. Stranger still, this is not the first time this has happened.
There’s two things happening here, I think. One is that by being an out homo and a decent person (at least, I think so), I have set myself up to be a bit of a poster-child for gay. I’m alright with this; in fact, I welcome it. I like it when people ask me questions, because it means that I have a chance to dispel misconceptions, help them deal with their gay loved-ones the way most of my gay friends wish they had been treated, and answer…uh… technical questions so that they don’t go surfing the internet and finding unsavory stuff. I also like it when people ask me questions because, aw hell, I like talking about myself.
As a totally out lesbian I gave up on the desire to control who know and who doesn’t know about me years and years ago. When my wife and I moved up to the Northwest Territories we got to our workplace only to find out that there had been a general announcement that the new recruits were gay: “No, really. Like, real lesbians. I know! I hope they don’t hit on me!” Regardless, it is still a bit weird to be contacted by someone whose name and particulars have never crossed your mind only to realize that you have been on theirs and they know more about you than you would expect. That’s the internet, I guess.
The second thing going on here is that the internet allows for anonymity, or at least semi-anonymity, even in the most private discussions. Prior to the internet I think this could only be fulfilled by radio call-in shows and newspaper advice columns. The person who contacted me had something to talk about that couldn’t really be shared with people who knew his sister. He wanted to ask sensitive questions and talk about feelings. As anyone who’s spent any time chatting or posting on message boards knows, baring your heart to strangers on the internet is the easiest thing in the world. You are unlikely to ever meet these people again, especially if you don’t want to. They don’t know your mom, your doctor, or your wife. Hell, they don’t know any more about you than you want them to. This makes the internet the prime location to look for confidantes, which is also why I think so many internet relationships turn out to be serious relationships.
In fact, these aren’t two separate things at all. I’m sure that if I didn’t feel the security of my semi-anonymity, then I wouldn’t have told the whole internets that I’m gay. Now that I think of it, strangers on the internet know more about my pregnancy/miscarriage, my feelings about my good friend’s death last year, my insecurities around my weight, and my sexual activities, than most of my friends. If I think about people on the internet as an undifferentiated mass, that’s not a problem. It just gets weird when someone contacts you out of the blue and says “I’ve been following your attempts to get pregnant and am really saddened by your miscarriage. If you want to talk, I’m here.” Or “Hey, I was wondering how that caramel corn recipe that you tried last night worked out? I’m going to try it today, any tips?” They aren’t an undifferentiated mass, and just as I am interested in (and strangely emotionally invested in) a particular person’s marital woes without them knowing it, someone else is following my grad school experience.
I think that maybe being open about your life on the internet is something like being a minor celebrity. People can pay attention to you and follow your stories without you ever knowing it. They can even care about what happens to you. If you are also open enough about your info that you are contactable, I guess it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll get “fan” mail, in which it is revealed that the writer knows much more about you than you know about them.
Since I like to talk about myself, I don’t mind. In fact, I like it.