Somewhere on the internet, Kathy’s website dedicated to Gabrielle from Xena Warrior Princess probably still exists (thankfully). And remnants of anonymous posts in gay chat rooms that Tobin wrote as a closeted teenager are probably archived in some dark corner of the web (even more thankfully). They are artifacts of two young queers trying to find themselves in the only safe space they could find: the internet.
The ubiquity of the internet means that it is important to everyone. But nevertheless, the fact remains true: the internet is an especially important part of queer lives. As the fastest civil rights movement in modern times, queer rights have grown along with the evolution of the internet. The proliferation of social media and connectedness could be said for the reason that the vast majority of this country are now accepting of gay marriage.
And we’ve done our best to carve out a place for ourselves. From chat rooms to forums to blogs to Tumblrs and now YouTubers and Gay Twitter (this article on INTO has more of that history), we’ve always looked to the internet to figure out things in this world that wasn’t made for us. Queer sex ed barely exists, so we turned to the internet, porn, and YouTube for our sex ed.
When we grew up in a small, conservative town, we looked to safe spaces online to talk to people like us. We’re drawn to and crave community, and that is what the internet affords us. When we start looking for partners, there is really one place to go if you’re not into the bar scene. Queer youth find many of their LGBTQ friends online. When we can’t be truly ourselves in person, we get to be who we want to be online. That said, it would be a fantasy to think that the majority of the things we read are not cisgendered and heteronormative.
Because even the most well-meaning stories sometimes get it wrong. And for more of the stuff queer folks are subjected to, just dive into any comment section or take a look at Twitter to see for yourself.
The words and vocabulary we’ve finally carved out of our language to help us understand ourselveswords like transgender, nonbinary, genderfluid, etc.are mocked as being “too politically correct” or simply that “it doesn’t exist.”
And on the flip side, if someone’s identity changes in some way (God forbid), the new phrases you hear are “So you’re not really gay” or “you’re just looking for attention.” For some reason, the way we identify apparently affects those who don’t identify that way.
And the problem with all of this cishet normativity is that it creeps into the things that are written about us. From using the wrong pronouns to completely omitting certain parts of our history, frequently we just don’t get a say in how our story is told. And while we should always work to protect our online safe spaces, we shouldn’t have to be confined to them.
The internet needs to be queered because it is our place too, and things written about us should be racially, culturally, and sexually sensitive. Nobody is asking for a complete upending of the entire internet (though, honestly, that wouldn’t be a terrible idea). What we’re asking for, and what we deserve, is not a radical request. We need to be represented in the right way.
So in our own small way, we’re doing something about it: Nancy’s Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon at SXSW. We’re going to make as big an impact as we can on the internet’s encyclopedia. As you probably know, the majority of the articles are written by cishet, white men, and their perspective is bound to be a bit skewed. So let’s get together and fix that.
Sometimes the internet can be a garbage dumpster fire. And sometimes it can be someone’s salvation. Let’s make it more salvation-y for the next person.
Join us in Austin on March 14th 11 AM – 3 PM CST at Galvanize Austin for our Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon or learn how to participate online at https://wnyc.typeform.com/to/YXjISM.