Friday, December 12, 2014

Online Love: Why the Internet is a Crucial Venue for the LGBT Community

This is a freelance article submitted by Helen Tetlow. Contributing content to this blog is just  one of the ways you can help support full marriage equality.

Online Love: Why the Internet is a Crucial Venue for the LGBT Community

As more and more states across America move towards equal marriage for the LGBT community, without a doubt anyone can observe that the culture around relationships is changing. It may be too slow for some, and too fast for others – but people are beginning to accept that relationships are dynamic and diverse, and even the mainstream media is slowly opening up its eyes to the possibilities, giving a voice to relationships which are excluded from the heteronormative trope. Much of this can be attributed to the rise of LGBT culture on both a commercial and social scale, and inevitably the crucial relationship it holds with technology and the ability of social media to reach out and send a message, while uniting people in their beliefs. But the internet has done its fair share of deeply personal, life-changing events too – not the least of which has brought people together from all backgrounds to enjoy a lifetime of love.

Finding a Soulmate
Meeting individuals over the internet was once strongly stigmatized in western culture, and to a degree it continues to be so today. Indeed, it remains a place to take caution – just like the non-virtual world. Yet now, it is commonly accepted that couples have met over the net, whether it’s through an online dating site or a fan forum where mutual likes have led to happy matchings. From casual sex to lifelong friendships and intimate relationships, the online world has enabled people to find likeness with one another while focusing on personality (that isn’t to say that looks and social status are not capitalized upon, but merely that those seeking personality and character have a better venue to do so than in the non-virtual world to some degree). This also transcends ethnicities, cultures, orientation, class, gender, and national boundaries. For many, it has been the answer to finding that perfect soulmate, whether actively seeking one or not. For the LGBT community, it has been a huge asset where a large number of individuals have sought their partners.

Finding a Voice
Though things are changing, it can be still be difficult for members of the LGBT community to connect with one another. There are a few social situations where this is possible (provided one lives in a fairly cosmopolitan area) – the club scene, the cultural scene (such as literary circles, sports teams, women’s discussion groups etc.) and organizations within the larger community as well as smaller ones like those on the university campus. However, while most of these situations are inclusive, for some individuals they still do not present the same kind of venue in which people feel comfortable meeting someone special. In “mainstream” circles like the workplace and school, people might have a difficult time communicating that they are gay (not that there should be a need to) and finding out whether the person they are interested in (if any) is gay as well. And even once that common denominator is established, there are million other variants to consider before suggesting compatibility.

The online world has changed this immensely. LGBT individuals can meet for casual relationships, company, or a full-on relationship. These exist at an international and regional level, so not only can people enjoy learning about another lifestyle, but connect with people locally as well. Chat rooms and forums have provided another venue in which people can get to know one another, and overall, have a positive impact on people’s lives. People are able to bond over showing support for one another and in vulnerable communities this is vital. The diversity of the online world has expanded to become highly inclusive as well as specific – for instance, there are now supportive groups for LGBT individuals who have suffered abuse, or addiction – which is prevalent in some parts of the community because of the difficult circumstances which many gays face. For many, not only pulling through the recovery process but getting back into a “new norm” or lifestyle can be challenging, and finding someone to connect with who not only understands that process but may be going through it themselves can help that person reach their next milestone.

Now there are many ways in which people can reach out to one another in the online world, and for the LGBT community, it has been the only way for many individuals. As society becomes more accepting, mainstream media more inclusive, and LGBT people more confident, the online world will no longer be the only outlet for seeking a special someone. But it will remain a staple and as the lives and lifestyles of individuals get even busier and people want to cut to the chase and get to know someone with ease. As more and more people outside of the LGBT community also turn to the online world to connect, it’s clear that the internet is not only a place where people can feel solidarity with one another, but a place which is convenient in our fast-paced world.
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