As seen in Issue 4, available now!
Historically, the internet has not been the kindest space for queer individuals. Cyberbullying and hate speech has always been a part of the very infrastructure of the internet, however, just as much as digital spaces can isolate, so too can they bring people together. Queer people had to carve out their own spaces online, away from moderation and reproach, they were able to find their tribes and meet people who were similar to themselves. These internet “safe spaces” came in the form of fringe outskirts— sites like Archive of our Own, where people were able to write their own fanfiction to see themselves in, or forums and Tumblr pages where communities could discuss their own fandoms and not fear the attacks of the mainstream— heteronormative culture. In 2020, with online spaces becoming even more vital than ever, a curious phenomenon has occurred. Gone are the days of hiding on fringe urls, instead the most popular apps are now unquestionably queer.
This of course was no overnight change, you can track the progression to the forefront of culture through the years. Some may point to Ru Paul’s Drag Race which began airing on VH1 to a wider and more receptive audience and now has many global offshoots, or perhaps shows like Glee and Pose, both being added to Netlfix in the summer of 2019, and the massive virality and meme-base that they spawned. Some may go back further to 2018 with the birth of the e-boy, which challenged gender-norms and made it fashionable for men to be a bit more sensitive and embrace queer aesthetics like painting one’s nails or wearing jewelry. You could continue to look backwards to the height of Tumblr in 2013, with its many shippings and queer-fanfics, which allowed for a blending of popular shows with queer fanbases and a parasocial relationship between those fanbases and the writers, which led to queerbaiting in shows, that even middle America picked up on (see Sherlock or Supernatural). Though these moments may seem trivial and a bit silly, they all represent larger social shifts that play a part in the timeline of queer acceptance.
While no one thing is directly responsible for the embracing of queer culture on such a largescale way, the internet though hostile at times, has indirectly been at the root of this progression. By being a place where so many like-minded individuals could gather, the internet knowingly or not became a vehicle through which the LGBTQ+ community could advance into popular culture in ways before unimaginable. This is not to say that there is complete or total acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals everywhere as there is still homophobic rhetoric in our government, violence against trans individuals rising at an alarming rate, and of course countries in which being LGBTQ+ is still illegal. But at a casual glance, very public and very mainstream spaces seem to be portraying a more queer-friendly attitude, accepting of a greater variation in gender expression and sexualities than ever before.
Of course, not everyone within these communities may see this as a success. As queer culture has become more embraced, it has also become commodified and sanitized. A common talking point being that Pride festivals which used to embrace raw sexuality and the freedom that comes with it, are now largely attended by children and families, and sponsored by TD Bank. What had started as a protest against police violence is now lead by many cops wearing “funny” boas, “I’m not gay, but I know someone who is.” There is a lot to be said for denying the acceptance that the mainstream has offered, especially if that acceptance comes with terms and conditions, however to throw out all the progress that has been made within the queer community carte blanche would be a real loss.
Looking online, popular trends such as “Lesbian Earrings” on TikTok have become viral. Young people all over the world are enjoying these handmade artsy earrings and creating their own markets for things that they really connect with. Masc-identifying individuals are wearing skirts and dresses and making videos—and 10 years ago what would have likely lead to bullying is now being openly celebrated. People are including their pronouns in their bios, and supporting sex work through OnlyFans embracing different body types and gender expressions. The internet has in so many ways opened its arms to queer culture.
Of course, this comes too with the caveat that there could be some appropriation to these aesthetics. There certainly could be some who are following these trends because they are what is currently in fashion and what is popular. But for the young people who are seeing this online and identifying with a piece of themselves that they may have hid before, I can imagine that this boon in queer acceptance must feel so freeing. I don’t have to imagine of course because I can see this firsthand, the things that I was shamed, bullied, and beaten for are now being celebrated, and rather than feeling bitter about it I am so happy for anyone who gets to live through this moment, and explore that piece of themselves out in the open, rather than somewhere hidden. I am so happy that the internet has become a place where queer people can be openly themselves on and do so through mainstream platforms rather than in the shadows.
For the first time in over 50 years there was no in-person Pride marches in New York City. The city that birthed the Stonewall Riots, had to cancel its LGBTQ+ festivals and events celebrating self-acceptance amidst the worsening Corona pandemic. New York was not the only major metropolitan area that had to cancel its festivities— planned events were cancelled across the country. Even still, another form of Pride occurred in the summer of 2020, one that not only defined the virtual experiences of everyone affected during the global pandemic, but which also typified the queer experience for many during 2020. For the first time, Pride and pride was online.