Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Jenny (Part 2): Technology as a Practice Forum

As a member of the Oregon Trail Generation, Jenny came of age alongside technology. We have similar memories of this: chatting via AOL in middle school, discovering music via Myspace in high school and stealing it via Napster in college.

She described that feeling of entering her first chatrooms as a painfully shy middle school student.

"It was the first feeling of being anonymous," she said, "which gave me the freedom to say whatever...it helped me learn that I could say whatever and it won't be shot down."

Today, school kids are identifying 100% with their online profiles, and cyber bullying carries all of the drama and danger of face-to-face bullying, so I wonder how many young people today discover this feeling of anonymity. When technology first emerged, it was everything.

Jenny remembered her AIM chats with her first (male) crushes, and how she used technology to make friends senior year of high school at Interlochen Arts Academy.
At Interlochen -- again I was really shy, really self-conscious -- I started a Live Journal, which was like the first blog. A lot of us had them, and I ended up making friends through that, that I was having trouble making just in the world...We had this whole interconnected thing. Because I was so shy, people didn't know me very well, but they got to know me more through my Live Journal. Then, I ended up dating one of the people who I'd connected to on Live Journal. He was a male who, shortly after dating me, came out. And I took many more years. 
Jenny described Live Journal as a Facebook-like platform in which you have a network of people, and keep a journal. You could share your journal with the public, keep it to your friend network or make it completely private. I was surprised to find that Live Journal is still around.

Her description of Live Journal, and how it worked for her, made me think of how I'm branding this blog. Although I'm sharing the blog with friends and family and even a few colleagues, my name isn't on it.

I can explore this writing voice and connect to readers and like-minded writers, all in a relatively anonymous setting, thanks to technology. In a year or two -- if it continues to feel satisfying and vital -- I'll find a way to weave together my current education-focused brand with Gay Happiness. But right now, the task is simple: write.

When Jenny first came out, she went immediately to OKCupid, but the way that she branded herself on her profile changed significantly in a very short time.

"I wasn't very popular on there right away," she said. "I was like, 'I'm not sure if I'm gay. I'm pretty sure, but I just want to date some women.' I don't think anyone wants to read that!"

In those first iterations of her profile, Jenny was trying to be as honest as possible. "I identified as bi," she said. "That lasted for about a year, and I changed it gay. After I realized that no one was going to date me if I seemed so unsure, I got rid of all that."

And that's the luxury of platforms like OKCupid. You're name isn't attached to it. You're free to change your identity daily with little to no consequences. You can experiment, see what feels right. Sometimes, you even feel like you're leveling up.

"There was a question on OKCupid," Jenny said, "'Have you ever had a girlfriend or same-sex partner?' For a while, the answer had to be, 'no.' Then when the answer was 'yes,' I felt so great!"

From her first curious flirtations with gay boys in high school, to embracing her own gay identity in her twenties, technology was pivotal every step of the way.

"Technology has helped me be more comfortable in myself...it was this practice forum where I could be a more honest, less shy version of who I was...It would have been much slower for me to get comfortable with myself without technology."

And that's why we're lucky, the Oregon Trail Generation and everyone who came after. Relationships, identity and our future's course have been taken out of the domain of stuffy living rooms and parent chaperones. 

Increasingly, young people have the chance to explore what they want their own future to look like in a forum that is safe from ridicule. And thanks to the Internet, there are more and more stories of gay happiness for these young people to stumble upon and see: it really does get better. 

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