And countless others. In fact, the internet saved my life repeatedly and continues to do so. I’m not alone either. I can safely say that millions of people have had their lives deeply and personally touched by those whose faces they may never see, voices they may never hear, and bodies they may never touch. People constantly disregard internet relationships (both intimate and friend) because of the lack of physical. While some of us may eventually meet these people, some of them we may not for whatever reason. Does that diminish the value, love, acceptance, and so on we feel in these relationships? Absolutely not. People criticize how people often have their heads in their phones, tablets, or other devices, as opposed to interacting with those around them. They talk about how people are always on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or other forms of…SOCIAL… media. These people are being social. In fact, they are possibly being more social than they could be with those around them.
I met both of my partners online, relatively. Most of my friends I have met through the internet. I have friends who have been my friends for almost ten years. These are people who experienced me at my worst, people who were at my side when I was going through the most troubling and traumatic times in my life. People who were there for me and cared for me when others were not. When I first tried to come out to my family as trans*, I was rejected. I was mocked. I was humiliated. I found solace in those who loved me online. Even before then, I was able to quell my loneliness with the internet. Before the internet, I didn’t think people like me existed. I’m not talking about just trans*, but trans* people LIKE me. In media, there were no femme trans guys. There were no cross-dressing men who had happened to be assigned female at birth. I didn’t exist. I was a freak among freaks in my head. That all changed when I found people like me online, not just one, or two, but communities FILLED with them.
As someone growing up, not only queer and trans*, but will severe mental illness, these friends were vital to me. These relationships were all I had. I was able to communicate with these people, and they were able to understand and support me. When I lost access to these valuable support structures, I almost lost my life. I can honestly say, without the support of these friends, I would not be here today. Without the internet, I would not have been able to navigate this world as a budding queer and trans* person, struggling with mental illness. The internet gave me life.
This experience is not unique to me. The internet allows many trans* people to explore themselves and their identities long before they can transition offline. In fact, some trans* people only transition online for several reasons, such as financial, safety, and medical ones. The internet gives us an outlet to express ourselves as we are. It also gives us a taste of what to expect from offline interactions. While we can create and surround ourselves with those who accept us, the internet also exposes us to mainstream ideas. The internet exposes us to the trans*phobic, cissexist, and transmisogynistic veins that run through the arteries of society. This is why many of us focus on building online relationships first. Online, we can control who we interact with and who interacts with us. We can block and ignore users who threaten our lives and identities. We can control which social circles and websites we use. Online interaction allows for us to create not only accepting, loving, and caring circles of friends, families, and partners, but also relative safety and safe spaces.
The internet gives us an outlet, it gives us a voice. For those of us who face some for of marginalization, it allows us to be able to interact with others who face these issues, across the globe. It allows us to band together and not only discuss, but to educate. It gives us a sense of community. It gives us a sense of knowing we are not alone on this planet. I can only speak for my experiences of course, but those I have spoken to, share the same reactions. The internet allows us to be free, to seek out love, and to embrace it. No longer are we isolated. No longer are cut off from the world of others like us. The internet gives us power. We are able to discuss our lived experiences with others, both who share the experience and those who do not. The internet allows us to share our stories and tell our tales and spread them, like a wildfire, through hearts and minds. We have more education at our fingertips than ever before, at a minimal cost to the education system (US at least).
People like to talk about how the internet has made us ‘anti-social’, how the internet has made us less social as a whole. In fact, I would argue the opposite. The internet has allowed us to have relationships we may have never dreamed of before. We can have friends across the globe, real true friendships, that cross cultural, locational, and many other boundaries. We can truly be friends with our neighbors who inhabit this planet with us. We can learn, through social interaction, way more than we can through books and television. The internet has made us MORE social. We are able to pick and choose who we wish to interact with and how we interact. We can surround ourselves with those who truly accept and love us. We can create safety.
Thus, not only has it made us more social, but it has made us more loving. We can create bubbles of warmth and acceptance, of people who love us for who we are. While of course, there is always the possibility for lies and deceit, that is possible in the offline world as well. Online, we are free to be who we want to be. We are allowed to experiment and toe lines we may not be able to experience offline. For me, I was able to be myself easier and much more freely, long before I could offline. As a queer and trans* person, I was able to find a sense of community and belonging and surround myself with people who loved me for ME long before I could find them in the physical realm. I was able to find the support I needed to get through the day from people, many of whom I’ve met face-to-face, yet loved me still the same. I was able to find people, not only who loved me, but who cherished me for the things that society demonizes me for.
Online relationships (of all varieties) are just as valuable and worthy of respect as offline ones. The internet allows for such creation of love and acceptance, that may be lacking in the person’s offline and physical world. Online may also offer an escape and safe space from the horrors of this world. The internet allows for us to create and keep love. The internet is a strong, valuable, and positive tool in the lives of millions and should be respected as such. Online relationships help create and keep lives. They are just as social and influential as those offline and maybe even more so depending on the person. Our online lives affect our physical well-being, including our mental state.
Does this mean that there are not negative sides to the internet? Of course not. Nothing in this world is entirely positive. Opposite and equal reaction and all that jazz (even though that doesn’t really apply to this, but you get the idea). However, all I ever see are the negatives. I never see the positives, the benefits of the internet. I never see people openly talking about how the internet has been a changing force in their lives. Never do I see people talking about how the internet empowered them, showed them they are worthy of love. Never do I see people talking about the legitimacy of online relationships. Is it because these things are untrue? False. It is because, sadly, we still shame and demonize online social interaction. We still hold face-to-face socializing as superior. We need to look at the positives, the lives that have been saved, changed, and created due to social media. The internet has saved my life and millions of others. We need to start talking about the positive and love over the negative and horror.