Coming out is a unique experience for anyone.
For some, the conversations surrounding their coming out happen on a one-on-one basis, while others decide to turn to social media.
As of 2011, about 9 million people in the US identified as LGBT. The same study found that over twice the amount of people in the US “have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior”, and still millions more “acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction”, even though they don’t all identify as LGB. Of those who have come out as LGB, drastically more women than men identify as bisexual.
Women have consistently outnumbered men on most social media platforms, particularly on Facebook and Instagram, both of which are incredibly popular platforms for coming out. In fact, as of 2015, 800,000 Americans came out as LGBT and/or non-binary on Facebook alone. That number is still growing now, and has expanded even more rapidly thanks to other social media platforms.
Twitter and Snapchat have also provided newer, quicker, and potentially even more public ways of coming out, though gender differences on these platforms are less substantial. Tumblr has also become a sort of “safe place” for LGBT women, particularly amongst teen girls. And then of course there’s YouTube, where thousands of coming out stories, coming out experiences, and even videos of people coming out “live” on camera to friends and family have been published. One of social media’s biggest perks is its accessibility — anyone who wants to come out online, can. In this past year alone, several famous young women (such as Rowan Blanchard and Amandla Stenberg), have taken to social media platforms to speak on how they define their sexuality.
Celebrities and non-celebrities alike have been showered with support and encouragement after announcing their sexuality on social media; while harassment and bigotry definitely occur, many comments are positive and understanding. It can feel liberating to reveal such an important part of yourself to a huge community of people, and to actually be able to see the support rushing in via likes and comments. Coming out publicly also inspires others to do the same, as shown in the New York Times’ incredibly moving photo and video series Coming Out, which focuses specifically on LGBT teenagers. Sarah Kramer, the journalist behind Coming Out, credits social media for part of the project’s huge success. “Everybody would tweet out their own stories and people would see it — the way in which they came out to family, friends. And it just kept creating ripples and waves,” she told Mashable.
While many people are still unable to come out freely on social media, those who do feel safe and comfortable enough to do so seem mostly empowered by the experience. Whether it happens online or IRL, coming out can lift a huge weight off a person’s shoulders, and the feeling of community that comes with others’ congratulations just adds to the feelings of joy.
Opening yourself up for online commentary of any sort though can be incredibly nerve-wracking, especially when you’re discussing a topic as sensitive as sexuality. Many people may also forgo coming out online for safety and privacy reasons; those with a large social media presence or more public profiles may not want employers or family members who happen across their post to find out about their sexuality. For some, any form of coming out is dangerous, but coming out on social media could provoke an even more dangerous amount of judgment and scrutiny.
How and when you come out is completely up to you, whether you broadcast it to 10K Instagram followers, post it on your Snapchat story for 24 hours, or just tell a couple people individually and in person. Above anything else the important thing is that coming out should feel safe, liberating, and be done on your own terms, whether it happens online or otherwise.