National Coming Out Day (NCOD) commemorates the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (for more history). As October 11th (NCOD) approaches, I find myself thinking about my own coming out process, as well as the thousands of people across the country who will celebrate NCOD. I wonder what it must have been like to come out a few decades ago. I wonder what it must be like to come out today. I especially wonder about what it must be like to be a (possibly closeted) LGBT teenager. I wonder if today’s LGBT teens see their sexuality as a defining feature of their personhood; or if they view variations in sexuality as being as normal and natural as variations in height. I wonder what it must be like to be bombarded by memes, videos and comments posted on various social networking sites. I wonder what messages they receive about their self-worth.
For LGBT teens worrying about losing friends (Diamond & Lucas, 2004), concealing a stigmatized identity, and wondering if they will be allowed to marry a same-sex partner are part of daily life. In fact, LGBT teens are still more likely than their straight peers to be victims of family violence (Schneider & Witherspoon, 2000). Yet, I wonder if the internet and social media serve as invaluable resources for today’s LGBT teens. I wonder if they feel supported and hopeful when they see It Gets Better Project videos posted on a friend’s Facebook wall, or if they wonder why such videos are even necessary. Or, maybe seeing a “friend’s” comment about how something is “so gay” has a disproportionately negative impact… Tomes of research have been dedicated to understanding how traditional forms of social support impact identity development, self-acceptance of same-sex attractions and psychological functioning in general; however, relatively little research has addressed how social media has impacted the identity development process and self-acceptance. One thing is clear: regardless of sexual identity, teens are exposed to comments, pictures, videos and blogs that assume a wide variety of views on sexual and gender identity.
For psychologists, it is important to consider how social media creates a new type of microcosm. As technology becomes more integrated into our daily lives, psychologists will surely continue wondering what it must be like for LGBT teens who are engaged in identity development, coming out, and self-understanding. How do LGBT teens make sense of the messages they receive? How do “shared” pictures/videos and “wall comments” made by friends, celebrities, and groups facilitate or discourage self-acceptance and disclosure of teens’ sexual and gender identities? So, as NCOD approaches, I look forward to joining in celebrations dedicated to the unique journey LGBT people take in creating supportive social networks while wondering how an ageless process is being re-shaped by social media.
By: Dustin K. Shepler, PhD, Core Faculty at MSP
Diamond, L. M. & Lucas, S. (2004). Sexual-minority and heterosexual youths’ peer relationships: Experiences, expectations, and implications for well-being. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14(3), 313-340. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2004.00077.x
Schneider, M. S., & Witherspoon, J. J. (2000). Friendship patterns among lesbian and gay youth: An exploratory study. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 9, 239-246.