Many young people’s initial foray into the gay world is from the anonymity of a family computer. From gay chat, to porn, to general information-based websites, many gay and lesbian youth first encounter all things gay through the diverse links of the world wide web. People use the net for everything these days, so it makes sense that young, internet-savvy queers would use the web as a tool for exploring their sexuality as well.
I think that the internet is a very, very big tool to use, because there are a lot of gay and queer youth on the internet, especially from more regional areas, says Daniel Williams, youth issues editor of Queer Youth Online.
Williams, who launched Queer Youth Online early this year, says that for young queers, the net is an outlet for them to go to when they don’t have anybody else to talk to.
There are plenty of gay sites on the internet, and plenty of places to chat. The popularity of websites such as Gaydar is phenomenal, and has revolutionised the way people connect with each other, according to Stephen Scott, ACON’s senior youth project officer.
The internet has had this effect on young people coming out that has really radically changed the way young people come out, he says. A lot of the guys we’ve seen at Fun And Esteem will come out online prior to coming out in the real world, and they’ll even find a kind of online community of other same-sex- attracted young people prior to meeting up in real time.
Scott says that the anonymity and accessibility of the internet makes it an ideal tool for young people wanting to explore their sexuality.
It lets young people test the waters and find out about gay community culture prior to having to, for example, put themselves in the corner of the bar on their own, hoping to meet someone, he says.
For Williams, aged 19, the internet put him in contact with similar people his own age in his local community.
I live in Wollongong, so I found it pretty hard when coming out to actually find information and services, he said. It took a while but I did find out that there is a massive community in Wollongong; they have a lot of services for gay and lesbian youth.
Williams set up Queer Youth Online as a resource for young people looking for queer information and resources. The site covers a broad range of topics, written by young queer people, for other young queers.
What I want to do is to let youth know about the services that are available to them, he says. I know a lot of the youth don’t think that there are any services for them, but there is a lot of stuff out there.
Queer Youth Online provides links to queer youth groups nationwide, as well as information on sexual health, drugs and violence. The website also contains articles, poems and other work from young queer contributors.
Another well established website for queer youth is Mogenic, which is like a young person’s Gaydar. The Mogenic website contains articles and information of interest to young queers, including advice on anything from kissing to body hair removal. The site also has a hugely popular chat and personals section, boasting almost 26,000 profiles. It’s the perfect starting point for young people looking to out themselves online.
The personal contact that the internet is facilitating for young people that are still in the closet seems to be really meaningful and a much greater resource for young people now, [compared with] what young people had access to say 30 years ago, Scott says.
According to Scott, the internet has lots of utility for young people in terms of getting access to information and services and finding out what’s available to them in the community.