[This article was originally published in DIVA’s February 2018 issue. Read my latest column in DIVA, on sale now at divadigital.co.uk]
Perhaps one of the most amazing things about the world we currently live in (aside from Ben and Jerry’s Topped Salted Caramel ice cream – seriously, try it) is that many of us now have access to technologies which allow us to share our own personal stories more easily and widely than ever before. Storytelling, in its purest form, has always been a vibrant and intrinsic part of our society. From religion and architecture through to movies and news media, the influence of human narrative winds its way through all aspects of our lives, and defines our values, dreams and desires – as well as our prejudices and fears. It’s a powerful force for good and bad.
It’s also no secret that social connections, and the stories we are exposed to because of them, help determine our political stances – simply because putting a face to an issue is an incredibly effective way of humanising it. In fact, so strong is the influence of social connection that, according to a 2009 PEW survey, even just having a lone gay family member, friend, or colleague doubles the likelihood of supporting marriage equality,
The internet, and social media in particular, has connected individuals from across the world, turning the traditional dominant communications models on their heads, and allowed people like you and me to share snapshots of our everyday lives, loves and losses with literally thousands of people at a time – and that’s really important for the queer community.
Why? Because despite romance being one of the oldest and most cherished genres in history, the last few hundred years have been dominated by mainstream culture discourses of heteronormativity and cisnormativity. Stories of queer relationships have been at best pushed aside – at worst, vilified and othered. To be gay was to be perverse and, at least in Western culture, to be anything other than a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy’ was to be delusional.
But with the advent of social media the tide has had help in turning. We have moved from the finite oral and face to face tales told throughout history, past the development of public printing for the masses, and into an era where our romance stories know no geographical bounds. We have found support and sociality in abundance, the opportunity to empower and express ourselves, and new channels by which to raise awareness of our causes and gain the attention of the masses. And boy, haven’t we done just that.
Starting in 2010, the “It Gets Better Project” was one of the first social media campaigns to successfully traverse beyond the boundaries of LGBTQ+ social circles and garner global interest. The campaign was prompted by the suicides of Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas, two teenage boys bullied for being gay. Thousands of testimonies were posted about how life improved as a queer adult, many of whom shared heartwarming and tear-jerking anecdotes of meeting their soulmates, settling down, and living a fulfilled life.
Then in 2014, the hashtag #ComingOutMatters became a social media movement in which queer individuals were encouraged to share and spread their coming out stories online. These tales were collected, and readers can browse collections of first-hand accounts; a lot of which centre around romance and falling in love, from the LGBTQ+ community.
Barely two months ago, Australia took the monumental step of legalising gay marriage. The decision followed months of campaigning, as well as a tense national same-sex marriage postal survey before the vote was made. Throughout the campaign, social media was heralded as a ‘once in a lifetime’ tool for marriage equality advocacy, particularly effective at reaching young Australians who, despite overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, were sometimes reluctant to cast a vote. Hashtags like #PostboxSelfie, #LoveWins, and #PostYourYes provided positivity and hope for politicians, activists and voters alike.
This Valentine’s Day, when we’re surrounded by frustratingly straight messages, remember that things are getting better – and you’re helping. Every rainbow-infested tweet we’ve sent, every couples selfie we’ve uploaded, and every campaign link we’ve shared has provided the world with a widow into the landscape of millions of queer intimacies and attachments that they might not have been exposed to before. When we choose to reveal a small part of our everyday queer lives we (knowingly or not) challenge antiquated social norms that have kept us bound for so long. Bit by bit, step by step, our voice gains a little bit more space, and our love a little more visibility.