As a millennial born in the late ’80s, Shaun Connors came out online long before it was a TikTok trend.
“For me, coming out online was a good, first easy way to test the waters with my friends and see ‘is this my identity?'” says Connors, chapter engagement manager with PFLAG National, an LGBTQ advocacy organization. His experience coming out online, and that of others, may help those seeking to do the same.
During his teen years, Connors tested coming out as transgender through different online platforms, such as chat forums, Facebook, and Craigslist. He stumbled upon a digital chat forum with trans people and, for the first time in his life, didn’t use his birth name.
When it came to telling his family, Connors had a carefully laid plan.
“I knew they wouldn’t be terribly supportive,” says Connors. “Ahead of time, I set up a second Facebook account… I added my friends who I was already out to and who were supportive.”
While Connors had come out online and in person multiple times, he reached a point where he wanted to tell both his family and others en masse.
He typed up what ended up being about a six-page document in Microsoft Word and posted it on his original Facebook wall.
“[I was] just like ‘hey, here’s my actual Facebook profile. If you want to be friends with me after I’ve told you all this information about me, feel free. If you don’t, that’s OK,'” says Connors. “Not too many people came over to the real account at that point, which was fine, because I was still figuring out who I was, and how I wanted to be in the world.”
With that last post, Connors said goodbye to his former self and ushered in his new identity for everyone online to see.
Like Connors, many queer people come out continuously and on multiple platforms. There’s also no right or singular way to come out. Mashable spoke with Connors and others for tips about how to come out on any digital platform in ways that are safe and affirming for you.
1. Gather a supportive community
Connors also used Facebook to curate a network of people who would be there for him when he came out. While he didn’t face any backlash on his Facebook post, Connors said the hardest part was noticing who didn’t interact with his announcement.
“I had a lot riding on it,” says Connors.
While likes and encouraging comments on social media can be validating, don’t confuse them for people you can call up when you’re going through a tough time, says Rory Gory, digital marketing manager of The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide and crisis intervention organization.
Connors and Gory suggest cultivating a supportive group of people who can be there for you in case you face challenging conversations or disappointing reactions while coming out online.
“It’s important to think about, ‘OK, well, who’s going to really have my back? Who’s going to be there for me through this process?'” says Gory.
If no one comes to mind, that’s OK. The Trevor Project’s resources, such as TrevorSpace, an international online community for LGBTQ people ages 13 to 24, can help young queer people seeking support and advice. Counselors at the Trevor Project are also available via a call, instant message, or text.
PFLAG recommends Q Chat Space, an online discussion group for teens, which the organization helped create.
And if you’re into gaming, Connors created Queercraft, a “gaming community and online support network for LGBTQ youth and their allies,” which was recently granted nonprofit status.
As an avid gamer, Connors surreptitiously revealed his identity via video games before he came out.
“We had a PlayStation at our house so sitting around and choosing to pick a male character versus a female character, nobody’s going to question that,” says Connors.
2. Be authentic to you
Nico Craig, a youth ambassador with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, revealed he is transgender on several social media sites in ways that are authentic to him. On Twitter, he played an R&B song with captions like “i want top surgery” followed by a sad emoji after he applied tape on his chest.
On Instagram last November, Craig said he’s known about his identity since he was four years old.
“I’m a trans man. I’ve always wanted to come out but I’m doing it now,” Craig said.
Before telling the world he was transgender, Craig first came out as bisexual and, later, as a lesbian.
“I really had no idea that this was where I was going to be,” says Craig. “I’m grateful that I never predicted how my coming out was going to be.”
Coming out is a process, but do it in a way that’s true to you. As a Black man, Craig faces hurdles that non-Black queer people may not. The Human Rights Campaign has a series of coming-out guides, including one specifically for Black LGBTQ people.
If you want to post on multiple social media sites or just one, do what you’re comfortable with. Each platform fosters a different type of community and you may find people who actually know you congregate on a certain site.
Some social media platforms are also making it easier for queer people to share who they are. Recently, Instagram created a dedicated space for users to add pronouns to their profiles if they wish.
“Coming out on social media is not necessarily coming out, it’s just letting people in,” says Craig.
3. Protect yourself
Unfortunately, coming out online can attract trolls and can pose threats to your mental and physical safety. It’s also easy to forget that the internet often remembers what you post — even if you delete it.
“If I post something on the internet, it’s there forever, and I don’t know who has access to it or I don’t have control who has access to it, depending on the platform,” says Connors. “I think coming out online is more prevalent, but I also think it’s a double-edged sword.”
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok have privacy features to block certain people from seeing what you post. They can be helpful if you’re not ready for everyone to know.
But these protections aren’t foolproof because people can create fake accounts to try to view your content, Connors points out. And your social media friends could screenshot or record your videos and share it with anyone.
“It’s fairly common to see a cute coming-out post that goes viral, and that can be a really positive experience to have this outpouring of love and support,” says Gory. “But it can also open you up to abuse.”
While many social media platforms have policies for removing abusive content, in practice, the response may be slow, limited, or non-existent.
That’s why having a support system is crucial. Hopefully your coming out experience is positive, but you’ll want to have people you can turn to (either online or off) in case internet trolls sneak past your digital barriers.
Despite the transphobic comments Craig’s faced online, people have told him what he’s shared about his trans identity has saved their lives.
“I never thought my story and my experience would inspire so many people and seeing it all unfold is a very beautiful thing to witness,” says Craig.