By Shelby Bowen —
I remember when coming out could ruin your life. I remember when it could cost you friendships, a relationship with your family, your own peace of mind. I remember when coming out was an invitation for strangers to tell you exactly what they thought of your life because that one fact led them to assume that they knew everything about it. I remember these things because they never went away. I remember because they’re still happening.
For me, the most notable example of this issue is the coming out video that Ingrid Nilsen posted to her YouTube channel in June of 2015.
In it, she talks about her struggles with admitting her sexuality—not only to other people, but also to herself, and how she eventually came to terms with it. She admits to suffering from this inner turmoil in silence for years, which is something that I, and I’m sure so many others, can relate to. I immediately felt so happy and proud of her for feeling confident enough to say it out loud, especially to her following of over three million subscribers. When I scrolled down to leave a comment on it, though, I was shocked by the number of hateful responses.
People had the nerve to ask her why she needed to bother telling anyone. They told her that it was not that big of a deal anymore and that no one cared. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people, were blatantly dismissing everything she went through all of those years. If it really didn’t matter anymore, we wouldn’t still be seeing headlines about gay teens attempting suicide after being bullied, transgender people being murdered, and various other hate crimes against the LBGT community.
There are teenagers all over the world, tearing themselves apart in a war with their own thoughts, just like Ingrid. Maybe they spend every Sunday listening to a pastor tell them that this part of themselves that they keep dark and deep, is an abomination, while their parents mutter, “Amen.” Maybe they walk around with the whole world on their shoulders, wondering why everyone is staring at their hunched backs and never offering to help. Maybe, they think their only solace can come from hurting themselves because they think there’s no one in the world that could possibly understand. Because they think they’re broken. Because they think they’re alone.
I know that’s bleak. But it’s real, and it’s happening.
What you have to remember is that if you click away from a video (or an article, a photo, a painting, or a song) and you don’t feel the least bit changed by it, then there is a very good chance that it was not made for you. And that’s okay. Nothing on this planet can be created with every single human being in mind. But just because something doesn’t personally affect you, it doesn’t mean that it is devoid of meaning. Anyone who has ever come out in the public eye—be it to 2,000 people on YouTube or to billions of people around the world—is putting themselves out there so they can be free of all of those heavy secrets, and to help prevent more kids from thinking that they have to carry their own. They are making sure that those also struggling know they aren’t alone, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve been out for almost eight years already, and Ingrid’s video still left me a total mess. She described so many of the exact same things that I’ve gone through myself. As a girl that doesn’t look the way a lesbian is “supposed” to look, I get doubted all the time. I get asked if I’ve been with a man before, and when I say no, they tell me that I just need to meet The Right Man. I get asked if I’m sure. I get asked who hurt me. I get asked if I’ll ever “change my mind.” Ingrid was talking about things I’ve been writing about in my journal for years, and I cried when I saw her video because I felt that my own feelings were being validated.
I didn’t have platforms like YouTube available when I was young and coming out. I had the Life Issues forum of Gaia Online or LiveJournal entries written by faceless strangers, or the MySpace pages of people like Matthew Lush. Back then, the only reason I ever went to YouTube was to watch things like FilmCow’s “Charlie the Unicorn” or Don Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected.” We all know what’s happened in the years since—YouTube has become a thriving community, full of content that is largely created from the ground up by individuals looking to connect with like-minded strangers from all over the world. With the click of a button, a kid in Small Town, Middle America can reach out to someone in San Francisco. This is so important because it’s more than words on a screen—it’s a real person showing you who they are, and telling you that you will be okay.
Earth is such a big, big place, crawling with people full of stories. We share our piece of the human experience so that we can break down walls and connect with those around us. The Internet helps us to bridge the gaps between countries, between languages, between age groups. It puts information in the hands of those who need it and provides a safe place for people who don’t have one anywhere else. Our stories are powerful. Your stories are powerful. Never, ever be afraid to share your story, because somewhere there might be someone who desperately needs to hear it.