BY: AL DONATO
Two guys in horse masks fucking on webcam. Someone gushing about places to buy binders online. Several people sharing their experiences in gay bars. Everyone, anonymous and faceless. This used to be my typical Friday night.
As a teen stumbling along in an all-girls Catholic high school, questioning gender or sexuality wasn’t an option. Add in adolescent awkwardness and dating became impossible.
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Enter 4chan—the bowels of the Internet. Is there a virtual shitstorm of celebrity nude leaks clouding up the news? Chances are 4chan brewed it. Known as the virtual scum of society, it’s an image-based message board where every user is anonymous, and damn near anything can be said without repercussions.
It’s also really fucking gay.
The various boards on 4chan are divided by specific interest like subforums. Within the first few days of 4chan’s inception in 2003, a board devoted to homosexual content about Japanese anime and manga, /y/ (Yaoi), was created. Later, came its lesbian counterpart /u/ (Yuri). It wasn’t until a decade later that 4chan added /lgbt/ as an official board.
Even with specific hubs for queer anons, many of 4chan’s LGBT population end up posting their interests in other boards. On /co/, a board about comics and cartoons, people might muse about gay comic book characters they’d like to fuck or swap coming out stories in threads on /soc/, a board about hookups. The occasional insult or complaint about being gay might pop up, but for the most part, the abrasive nature of the site takes the sting out of it – if everyone is a degenerate, no one is.
The more time I spent on 4chan, the more okay I became with my orientation. People online were more willing to talk about things I was curious about. Friendships were made, emails were exchanged, group Skype chats were formed. I met my first girlfriend through a thread where we were both posting about our gender issues. Every friend I made through 4chan was cool with my attraction to girls, a truth I couldn’t share in the real world at the time.
4chan, of course, has its downsides: perpetuating the hive mind means certain perspectives are instantly harassed into silence. Rampant misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia still take place, even on the /lgbt/ board. It’s far from innocent, but it’s still a safer space than reality for many anons unearthing their identity. In real life the dangers of coming out can be more physical and terrifying. Consider the length of this Wikipedia subheading, Violent Acts Against LGBT Persons.
While I don’t visit 4chan as much as I used to, the site—despite its notoriety for being the Internet equivalent of hell— helped me to express a part of myself I had kept under wraps for so long.
Individuality colours everything we do, which can be unfortunate given that society is often colour-coded and colour-biased. The beauty of anonymity fixes that – the merits of your words are evaluated without the filters of identity.