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Gender, Sexuality

Online spaces helped me discover my identity: Lois’ Story

Lois, 19, talks about how online spaces and communities helped her learn about her sexuality and gender identity, and how being online gave them the opportunity to explore without scrutiny.

Hi, I’m Lois, I’m 19, and I’m still figuring out who I am too!  

Being born in 2002 I’m part of the infamous Gen Z – the first generation to be raised with technology and the internet throughout the majority of our childhood. In so many ways this has been amazing. For a start, it has allowed us to explore who we are together – communities built entirely online which have provided safe and accepting spaces for people to grow and be who they are.  

I had never really found a community in real life that I felt an affiliation to and so the online world was a place for me to find people like me! 

I first downloaded Instagram when I was about 12. It opened a door to a whole world of people I would never have known if I hadn’t been able to access the internet. Over the years I’ve drifted in and out of communities trying to find where I felt I best belonged. 

People change all throughout their teenage years (I can’t imagine meeting 12-year-old Lois now!). I’ve found that online it’s easier to change without explanation and without feeling like you owe people your story (of course you never owe anyone an explanation for changing yourself or how you identify, in real life or online!) But I found that online I could explore my sexuality, identity, and gender without being questioned.  

When I was around 15, I came to the realisation I genuinely had no idea who I was and I longed to find a community I felt understood me so, naturally, I “cleansed” my Instagram (so Gen-Z I know lol). I unfollowed people that made me feel bad, guilty or anxious, and did more research into body and sex positive accounts. This was the gateway to who I have become/am becoming today.  

I first stumbled across Chella Man, an artist and author who advocates LGBTQ+ rights. Watching his transition throughout the years and his advocation of gender and sexual fluidity really opened my eyes to the fact I did not have to exist within the binaries society has created. From this more and more doors opened to LGBTQ+ friendly communities and I finally felt able to explore my sexuality and gender. 

I realised I’m not weird for not knowing who I am, and who or what I like yet! 

I always thought I was straight and cisgender and never really understood anything outside of this (rubbish sex education am I right?!). I had thoughts from age 12 about fancying other girls but always put it down to just admiring them as I didn’t want to be gay – internalised homophobia, hello! I have this memory of being 15 and realising that I actually had feelings for women and was interested in them romantically and sexually – I cried for basically a whole day because I thought that meant I was a lesbian (so dramatic). Over time, however, I read and heard about other sexualities through people online and was able to see this in a more positive light. I realised that I resonated more with labels like bisexual or pansexual.  

I’d have never been exposed to any of this information had I not had access to the internet – I would have been living in constant shame and guilt for the feelings I had for women. 

In recent years, gender became something I wanted to explore more. Around 18 months ago I came across the term non-binary and it instantly resonated with me. I still find it hard to explain but I have never really felt wholly ‘woman’ as society describes and I always assumed it was just me being a ‘tom-boy’. I had short hair and used to be shouted at by other kids at school saying I looked like a lesbian (little did I know they were probably right – thank you homophobic school bullies for planting the seed, I’m forever grateful).  

I also sometimes got called ‘sir’ and ‘boy’ when out in public – this never bothered me deep down, but society taught me to think of this as an insult so I took it as one.  

I even grew my hair out to see if it would make me feel more cisgender and womanly – obviously it didn’t work because aesthetics are not intrinsically linked to gender. I finally realised this over last summer and so shaved all my hair off to attempt to separate my looks from how I actually felt. A good friend of mine explained the feeling very well (they also shaved their head around the same time as me) – they said it felt like their hair was a way of hiding in society without being identified as different, a veil of femininity to blend in, no questions asked. I felt so relieved because its exactly how I felt too and even though it’s scary and vulnerable expressing your true identity, it is the most liberating thing I have ever done.  

Even with these realisations, it took me up until a couple months ago to start introducing myself with the pronouns she/they. I don’t know whether this will change again, but I know that’s okay; like sexuality, gender is a completely fluid thing and I may go through phases of feeling more masculine, feminine or neither.  

Again, without the exposure I had online to people like me, I’m not sure where or who I would be, only that I would not be so happy and comfortable in my own body and mind. 

I have so far spoken about online communities through rose tinted glasses I know, and there are issues and problems with the online world. It can feel big, you can get lost in the vast selection of people and it can get lonely. Like you have no idea where to start or if you will ever find your community/people. But I think the beauty of this can also be that it shows and proves that each person is truly individual, and each person has their own journey of self-discovery.  

I think the online world should be celebrated in many ways for the safe spaces it creates, especially for LGBTQ+ people. Knowing there are people out there like you, even though you may not know them or if they live thousands of miles away, is so important; the reassurance it can provide just knowing you’re not alone is enough.  

I’ve learnt so much from the online world and I’m not sure who I would be without it.  

15-year-old, cis straight Lois had no idea the journey she was about to embark on, and that she’d still be on 3 years later, just gayer. It can be really scary not knowing who you are, and it can feel like no one will ever understand you; but one thing you should always know is that identity is fluid and everchanging and that is completely okay! You have no obligation to have or belong to a community either, you can just be you. 

Even if it is hard to see or find, there are people out there who love and accept you for who you are – no matter who that is, or whether you know or not yet. 

The most important message I would want to say to my younger self would be to not stress about who you are – relax and indulge in the journey of self-exploration. 

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