It was Christmas 2000 and I was 10 when my parents bought my brother and I our first family PC.
I literally squealed when I saw it on Christmas morning. I remember spending hours making home-printed birthday cards and random posters on Corel Print House, playing SimCity 3000 (my Mayor’s mansion had its own moat) and generally mucking around.
But aside from all this, our family PC was also my key to the internet and my key to answers to questions I didn’t really know I had. Through the internet, I found out what it was to be gay.
Now that’s no small thing. Like many of you, I lived an isolated adolescence, near-crippled with self-doubt and confusion. We thought we were going to hell. We thought our parents would kick us out – and in some cases they did – but for me – as for many of you – the internet and the early days of what we now call social media was where we could escape ourselves, and meet one another.
Transcending geographical boundaries and the realities of prejudice, we, the gay community, were the first to take the internet and claim it as our own.
My own voyage of discovery took me far away from the tiny Devonian fishing town I lived in, away from the bullies and allowed me breathing space to understand myself in a new context.
Throughout my early teens I built a social community for myself, a community of friends who were gay, like me, but represented everything I didn’t have in my offline life.
There were actors and dancers in touring plays, journalism students, a gay Muslim Egyptian, a gay Jewish Israeli and even a couple of school chums who would come out to me online before they felt they could in class.
This online community acted like a sounding board for me, a group of people I could test ideas and thoughts on without fear of ridicule, or worse.
‘Just like the offline world, nasty people lurk on the internet too’
Now, as well as my troupe of bohemian fancies, it was inevitable that a young gay boy fumbling around the internet in a desperate search for himself was going to bump into some undesirables.
Just like the offline world, nasty people lurk on the internet too. But, unlike the offline world, children are more often than not unprotected from their potential dangers when online. I was one such unprotected child.
Before my mother stops reading and phones me to gob off, my parents weren’t negligent: far from it. They did all they could and all they thought they needed to in order to protect me.
But, this was a time when dangerous men lurked in playgrounds – we hadn’t completely come around to the idea that they lived online too.
Nonetheless, I had restricted time online (until it became too hard for them to police), there were parental controls on the PC (that I learnt to override) and even a couple of excruciating talkings-to about my undeleted browser history.
However, at the end of the day, I hadn’t come out, and my parents couldn’t drag me out – and so there was an unspoken truth between us.
So, I met guys. Often they were older, and I always alone – having never told my parents, or indeed anyone, where I was going and who I was with.
‘I felt like a character in Sex And The City on a blind date … But, in reality, I was a teenager in a strange town, with a strange man’
I travelled too, to cities away from my home. I thought it was exciting, I felt like a character in Sex And The City on a blind date. I felt in control and thought I truly understood what these men were saying when they’d type me messages saying I was ‘really mature for my age.’
But, in reality, I was a teenager in a strange town, with a strange man, alone and not in control. The newfound confidence the internet gave me had the potential to betray me had any one of these ‘dates’ gone south.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t get hurt and always returned home in time for curfew. But, the risk I put my self in was very real. Carrying a pair of scissors in my school satchel when meeting a strange man off the internet isn’t how a ‘cosmopolitan guy about town’ protects himself: being honest with those who love him and with the dangers the world (on or offline) presents him is how he gets through it.
The internet is the best, and often the only, means by which our gay children can fully come to terms with themselves being different.
It’s where they’ll inevitably turn to find answers, now more than ever, and we have to prepare them for what they’ll find – based on our experiences – and have honest conversations with them treating them like the young adults they are as they set into a very adult world, online.
Jordan McDowell is responsible for social media chatter and insight at retail group, the Co-op.
The post Why we need to talk to our gay kids about the internet appeared first on Gay Star News.