Coming Out As Your True Self: Is the Internet a Help or a Hindrance?

Being your true self is not an easy thing. JustSociale Board Member and Transgender advocate Melissa Griffiths opens up about her journey coming out – and how the internet has helped and hindered her along the way.

It can take years to really figure out who you are – so imagine being gay or bi and/or a transgender female and adding that to the already complicated mix of life. The brave decision to come out as bi and/or transgender and then actually doing so – not knowing the reaction you will get from others – is not an easy decision to make, let alone actually doing so… You have to look at your world almost from an outsider’s perspective, considering how coming out will impact your life, your work and whether your friends and family will accept you or not when you do.

The double-edged sword of the digital domain

For those of us who do come out, living as our true selves, walking our own paths and showing the world who we really are eases some of the anxiety we have likely gone through up until the point of coming out. People don’t realise the mental health aspects that those in the LGBTIQA+ community go through, whether young or old, when it comes to realising who they, regardless of where they sit on the LGBTIQA+ spectrum. As the National LGBTI Health Alliance points out: LGBT people are twice as likely than the general population to be diagnosed and treated for mental health disorders; LGBTI people aged 16 and over are nearly three times more likely to diagnosed with depression in their lifetime; and Transgender and Gender Diverse people aged 18 and over are nearly 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression in their lifetime.

Coming out to the world means you often face fresh challenges around your mental health, particularly if you encounter ridicule and verbal abuse from your acquaintances or friends – or society as a whole. You may feel anxious going to work, let alone going out to a bar or restaurant. It may sometimes seem like you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t – even in the online world. As the eSafety Commissioner has pointed out, online hate is still rife, with people identifying as LGBTQI experiencing online hate speech at more than double the national average.

In coming out, I found social media and the internet useful in helping me do so, helping me find transgender-friendly venues or meetings where you can meet other transgender people. The world wide web can be a hinderance too, however, if you don’t want people to find out that you are considering coming out. As one US report put it, “LGBT youth experience nearly three times as much bullying and harassment online as non-LGBT youth, but also find greater peer support, access to health information and opportunities to be civically engaged.”

As far as my mental health was concerned, whilst the internet provided me with some tips on how to manage it, being online did have a detrimental effect in terms of some of the criticism I received via social media. I have encountered – as many do when they come out – bullying, harassment or intimidation, so I totally understand those who choose not to come out. In fact, not long after transitioning, I had to take three weeks off work to deal with suicidal thoughts because of pressure of transitioning and some of the feedback on social media. It was a very dark time for me and whilst I haven’t gone back there, I still battle some mild depression, but I am more mindful of my thoughts these days so I never go back to thoughts of suicide or self-harm. 

Keeping the faith

There’s also the personal and professional aspects of your life that undergo a transformation as you may have to find new friends, including at work, as old ones drop off – which is something that happened to after I transitioned. A lot of transgender people experience this and far worse as they come to live full time as their true self, losing family and most or all of their friends. Although my mother understands my decision, I know she doesn’t accept it and so our relationship is at best estranged in a lot of ways.

Coming out is a deeply personal decision and one where the burden of being out is sometimes more than not coming out. We still have a long way to go until both the offline and online worlds are safe, inclusive and respectful of all. In the meantime, we can all do our bit in some way – whether on a personal level, at conferences or through media or social media or radio/tv – to make it better for all of our community to make it easier for people to come out.

Useful links:

Did you know: According to the eSafety Commissioner, 10% of Australians have experienced image-based abuse. Although women aged 18-24 are more likely to be targets (24%), LGBTQI people also experience a high level of image-based abuse (19%). To find out more about image-based abuse and find out what steps you can take, click here.

For Beyond Blue’s list of organisations that can recommend services that are inclusive and respectful of LGBTI people, click here.

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