One of the overall themes of this Self and Society in Virtual Contexts class is to demonstrate the different ways the internet and digital communication is utilized to create and support virtual communities. We have discussed previously the use of the internet for individuals looking to express themselves. In The Gay Global Village in Cyberspace by Larry Gross, the use of the internet by gay men and women is analyzed. With the emergence of television and magazines after World War 2, gay individuals tried utilizing these technologies to form gay communities. “New media create opportunities for the formation of new communities, and the Internet is no exception,” Gross says. According to the article, “queers were among the first to realize the potential of this new technology”. Magazines for gay men and women were created but many people did not find use in them because they were expensive and risked “coming out” if anyone else found them before the individual was able to retrieve them from the mailbox. The internet offers a more convenient way for gay men and women to learn and connect with others, without the risk of people around them finding out. The article focuses on young people who have not come out to their parents or friends yet in fear of ridicule. Many have thought about suicide and don’t know where to turn, but find a community or someone to talk to on the internet that understands them. The article also mentions that many teens do not feel that they are being properly sexually educated in schools, so they rely on the internet for safe-sex information.
We have discussed before that many people go online to pretend to be something else and get away from their everyday real-life self. For example, in second-life we can create avatars that are animals, robots, or that have ideal features. In the gay communities, people go online to be who they really are and find people just like them or that they can relate to. Unlike others who use the internet to mask who they really are, individuals in the gay community utilize the internet to take the mask off that they wear in real-life. Two-thirds of individuals surveyed said that the internet and online community helped them accept their sexual orientation. While gay teens are finding acceptance and a supportive community on the internet where it may lack in real-life, there is still the issue of censoring. There is a debate between censoring certain material from young children vs. censorship violating citizen rights. A software engineer in Poland says, “The Internet has been a huge force for change. The access to information, to literature, to other gays—this is our real revolution. The new generation, the ones in their 20s who use the Internet, have a completely different view of themselves. I can see it in the way they think about themselves”.