In 2005 I was 15. Admittedly I had already discovered what boys were a while before that and yes I was that epitome of loser because I was 15 years old and my only kiss ever was with a childhood friend behind her house when she told me that she loved me – we were 8 years old.
As you can imagine it was not the most spine tingling of kisses I assure you, as I said, we were 8 – and I was gay.
While on twitter this morning, I spotted a guy who I know of, he is 15 and was cursing life because of a hickey on his neck. Proudly, or not so proudly, it was impossible to miss on a picture he had posted with the caption “Oh FUCK!?” and it got me thinking.
I was the textbook ugly duckling, no photos of my teenage years remain and those that survived are locked on a computer hard drive which my dad took apart trying to fix a laptop…by using the parts from a PC – he’s not the brightest with technology. I am a little thankful for that, although I do wonder what you would say if you saw them, because I really was an ugly duckling.
I was 15, never been kissed, one eyebrow and a ‘tash’ that would scare away even the most hardened criminals – my sexual and physical awakening did not come till I was 16 when I completely changed my look and to be fair, I scrubbed up pretty well. The only access I had to other gays was, admittedly, online. But I was a teenager in a world with no Facebook and no Twitter. This was 2005 remember? Everyone on the internet still wanted your bank details, to know where you lived, to know what you did on a daily basis – or at least that’s what my parents told me about the internet.
Granted, a lot of that was true. But not to the extent that my parents thought. And I’m sure most others thought the same around that time. Bebo was an outlet, and only other LGBT persons would remember the pages upon pages of “Gay Ireland” bebo pages, ones in which you never ever revealed your name, or your face…and we were all there, well, for comfort really. After my Mom screamed at me for using a “chat room” where there were “perverts” who’ll “turn up at my doorstep” I decided I needed to be a bit more discreet, I had learnt how to delete the history when I was 12, this was no big deal. Of course the “chat room” was Bebo, the “perverts” were my friends, and they, already knew where I lived.
I was a gay teenager in an Ireland that was still coming to terms with gay people – it was such a short time ago and even now the difference is staggering. I feel like had I been 15, in 2016, I would have probably came out when I was 12 even.
People underestimate the use of social media for LGBT people. If I had the level of connectivity the LGBT teens have now I would not have felt half as lonely as I did when I was 15. Although my friends did their best when I was 16, they were all straight, I didn’t even know another gay person…To the best of my knowledge I was the only one for 30 square miles and it felt very, very lonely.
It is amazing, that someone can just log into Twitter, or even Facebook, and make friends, best friends, boyfriends, (and even enemies) through social media. It is a world far removed from the one in which I was a gay teenager searching for a place to belong. The online world I lived in was anonymous and only VERY rarely did you reveal your identity. You have to remember at the time I still had not told a soul about the truth of my sexuality. This was a world of secrecy. A world in which one wrong move could bring your life down – because if you told the wrong person, your life was over. My parents had instilled a fear in me, one which I am sure most others of my age felt as teens using the internet or even just buying online…Everyone online, was simply out to get you.
The internet itself, can be a very hateful place, and we hear about it a lot – online bullying and the like. But I think that we so often ignore the good in it. Social media can be a safe haven for LGBT people who can just be themselves, a far more welcoming and open place than when I was a 15 year old searching for a place to belong and for someone to understand.
It remained the same for a few years, that cloak and dagger feel of the internet – things still had to be done in person. There was only so many MSN conversations you could have with random gays in Ireland before you got sick of people not telling you a thing about them. Only so many “ASLs” you could deal with. (ASL – Age, Sex, Location, was how conversations usually started). By the end I just started saying that my name was Olan and I live in Cork. I was beyond that now – I had came out and it was 2008 – I was 17 now and I was ready to take on the world. But meeting people back just a few years ago was so different to now.
At 16/17, and no “gaydar” to speak of since I still did not understand or even know of social q’s that gay people use, a disastrous mix. That led to some very embarrassing moments of trying to kiss straight people – it was a minefield where I was having to learn, and learn fast. Meeting people required you to become a social butterfly, you needed to go to every party, be at every event, be the plus one at everything you can go to and in general you just had to be out there. For me at least it was like that, however I did meet lots of people, and I am pretty sure that at one point I was known in Cork by at least 40% of the 16 – 18 year olds at the time. It had its ups.
And when I saw that post today…with me at 15 having never kissed anyone let alone have a hickey to present to my followers on a social media platform that didn’t even exist when I was a teenager…It made me think of how it must be so different now just a few years later. How open and comfortable it must be for people to freely express themselves online.
It made me think of all the support that can be found by leaning on people online. Of the support that people my age back in 2006 would have killed for. Course it’s not just about that, meeting people is so much easier. Getting to know people so that you can still be a 15 year old lad, and be worried about a hickey you got from a guy the night before because for me in 2005, I couldn’t even have imagined that.