Ruminations... (or the Internet and gay teens)by Blake Kanewischer
The Internet is the best thing and the worst thing for gay teenagers. This sounds crazy, you may say, for you undoubtedly must think that the Internet couldn't be bad for you...I mean, you're reading this article, right? I hate to be a wet blanket, but it isn't completely awesome nor is it completely awful. Allow me to explain myself a little before getting egged!
So, you live in Podunk City, Nowhere. You're gay and you have nobody to turn to. Your parents are, well...your parents, your religious leaders are anti-gay or you're just not comfortable talking to them in such a small town, and the same goes for your teachers and counselors. Your friends are too busy with their significant others (of the opposite sex), so where does that leave you, the gay teenager? Alone.
That is, until you get an Internet connection. The first thing you do when you get one of those (if I'm any indication) is do a net search for gay teen or gay youth, because you just have to understand what this gay stuff is. But, you have to do it late at night, or else your parents will find out and kill you. Same goes for nosy siblings. Eventually, you progress from just doing the search to actually clicking on the link.
Usually, with any luck, you'll find a good site or place with links and helpful info right away. Suddenly, you rejoice! You've found other people like you! This is incredible! Now, suddenly, you spend every available moment on the Internet exploring this world of people like you.
You talk to them on #gayteen or other channels, and they accept you and are cool about your being gay. Many of them give much valuable advice on what to do in sticky situations, especially regarding coming out. Many people will gladly talk to you about your sexual confusions. They'll be shoulders to cry on and (far-away) people to lean on. They'll be incredible rocks for you, and support you and pull you up when you're down.
By the same token, you start to realize that you can help out other people too, so you start to get involved with helping glb teens in any way you can. Someday, you hope you'll really make a difference in their lives.
That's basically the good side in a nutshell: Lots of people (like you) who are lonely are willing to help and love and be friendly. The bad part is... there's people that aren't like that.
Just as in the real world, there's chickenhawks, homophobes, and people who will take advantage of you online. They're all unsavory chaps who can make your online existence miserable.
Chickenhawks frequent teen channels and try to pass themselves off as teenagers. Or, more rarely, they'll just openly say that they're older and looking for someone younger. These people will stop at nothing to acquire a new plaything to discard after a while. They will pretend to be your friends, but they're easily distinguishable: they're fair-weather friends, not true ones. They "stand by you" during your good times only. In many cases, if you're in the same general area as they are, they'll invite you to meet them at their house or on non-neutral territory. From there, they frequently will proceed to victimize you in numerous subtle ways.
Homophobes love to "crash" gay safe havens and spread their awful crap around there. Or, if you should happen to venture on to a non-gay channel and let them know you're gay, they may bash you there. Some will go so far as to kickban you from their channel! Others will try to flood you out and/or send you unwanted material via DCC. Others will continually /msg you and/or e-mail you with suggestive messages. Try to ignore the pain and the hurt that they cause by talking to someone who cares.
Then, the people that can (and will) take advantage of you frequently will use many of the same techniques as pedophiles, but they'll be closer to your age. Many of them will try to get you to meet them at some non-neutral place like their house or something, from where they can lure you into unwanted sexual activity or other things that you don't want to do. Don't get me wrong, many of them are wonderful people, but there are the rotten few who can wreck your online experiences.
Basically, the message I'm giving you here is: Be careful! Before meeting someone in real life whom you've made contact with online, make sure it's at a neutral place and remember that you should get to know each other in real life before you choose to make any further commitments to each other. For further information on this, check out !OutProud!, which has a brochure on protecting yourself online.