While North Carolina's transphobic House Bill 2 focuses specifically on how and where members of the LGBT community use the toilet, it has—in a way—opened up a larger conversation around the spaces outside the bathroom in which gender and sexuality are expressed.
Lending her voice to that conversation is Twitter user @VanguardVivian, whose bio identifies her as a Pan trans woman. In a series of tweets posted on Thursday evening, Vivian expertly explains why expressions of gender identity in the digital world can be as important—if not more so—than those in the physical one for some members of the LGBT community, especially in locales with smaller populations.
"Outside big cities," Vivian writes, "openly rainbow people are still extremely rare, and difficult to find, even though it seems like we've advanced so far."
The debate over the significance of online friendships is nothing new, with some arguing these digital connections are an insubstantial stand-in for relationships in the physical world. But, as Vivian points out, these digital connections may be a key outlet for LGBT individuals without immediate resources.
In fact, there is data to back up Vivian's tweetstorm. In 2012, Lynne Hillier of Melbourne's La Trobe University, along with the University of New Hampshire's Kimberley Mitchell and Michele Ybarra, of Santa Ana California's Internet Solutions for Kids, Inc., published "The Internet As a Safety Net: Findings From a Series of Online Focus Groups With LGB and Non-LGB Young People in the United States," in the Journal of LGBT Youth. The team found that online relationships were far more important and prevalent for LGB respondents. From the paper:
Young people were asked: Do you have friends that are exclusively online friends (friends you only talk to online)? There were clear differences in responses of LGB and non-LGB young people to this question both in tone and content of the answers: 4 in 5 LGB young people, and only 1 in 5 of the non-LGB young people had exclusively online friends. For the LGB group, regular communication with exclusively online friends and meeting new online friends was a normal part of their lives.
In other words, the team found that cyber-friendships were key, and crucial among LGBT youth, far beyond that of their heterosexual peers.
It's a significant dynamic to consider as we spend more and more of our lives online. For some, that internet world— and the friendships formed within—is where real relationships happen.