Personally, coming out was scary in its loneliness. When I first came to the conclusion that I was attracted to girls, I fit into the lesbian category. A word that finally could describe all that I was feeling and reunited me with others. But where do you meet said others? At that point in my life, my conceptions of queerness were synonymous with danger. Coming out at school was risking bullying at worst, and always being left out at best. I knew of gay clubs or youth groups for LGBTIQ+ individuals, but I doubted how well they would fit my needs. I was young, I was scared, and mostly, I was lonely through this experience.
Fast forward to the present, a second coming out as a trans man, and feeling this same loneliness amongst my peers. Acceptance and tolerance surrounds me, as I’ve luckily managed to find progressive, loving people to call my friends and family, even during my first coming out. My friends had questions, but never rejection. My family were worried, not unsupportive. Still, in a sea of allies, you still feel like you’re the only crew member of your boat.
Physical spaces, the best spaces?
Physical LGBTIQ+ spaces, designed by and for the community, have been immense resources for people. I was active in a such a club when I was sixteen, when I impulsively sent a message to my local youth group to meet with them. I was met with warmth and a powerful sense of community, channeled through the lead mediator that I jokingly call my gay dad. To me, at that time, he represented a safe queer adult that radiated confidence in his identity and helped shape perspectives of those who felt unable to. This left a huge mark on me, and unfortunately, was the only time I had felt such a physical sense of community. Most LGBTIQ+ groups that I’ve encountered are support-driven. You attend to participate in discussions as to how the world is homophobic and transphobic, and how all would be easier in a more open-minded setting. Those appeal to a specific phase in your self-understanding.
When closeted, suffering and struggling, questioning or in desperate to talk/vent, this space offers exactly what you are craving: community support.
Other groups, that are more recreational and networking oriented, face a new obstacle, that of human social classes. It is a social space after all, with social rules, and for a teenage group, that encompasses all the problems faced in school: those are that are believed to be cool and popular, the outcasts, the new kids, and other image-related norms. Despite regularly attending a physical group that had support and recreational events in my teenage years, I always preferred the former, even when my need for support eventually died out. I never fit in at the recreational events, as most teenagers are fighting for their own social preservation. It was another type of classroom than that of school, with the same types of drama and rivalries, but amongst all queer individuals. I still felt invisible.
Between my own struggles with self-esteem and my preconceived ideas of popularity, friendship and worth, if I had stuck to my physical spaces only, my confidence would have never grown. Never in those LGBTIQ+ spaces was I considered a worthy member. I had become friends with some, but never felt to be an essential part of the dynamic. Others were thriving, obviously creating strong friend groups that then explored queer life beyond that space. And somewhere, sitting on a chair, in the back, laughing with the others but never them laughing with me, was where I would be.
Online spaces as chosen families
Twitter changed my life at 15 years old. At first, I was using it for a clothing Tumblr blog that I had curated to help other masculine lesbians find men’s clothing that I liked. At that time, Twitter was simply a device to promote my blog posts. But, one day, as I was in school, waiting for music class to begin, I wrote my first tweet to seem busier than I was. That marked the beginning of me creating a real space for myself. I started using Twitter for its intended purpose: a place to vent, share thoughts and opinions, joke, troubleshoot and review, with the possibility of community interaction along the way. As I started following more people of the LGBTIQ+ community, I began getting more and more followers, dedicated ones, that read and interacted with me. I was talking to people all around the world. My pictures were getting more likes than I could ever imagine (a beauty standard typical for high schoolers after all). I made people laugh, think, share and smile. I finally found a voice that was heard.
That first Twitter account was my real LGBTIQ+ community, especially when I found my niche of black lesbian content. There was something so relieving that in my physical space as a nobody, I was somebody online. I spent about two hours after homework dedicated to Twitter, daily. It had become the safe place to for me to be myself.
During my second coming out, I was lucky enough to be on a progressive American college campus that had a strong trans and nonbinary presence. Pronouns and name change were accepted automatically into campus community. I felt no need for further support. It was upon returning to my home in Switzerland that I’ve struggled the most. Everyone needs me to understand how hard it is for them to adapt their language. I do, I do understand. But I need them to understand that every pronoun and name slip, in public, in front of their friends, at a nightclub, symbolizes a punch to my dignity and a risk to my safety. It is a mistake to them. It is a dissociative episode to me. A reminder that my well-being dangles upon your effort. I went from people knowing that you can be a man without medically transitioning, to people telling me how easier it will be to respect me once I have medically transitioned. In a way, going from easy to hard was a tease. I was shown how a progressive, trans-inclusive environment looks like just to be dumped back into reality, back in my home. Looking back, no wonder I was in denial for so long. I knew this truth would be the hardest to live.
That is when the need for community become essential again. I did not crave support, not in the sense of being unsure of myself or complaining about my life. I craved community, the people living my experience to bond with. That is when I created an Instagram page that fell straight into the transmen niche. As I have now spent 7-8 years wearing men’s clothes that were not designed for my body, I have gathered some tips and tricks to make proportions, sizes, outfits and silhouettes more masculine. I decided to revamp my very first idea of a clothing blog into an Instagram page for transmen who may be clueless or scared to try menswear, an industry as fatphobic and perfection-driven as womenswear. Sharing my knowledge on this topic comes from the heart; if I can help, I always will. My real gain is that sense of community. Transmen are more bonded than any other group I’ve encountered before. The experience of being trans in such a globally transphobic world is something that cisgender people cannot understand. The stop signs to your self-worth are faced every single day.
The explicit instances of transphobia to the subtle ones create a mental paranoia of the ghost of your past self. It haunts you.
The psychological trauma of being systematically disrespected works as a key factor in building community and the coping of such is unique to each member’s experience. While a common fear may reunite us, the shared stories and advice are so invaluable. In many ways, trans people are still exploring ways to survive this world.
Trans identity, particularly binary trans identities, is very visual unfortunately. People are curious about medical transitions, want to marvel at the physical changes and show their progress along their journey. From that perspective, it is conceivable that Instagram has become a space for transmen. I’m slowly growing into trans spaces on Twitter, because the two platforms’ feels are different. So far, Instagram has treated me kindly with this project, connecting me with like-minded people around the world who offer endless support.
It is hopeful to see others’ journey way further up the mountain. Luckily, in the trans community, they tend to wave back down at you and offer you a hand up if they can.
From my experience, LGBTIQ+ spaces tend to have this perfect haven connotations amongst allies. However, the two major spaces for queer people are support groups and nightlife. Those are very limited choices for such a broad community of people. Just because we relate to being queer does not equal automatic compatibility, it is simply an identity that we share. Overall, physical spaces have their own codes, can intimidate and simply do not suit many community members. Again, from my experience, online spaces are to be cherished as an alternative. You can tailor the community to your liking, following those who really make you feel safe and remove those who don’t. It can provide a far larger pool of people to connect with, from around the world, and share more vast experiences. Ideally, a good physical and online family can be psychologically soothing. In both cases, practicing healthy habits are necessary. Too much involvement in a toxic physical group is just as harmful as a dependency on online validation. But I can assure you, both have a happy middle place to can act a fulfilling way to meet your community and support needs.