Out in Public

Photo by PJ Graham

When it comes to a person’s life, social media can be deceiving. Filters aren’t just used to make flowers brighter or teeth whiter. Sometimes people filter out parts of their lives as well. For some people, social media is only two-dimensional; people don’t always get the full story, just the story that someone chooses to tell them. But for others, this relationship between social media and reality is flipped. Social media has become a platform for many people to come clean about their true identities. In this way, people can take control of their personal story that may be hidden or misunderstood offline but told honestly online.

For others, social media is just an extension of the identities they already openly express in person. Expressing their identities online is just a way to cover all the bases.

Based on figures released by Facebook, the number of people coming out on Facebook per day is about three times what it was on October 11, 2014, National Coming Out Day. Facebook defines “coming out” as “updating one’s profile to express a same-gender attraction or specifying a custom gender.”

Sophia Stone, president of the board for Transformations Iowa, a trans support and social group, believes coming out online has many benefits. She has had a positive experience with coming out about her identity online.

“The internet has been very useful for helping people come out, discovering themselves, and being themselves. It’s a great first step,” Stone says.

Certain days are attributed for the highest numbers of people coming out on Facebook, like the marriage-equality ruling on June 26, 2015. Celebrity statements play a role in influencing and encouraging coming out online as well. Caitlin Jenner’s official coming out day marked another peak in online coming-out statements. Other celebrities like actress Ellen Page and Passion Pit lead singer Michael Angelakos have helped to normalize the idea of coming out to their large fan bases.

According to Stone, the internet can help people discover “that there is actually a term for how they feel, how they identify, there are other people out there who feel the same way. You can then expose yourself to other people who have very similar experiences or the exact same experiences and talk to them and get help from them.” More representation in the media can be the encouragement that someone needs to come out online and ideally it will pay off when the encouragement continues online.

Reasons for coming out online can vary based on a person’s individual experiences, but there are some benefits that seem to be the most appealing. One post can reach hundreds of family and friends. This could mean less nerve-wracking conversations and less repeated questions But while Stone believes coming out online is a necessary step, she believes it shouldn’t stop there.

“[Coming out in person] allows you to live your life as yourself rather than having to go online to live your own life. That way you can be yourself all the time,” Stone says.

Coming out online is a growing trend with many benefits but it does not eliminate the need for coming out in person or in general.

“It’s not necessarily changing the need for coming out because that’s always been a need,” Stone says. “But it’s making it easier for people to come out.”