If you ask some people, many will probably that social media trends influence trans teenagers. Calling this a fad is nothing new, and trans youth of all ages have gone through the same. Even the parents of many trans people refused to accept that their children wanted to change their gender identity. Conforming to the societal construct of heteronormativity is what everyone expects. So, anyone who is not ‘normal’ is wrong or unnatural. The enforcement of our ideas of normalcy on others is what has made trans people a marginalized community.
As a result, the internet proved to be the only safe place for the trans youth of the 80s. Although, it was still developing and there was no Spectrum Columbus Ohio TV and Internet deal like today. The challenges were stricter, but they found ways to help themselves. The early internet days came as a beacon of light for those teens. They were able to communicate with others who were going through the same things using online tools and directories.
Lack of Support from Adults
For a long time, trans teens in the 80s and 90s didn’t get support from legal adults as well. As there was no legislation to protect their rights, they were afraid to help each other. Although there were counselors and supporters, they couldn’t talk to teenagers. As it was still considered a largely taboo topic, it was complicated to continue counseling sessions.
All medical advisors (trans or not) needed an adult guardian’s consent to talk to trans teens. Most of the time, trans teens had difficulties coming out to their own families. So, they never got their consent for counseling. As a result, the counselors had to cut off ties with teens that reached out to them. It was helping no one and trans teens had little to no support. So, in these times, the internet was the only hope for them.
How Did the Internet Help?
In the early internet days, the online dynamics were very different. People were not always as connected to the internet as we are today. So, Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) were very popular. Users could connect to a BBS by dialing a number through their modem. The phone number was thus a replacement for an IP address at that time. As the costs of international dialing were pretty expensive, most people used local BBSes to communicate. It was like using social media back in the day and it helped trans teens.
Moreover, a great way to connect was through Yahoo’s Geocities pages. They were the replacements for modern-day blogs at that time. Geocities pages provided web hosting services so people could make their websites. So, many trans teens made websites to help others connect with them. The websites had email lists and phone numbers of other trans teens. Moreover, they also provided advice to deal with the changes in their body and get through school. They could also offer support for teens who had decided to come out to their families.
The early CompuServe’s servers had trans-specific chatrooms or CDForum. They utilized these chat rooms to discuss friendly therapists and ways to explore their feelings safely. All in all, the internet was pretty much the only space available for trans teens. As they could not openly talk about their sexual identity, this was the only way.
Trans Teens Coming Out
As a result of these forums and directories, trans teens were able to get more confidence. They got help from other teens and adults online. So, they understood their body better and were able to accept what they were feeling. Consequently, more and more teens were able to come out as trans before becoming an adult. The support was slow at first, but it slowly became more powerful.
Is Social Media Causing Gender Dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria means that a person thinks their biological sexual identity clashes with their gender identity. So, a man can feel trapped in a woman’s body or vice versa. There is an increasing panic in the present world that social media is instilling this feeling in teenagers. Whether this is true or not can be a completely subjective point of view. But it is causing a lot of problems even now for trans teens that want to express themselves.
Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, etc., are outlets for trans teens. Social media can be their way of escapism, as many of them are outlawed by society. So, it can be difficult trying to live life with people who do not understand you. Through social media, they can easily talk to other trans people. There are support groups and allies online that can help with mental health. So, since the early days of the internet, it is a safe space for all marginalized communities. We should not take this away as online anonymity can be of great help to them.