The week of June 21, 2015

Sex, gender, and identity in the digital age

By Jesse Hicks

It’s no understatement to say that the Internet has affected every facet of our lives. It’s opened up entirely new vistas of knowledge and experience, allowed us to connect with and (potentially) understand one another, and provided us with a “virtual” space in which to experiment. That’s as true for the trivial parts of our lives as the most profound, including how we relate to our bodies when it comes to sexuality. This week, we’re looking at questions of sex, gender, and identity in the digital age.

Kari Paul looks at how dating apps and sites can provide a transitional space for people to experiment with different genders and sexual identities. With these mediated, “virtual” spaces, people can explore new orientations without the self-consciousness of joining a new community in real life—and trying to navigate its norms and expectations while figuring out your own sense of self. As Paul notes, online experimentation can lead to strong, real-life relationships.

In this week’s lead essay, Meredith Talusan reflects on a similar community—a private Facebook group dedicated to trans women—and her experience building a relationship with a stranger, a young trans woman temporarily lost in despair. Looking for consolation, she reached out via Facebook chat, in much the way Talusan had reached out in an anonymous chat room a decade earlier. The two forged a relationship—one that may have saved a life.

Rae Votta looked at a different kind of online relationship: the connection shared between YouTube stars and their fans. Many YouTube celebrities have come out to their fans—often enough that the “coming out” video has become an established genre—and YouTube’s young, progressive audiences have almost universally embraced them. Votta takes a close look at this phenomenon and what it means for our notions of sexuality, identity, and celebrity.

As always, I hope you enjoy the reading.

GIF via Jason Reed