We live on the Internet, our lives defined by Facebook feeds and Instagram images that catalog the food we ate that day. So how much does a word weigh? In the age of social media, where Twitter character limits define what and how much we say, the written word is treated as increasingly disposable. But our words live online--forever.
Even though it may seem minor while we're drunk status updating, we can use that power for good. We share our stories to our "followers" every day, but it can still feel like a lonely place when you're repeatedly updating Grindr hoping to see someone, anyone new, but the digital can also bring us closer together.
BOYS started with this simple idea of using the variety of geographies we see every day online to tell a different array of stories than we're often used to. As writers who write a lot about being gay or black or what our myriad minority statuses mean, Zach and I have relinquished the urge to hide certain parts of ourselves, especially online. Over the years, we have grown to feel more and more comfortable writing about our lives in candid ways to be read by people we don't even know. It's easy to give a part of yourself away to people you will never see, when you don't have to see the other person taking it in -- wincing, crying or wanting to hit us. The Internet makes us feel invincible sometimes, as if we're surrounded by a Jedi force-field, and after awhile, you might forget it's there.
The stories in BOYS, an anthology of first-person essays, deals heavily in the growing pains, heartaches, and struggles that come with being different, but each story's also filled with hope. The authors tackled issues--race, class, and gender identity--to show how our problems might be overcome. Instead of pretending they don't exist, the first step is starting a discussion. This is how healing begins.
In "A Trip Down Route 666," Eric Bellis discusses the pains of being out to a family that doesn't accept your gender identity, except his story has a twist. After coming out as a lesbian and later as transgender, Bellis's evangelical mother and stepfather kidnapped him as an attempt to cure him of his queerness. They took him to Dove Creek, Colo.--and never intended to let him go. When the story was featured in press in relation to the upcoming anthology, Bellis updated about the experience on Facebook, writing: "I was featured (among other talented boys!) in The Advocate under a pseudonym because, at 32, I'm still terrified of my mother." When Bellis submitted his essay, he asked to publish under a pen name--his story wasn't over.
While working on BOYS, we were reminded of just how fragile--and important--our stories are. The Internet feels all-powerful, but sharing the personal can have very real repercussions for some, those who are still fighting to heal and to move on. Online harassment can disproportionately affect LGBT people--who are at a higher risk for bullying and suicide in general. In 2013, a study from GLSEN found that LGBT students are more than twice as likely (42% vs. 15%) to report being harassed or bullied online, leading to affect self-esteem among other things all from just a few clicks and typing some words. For Bellis, his mother is only a click away. Digital storytelling, however, allowed his tale to be told in a way it might not have been otherwise, where the very online anonymity that we often distrust gave his narrative life.
Simply put: Without the Internet, essays like Eric's might not be able to exist.
Each essay in BOYS is an intimate part of our own backgrounds. However, these stories don't just take place online or on the screen of a Kindle. Our histories matter to those we share them with, who can find laughter and comfort in our intersecting lives. We don't all have to come from the same place to understand each other. Harvey Milk once said that we could change the world if everyone just knew one gay person, and the Internet has the power to do that, giving print media a wider reach than it ever has had before. Print and digital can work together to build a world where it's not just straight people that get educated about gay people--and we all realize we have something to learn.
You can buy BOYS on iBooks and Amazon now, and in digital form, our words seemingly weigh almost nothing. But as we continue to grow and evolve, recording our histories for both future generations and ourselves is an important way to document who we are and to dream of our ideal community. This is how we give ourselves hope, and the weight of hope is immeasurable.