The internet impacts almost all aspects of our lives, especially the youth who are considered to be the most connected people, both online and in our societies. The LGBTQ youth, in India and globally, face extraordinary obstacles in their daily lives through the process of their identity evolution. We know already that the internet is what you make of it, but the reality is that certain communities are more dependent on the internet for the development of their identity, access to communities, and access to resources. The internet, especially for the gay youth has transformed their lives and helped create a space for self-expression.
Also Read: The Not-so-Humorous Homophobia
We interviewed a few folks who identify as gay in Mumbai about the positive and negative impact internet and Technology have had in their lives. Here’s what they have to say:
Role of technology in Shaping Their Unique Identities
On asking them how technologies have shaped their unique identities, model, actor and performer who also serves as the Director of South Asia for Mr World Gay, Sushant Divgikar tells us that, “technology is the best gift we have given ourselves, while I used to consider myself technologically challenged, I now use it to reach out to a wide range of people and connect with a global audiences.”
He explains further that technology today is a way of life, “technology has reached a place where anything is available like groceries. I access motivational talks, read texts from all over the world because I can translate languages etc. on the internet.”
Activist and Strategy Planner, Karan Vahi explains that, while technology, “definitely enables one to curate their life more it also creates pressure to be captured for social media – adding a dimension of expectation and living up to other peoples lives. It’s easy to get affected by the illusions of other people.
Negative and Positive Impacts Of Technology and The Web
We have learned that the space the internet provides for unfettered expression is easily abused and often taken over by trolls that are able to then attack identities anonymously, this often creates greater pressure on marginalized communities. With that being said the internet also provides a treasure of resources information and support, We asked our interviewees about the negative and positive impacts of technology and the web.
Sushant has had tremendous experiences with trolls online and has developed a rather tongue in cheek to online trolls.
“I have been trolled and memes have been made about me, I am of more productive value to society and my country than they are.” – Sushant Divgikar
He also draws our attention to an important issue, about people who celebrate and attend to trolls. “I don’t blame trolls, but I blame those who celebrate trolls, remember you chose what you want to celebrate on the internet”. With that being said Sushant also points out what great value the internet and apps can have. He tells us about the LGBT friendly ‘DELTA APP’, created by Ishaan Sethi. “It includes information ranging from gay-friendly parties and venues to clinics and healthcare, — it is an umbrella for everything LGBT – from a list of promoters to companies that act as allies to our cause,” adds Sushant.
Internet as Source of Self Discovery
While the internet is riddled with negative actors, the resources it provides proves to be invaluable especially for those with identities that aren’t normalized or considered as taboo subjects. Karan Vahi tells us “I have learned everything I know from the internet. It has been invaluable in my self-discovery.”
He further explains “There is knowledge out there, on the web. We live in a society where knowledge is asymmetrical and often not available to all. The internet has been a great resource for the gay communities that I have encountered. I learned a great deal about Indian law, tradition and of people who have done unique things i.e: how to start and have a family – whether it is possible how it can be normalized and that there are in fact success stories.”
“I have learned everything I know from the internet. It has been invaluable in my self-discovery.” – Karan Vahi
Gay- friendly Apps
Harish Iyer, also known as ‘Aham’, a popular LGBTQ activist and media advocate tells us about his experience with the internet. “With the number of coming out stories, with time technology has facilitated a growth story for us, there are so many rich stories and experiences out there, not just the stereotypical story of LGBT community coming out but now we see a diversity of narratives. We are in a space where while technology is getting better but laws are getting more regressive. For that we do have an education app called ‘Saathiyan’- that app speaks about educating people on sex and sexuality, and even covers sexual orientation.”
Apps such as Tinder, Grindr, etc. have been particularly prevalent among gay populations all over India and worldwide. While it helps individuals meet like-minded people, create communities and relationships, we find that there is also a dark side to using them.
“We are in a space where while technology is getting better but laws are getting more regressive.” –Harish Iyer
Complexity of the App Usage
Harish Iyer says, “the app lets you have statuses like HIV status as well, you can even say when you were last tested. This is especially progressive, Grindr gives you the options of identifying as trans-men. Now we can identify all gender identities instead of just cis male and female… apps have come of age, and we need to understand them. These Apps have also started promoting LGBT causes as well. Sensitivity for gender-neutral apps is important to explore.”
Harish further explains, “the positives are that you will never feel alone on the internet.” He also delves into the politics of the app usage explaining that “slut shaming and body shaming on these apps, ageism, English-speaking preferences, regionalism and weariness of stereotyping and a massive emphasis on looks and body is what can make socializing on these apps dangerous.
Sushant also adds, “ I have been on Grindr, everybody is basically looking for sex, Tinder is just like that. Not all people are essentially looking for long term. On one hand – it’s a community, on the other hand, it is an exchange. What I do like about it is that they have advertisements about safe sex, etc. There is nothing wrong with the apps itself it is how some people treat it like a brothel.”
Karan also recounts incidents where users personal bios have been racist and have propagated prejudice.
“The culture it promotes is sexual and body image based it creates a system of prejudice image issues within the community.” -Karan Vahi
Creating Safe Spaces
When asked how we might make apps and internet more inclusive and create safe spaces for gay and marginalized identities Harish Iyer had some particularly valuable insight,“our language needs to change – more gender-neutral words and learning how to refer to people differently, i.e: partner and not just wife/husband”.
“The heterosexual population also should wear badges and acknowledge their pronouns so that those minorities with different pronouns don’t feel singled out.” -Harish Iyer
He explains that “trolling will never stop, it’s a battle between good and evil, all we can do is ensure there are more positive stories, to build awareness and have more articles written on LGBTQ rights. He also elucidated how the general heteronormative population can get involved, “the heterosexual population also should wear badges and acknowledge their pronouns so that those minorities with different pronouns don’t feel singled out.” He concluded by saying that “the onus of inclusion comes on the ones that are included. It is important to understand what we can do to ensure that the gaps don’t widen.”
“The onus of inclusion comes on the ones that are included. It is important to understand what we can do to ensure that the gaps don’t widen.” – Harish Iyer
While technology is what we make of it, it is also important for governing institutions to take into account the range of identities and creates spaces for them to be expressed. The option of identifying as transgender on Grindr is a great example of institutionalizing gender identity and creating avenues for growth and conversation. We must remember that while we cannot control negative forces on the internet we can control and create positive cultures to subscribe to.
Akansha is an intern with SheThePeople.TV