Bookmarked Text Posts And A YouTube Video From 2008 Made Me Gay
The video no longer exists on YouTube, and the bookmarks have since been deleted, but if it weren’t for them, it would probably have taken me longer to find myself
Welcome to The Internet Made Me Gay, a special series occuring this Pride Month on all the ways that LGBTQIA+ individuals have found comfort and community in online spaces. Whether it’s through LiveJournal, fan fiction, YouTube, or the great unmoderated world of internet forums, the World Wide Web has been instrumental in many queer people’s paths to figuring out who they are. In these essays, we explore that and embark on journeys to self-discovery with them.
The first social media account I ever owned was a profile on Friendster in the year 2007. I was 11 years old, my fifth grade crush liked me back, and weekends were half-spent running around outside with my neighbors and the other half frying my eyes in front of a monitor. I would spend hours prettifying my Friendster profile, searching for the perfect layout, and adding the perfect song that played anytime anyone opened my page. For a time, it was “Say OK” by Vanessa Hudgens, then “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie. During my very obsessive Julie Andrews phase, “Polonaise” from the opéra comique Mignon found its way onto a 12-year old’s Friendster account. Eventually, I stopped looking for layouts because I’d learned how to make my own, having figured out the basics of HTML and CSS coding.
Through Friendster, I discovered Christine Gambito, or HappySlip, as she is more popularly known. It was the early years of YouTube—the platform wasn’t yet the billion-dollar industry it’s become today. Christine, who specialized in Filipino-American sketch humor, was one of the most subscribed-to users on the site then, alongside KevJumba, nigahiga, and the original duo of Smosh. As a preteen, I obsessively watched all her content, from her soap opera series to her vlogs, which back then just meant her sitting in front of the camera, chatting. No house tours, room tours, or makeup organization videos. She wouldn’t go into the banality of daily life; she’d sit there and answer questions like Was she born in the Philippines or in the United States? Is she Filipino? Has she ever been to the Philippines?
During YouTube’s early days, you could “reply” to a video with another video, transforming the content in any which way you want: as a parody, a remake, or even just footage of you personally replying. On one of Christine’s vlogs was a reply that took the form of a slideshow of screencaps from it, set to “Out of My League” by Stephen Speaks. The video no longer exists on YouTube—it’s been twelve years since, after all—but much of it still survives perfectly well in my memory: the soft piano accompanying stills of Christine’s face, the lyrics complementing what you see on the video—It’s her hair and her eyes today that just simply take me away. Looking back, it’s one of the earliest memories I have of being enamored with a woman, but I had never thought anything more of it. It doesn’t matter that to this day, that song still reminds me of what it’s like to first start feeling something for someone—And the feeling that I’m falling further in love makes me shiver, but in a good way.
I didn’t figure out my sexuality until I was in my second year in college in 2014. I’d always considered myself straight, never mind the fact that I had a penchant for falling in love with actresses and saying that I only “admired” them. I perhaps never would’ve realized that I was, in fact, gay if it weren’t for the internet. Early in 2014, Rookie published an article called “Not About Love” by Gabby Noone. I sent it to all my friends, excitedly proclaiming HERE. I FEEL THIS EXACT SAME WAY. After all, I was 18 and incredibly disinterested in boys. When that article came out, I thought I had figured it all out. My friends and I often joked that my standards were too high for any boy—turns out this standard was simply called “women.”
After Friendster came Multiply and Blogspot, where I further learned how to code. I knew my way around a stylesheet, and it was on those sites that I devoted albums and entries to my favorite actresses: Christine, Julie Andrews, Lauren Lane of The Nanny fame, and even Sharon Cuneta. But those sites either met their demise or just stopped being the standard of blogging, and other social media platforms started gaining traction, anyway—Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram. Tumblr—a microblogging site where people ‘reblogged’ text posts, photos, videos, and music—perhaps had the biggest influence on me. It’s known to be the breeding ground of hipsters, but they all left in 2012 when Instagram started becoming bigger, and so majority of the platform was inhabited by fandom—individuals, many of them queer, who had migrated from LiveJournal when interface overhauls and changes to the terms of service could no longer sustain the ways in which fandom operated.
I found a community on Tumblr, a space to share what I loved and have actual people to respond to it. I’ve often called it one of the safest spaces on the internet, because even as it became known for social justice warriors and toxic discourse, you can curate your dashboard, choosing to follow blogs you only truly care about, and block content that you would rather not see. Its ecosystem had been something resembling a bubble, that on days when the world weighed a tiny bit heavier, I would simply escape to my Tumblr dashboard, my eyes immediately adjusting to that familiar shade of blue. If not for Tumblr, it might’ve taken me even longer to figure out my sexuality. Early on, before I realized that I liked liked girls, I would bookmark text posts, little things that talked about how attraction to girls is different from attraction to boys. But I would hide them; I would label them with something inconspicuous, something that won’t attract attention to it. “me,” I think was the name of the bookmarks folder, and it would be filled with things that I related to but was too scared to admit.
It’s been years since the bookmarks sat in my browser; I deleted them the moment I could finally say the words “I’m gay.” Deleting them felt like freedom, almost. It felt like an exhale—the kind you get when you’ve been holding in your breath without realizing it. I never had a drawn-out struggle with myself in terms of accepting my sexuality, but looking at my lifelong feelings for women and angling them a different way was certainly frightening—giving it a name even more so. I had always used to chastise myself whenever I looked at a woman too long. I’d always used to feel shame and embarrassment whenever I talked about their soft hands, their laugh lines, the wrinkles by their eyes, their voices. It had always been a struggle, unlike the way I spoke more openly about my attraction to men. But after fear came clarity: Nothing else has ever made more sense than the fact that I love women and that I will love them for the rest of my days.
I’ve never been one to separate my internet self from my “real” self; the two have always been one and the same. The friends I met online are as real and as genuine as the ones I met in school, or at work, or elsewhere. There’s still a certain kind of stigma attached to “growing up on the internet,” but I’d always been proud that I spent much of my formative years online. I found myself in worlds that I otherwise would never have reached; I met people that I otherwise would never have known. And perhaps—and most of all—I would never have truly figured out who I really am without the internet. Even if I did, it probably would’ve taken longer.