I <3 Internet

22 / 05 / 2014

In this ‘First Person’ we welcome Rebecca Shaw to the Sheilas’ fold (having followed Bec on her Twitter account @brocklesnitch, and had many belly laughs with her succinct sense of humour – we’ve quoted some of her tweets in previous ‘Sheilas Monthly Mail’ editions). In this piece, Rebecca provides a ‘love letter of sorts’ to the www, for providing her with much ‘love’ and support during her adolescence in country Queensland.

By Rebecca Shaw

This is a love letter. But it’s not a love letter to a romantic partner, a family member, a pet, or even (this time) Beyoncè. It is a love letter to the Internet. I am not here to explain the countless ways the Internet has changed the world; I want to explain how much the Internet helped change my life.

It all began when I was about twelve years old, and started realising I wasn’t like other girls. I had always been a tomboy who hated playing with dolls and identified most with Kristy (the softball playing gamine) from The Baby-Sitters Club and George (the girl who wanted to be a boy) from The Famous Five. I was the girl who sobbed and threw a tantrum when her uncle gave her a dumb dress at Christmas while her brothers received awesome water pistols (not that I’m still bitter about this 25 years later, obviously). But as the only girl in a family of boys, this didn’t seem to concern anyone; it made sense.

What didn’t make AS much sense is why, instead of talking about how cute Devon Sawa was in the movie Casper like my friends were, I was instead rewinding parts to watch Christina Ricci say things in a way I liked. Instead of thinking about the boys at school, I was thinking of the perfume that my older brother’s girlfriend wore. Even though these things started happening when I was twelve years old, I didn’t begin to come out to people until I was in my twenties. There were a lot of years of angst, loneliness and fear between those two ages. When it all started, I was living in a small town in rural Queensland. I didn’t know any gay people. The primary school I went to had a total of 32 students. The high school I moved onto was larger and in a bigger city nearby, but it was still very conservative and homophobic, with no gay people in sight. It was essentially the anti-Glee, and the only things I had ever heard about gay people were negative.

So here I was, a girl going through puberty and realising she was attracted to other girls, in a rural, religious, conservative place. Never seeing any version of that on television, or in movies. Trying to figure out what the f*ck was going on, by herself. Understanding that what she was feeling was wrong, and having nobody there to tell her it was okay. To cope with all of this, in between the ages of 12 and 17, I just stamped down my feelings. I ignored it. I pretended to like the boys at my school. I learnt to always have an answer ready when friends would ask me which actors I found attractive (Scott Wolf, for the dimples). And depressingly, it was the one time in my life that I think being fat helped me. Nobody’s suspicions were aroused when I didn’t date boys, because they probably assumed no boy would want me. And I made no effort to win anyone over, because I didn’t want to have boys interested in me. Although I was a relatively happy and well-adjusted teenager with plenty of friends and interests and a great family, it was still a very isolated and lonely time.

The high school experiences most people have are incredibly important. They bond you to others like you, they make you feel included and normal, and they help you develop a sense of yourself. And those times when hormones are pounding and you’re dating a boy and then you date his friend and all the drama and the kissing (and the pretending the hickies you have are mosquito bites)….the intense highs and lows that come with all of that are wonderful and exciting authentic teenage experiences, and it is hard for anyone to watch that from the outside. It’s even harder, and it makes you feel incredibly lonely, when you believe that there is something wrong with you for desperately wanting all of that, but just not in the ‘right’ way.

And this, dear readers, brings me to the Internet. When I was in my later years of high school, my family got a computer. My dad initially thought you flipped over the CD-ROM to play another side, so I’m actually shocked we ever managed to get one at all. Besides all the exciting things that came with a computer, like that Encarta quiz game (I was a pretty cool teenager), came the Internet. Of course, it didn’t come like it does now, however that is (magic I guess). It came when I went to a newsagent and purchased a CD that contained 20 hours of Internet (magic again). And in that disc, (after I arrived home on my horse and buggy) was the Whole World. From that moment, I was no longer alone. It is hard to express how much it improved my life. I would wait for everyone to go to sleep, then silently sneak downstairs and start up the universe. I would cough over that familiar sound of the modem in case it woke my parents up. And I would explore the Internet, searching for people like me. I found message boards. I found sites with basic information about sex (what do lesbians even do together?) and sex education. Those helped me beyond words, because I had never had access to even the simplest information before.

I found chat rooms where I could actually talk to other lesbians. It still took me a long time to even type that I was one. I was still too terrified to even admit it to a stranger on the Internet. Because the moment I did, I knew it would become real. There was no turning back. But the Internet quickly helped me come to the realisation that there were people all over the world who were funny, smart, (seemingly) normal, happy AND gay. Everything I had been denied in my life up to that point was now at my fingertips.  It is hard to overstate what kind of effect a feeling of belonging, a feeling of community, a feeling of same-ness can have on a lonely and isolated teenager. I still couldn’t find the courage in myself to come out until a few years after that, but it didn’t matter. I had the Internet. Without it, I truly don’t know how I would have survived those years. I don’t know if I could have. I felt totally and completely alone; I felt I had nobody I could talk to, that there was nobody that would understand or love me.

I felt that until the day I slid in that CD-ROM. The Internet gave me an endless supply of people who I could talk to, people who could understand me, and people who might love me. And then, when I had built up enough courage to feel like I might be able to go outside and seek out actual physical relationships, the Internet gave me even more. It gave me information about the one ‘gay night’ a month at a dodgy pub in my hometown (the scene of my first heartbreak, but that’s another story).  The Internet gave me the dating site ‘gaydargirls’, where I could find women who were interested in women. The Internet has given me friends, it has given me relationships, it has given me knowledge, it has given me opportunity, and it has given me love. And in return, I am giving it this love letter.

I love you, Internet. And I always will.