About the author: Alexandra Lewis is a 18-year-old multiracial and neurodiverse writer, friend, and family member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Austin, TX who has worked as a youth advisor for Headstream as well as a youth advocate for the non-profit Out youth
Welcome to the Pit: District Lavender
Our little place in the world, Earth, has changed in many ways over the time we have been able to record. The ground we walk on has changed shape, and the flora and fauna around us have morphed over time on our hands. The weather fluctuates and so does the life of your average human; all of this is expected and we understand it, even if we don’t like it. But one thing has become a part of our daily life that moves at a pace most can’t keep up with, barely starting to understand its current state before it changes again. At first, this was a marvel, a golden child of human innovation. We couldn’t contain our excitement for the possibilities it promised, but we did try to control ourselves. “What a fun novelty this is!” We thought as we made more and more using it as a vessel for apps, websites, games, videos, slideshows, anything we could think of. I mean, the sky’s the limit right? And with that thought, people added things to this humble space called the internet, slowly making things that would live on to this day and nonchalantly given to their children and those children to their grandchildren. The idea that doing this could make this little space something… complex. Something that can’t be understood from just a glance; you have to keep digging to see the possibilities. Like a pit so deep, you can’t see the bottom of it. And it gets bigger every day.
There are many different parts of the internet that break down even further by platform, interest, country, access, or millions of other ways of discovery. This however is not how many people think of the web, it’s most active citizens included. Why is that? Well, the internet was never a marvel because people understood how amazing it was or how complicated the process of making it is, I’ll tell you that much! But seriously, the internet is a whole world of it’s own. It has its own history, sub-cultures, languages, and trends although they look different than the in-person version of these things. It can be hard to see this when you didn’t grow up in it; your brain is accustomed to the way this place works. I mean, someone who grew up with the gravity of the moon will have a hard time with the Earth’s gravity, but someone who grew up with both is gonna have an easier time either way. This is where I come in, a citizen/long-time dweller of the pit that is the internet, specifically the LGBTQIA+ corner of the web. Our own little District Lavender if you will.
A Tale of a Shroom within the Pit’s Walls:
How does one even find themselves a citizen of a barely understood pit? It’s quite simple my friend; start with being homeschooled because no one knows how to accommodate your autism; sprinkle in some light boredom and a dash of constant under-stimulation, pair it with an iPad, and you’ve got the start of a little shroom growing within the comforting depths of the pit! Now I was a very easy kid to take care of if I was fed and I had something to entertain myself with, an easy fix for parents who were busy figuring out how to get me to learn math without having a meltdown :)
I won’t lie though; I was horribly lonely. I spent most of my life waiting and bouncing between different alternative schools/co-ops/study pods, never staying long enough to make a close friend. I didn’t have a genuine friend my age until I was 15. That is a very hard thing to go through, but being on the web filled some of that space. The videos I occupied myself with, the music I was constantly listening to, and the fanfictions I burned multiple hours for, all of them filled the silence that was supposed to be filled with laughter, conversation, and childish joy. I wasn’t a child who hugged a plush at night, but I was a child who filled my headphones with the sound of people playing video games all night long when the darkness felt too void.
I am thankful for the place the internet had in my childhood. Thanks to exposure to the internet, I knew gay people existed! I knew I could be one, and I had the tools to figure out my identity from a very young age, but on the flip side, I also knew there were people who didn’t like gay people. I knew that gay people were often the butt of the joke and that if they were “triggered” then you should laugh. I learned who gay people were from people who didn’t like them. I want you to ponder the effect this could have had on me, and I want you to sit with that for a moment.
I do think the internet is a wonderful place with the potential to be incredibly healing for so many people, but the reality is that it is very rare for someone to get mostly benefits from the internet. For the LGBTQIA+ community, you can find others with similar experiences and maybe even a romance that no one has to see but you and your partner. You can also find more interactions with other LGBTQIA+ people where one of you is talking the other through suicidal thoughts/ideations. Maybe you are this rock for multiple people and all of a sudden, you are the reason people you have never seen haven’t hurt themselves. I know too many stories of this happening, and the burden of that is impossible to explain in words alone. When you find community on the internet but no larger support for these individuals, then it’s up to others to pick up that slack when it’s not their responsibility.
I am not saying that queer people shouldn’t support each other in crisis or that the community is bad. What I am saying is that the damage our society has done to its people is exposed to the highest degree through the anonymity granted by the web, and the ones being hurt and having to fix a bullet wound with a band-aid are young people. Youth often aren’t taught boundaries and even more so with others on the internet; add on a marginalized identity like being LGBTQIA+ and you have a messy cocktail ready for disaster. Relationships online are not set up to succeed, and community can be hard to build and keep healthy.
But what is there that we could do?
Find a Flashlight and Get Ready to Explore the Depths
I am not an inventor or a coder or anything like that, but I am a writer, a consumer of content, and an aspiring activist. I understand the fear surrounding young people and the internet, but I also understand that the fear is misguided. Young people spending all their time on the internet is not the issue, but it is a symptom of society’s many issues, a coping mechanism that will not go away anytime soon and it doesn’t need to. What does need to happen is the implementation of digital wellness (think of it like the pit’s version of healthcare), small things to support users and encourage healthy habits and relationships. And older people need to gain respect for the space that youth are occupying without just trying to take it away.
The future of the web is something I will never be able to predict. The internet now is nothing like what it will be in a year because that is the speed of the web; I am at peace with this growth, but I can ponder ideas. Maybe apps like Tik Tok could make your fyp filterable by type of content/vibe/trigger and find ways to slow down the app experience. Maybe there could be a built-in part of every website/app company that solely focuses on digital wellness for that platform and supports the content creators as well. I could sit here and talk about every idea that pops into my head, but I don’t need to do that. I am a small part of a section of the internet, a section I haven’t even seen fully, and there are already apps and websites that are trying to make the internet a place where you leave better than you entered. Large companies need to listen to them and hear what ideas they have because at the end of the day, everyone uses YouTube and TikTok but not everyone will use an app that was just made and whose only purpose is digital wellness. These technologies need to be implemented where they would have the most effect.
We need to be curious, and we need to foster an interest in the communities that exist only on the web because do you know how much beautiful joy is expressed when people feel safe or when they find someone like themselves for the first time? It is like sunlight to a plant's soul, and I cannot explain the feeling when I see the marginalized happiness of a queer teen falling in love with someone hundreds of miles away from them.
The internet is a pit that gets bigger every day. And every day, it fills with the skittles flavored laughter of childhood. I think we should cherish that place where our children’s comfort often lies and question our certainty regarding the stance that if young people like something, then that thing must be simple and easy to understand/control.
Tech will not swallow us whole through use; it will swallow us whole through the fact that it is not going anywhere and if not regulated with careful intention, it will breed issues that evolve too fast for us to keep up. We are already at that point and with how little we understand now, I think the internet will continue to create issues that we would have never thought we would need to prevent. So give people the tools to weather these issues and create balance within those who use the internet. Maybe you do that with digital wellness or maybe you do it through changing how tech companies work. Whatever method you use, use it with respect and curiosity. That’s all a gay teen who uses the internet constantly can ask for.