Before LGBTQ+ people formed online communities via Tumblr and Twitter hashtags, like #growingupgay, we spent much time searching for answers to our queer questions via forums and message boards. While the fact that people peruse Yahoo! Answers to see if anyone answered questions they were too embarrassed to ask has become a running joke on the internet, the people who asked those questions can be hailed as martyrs for LGBTQ+ people.
Yahoo! Answers will officially shut down on May 4, and while we still have sites like Quora to ask all of life’s burning questions anonymously (or openly via Twitter, if we’re feeling bold), Yahoo! Answers served as a safe space for young millennials.
There was very little LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream media 10 years ago, aside from television programs like Glee. And even with the little representation we had, many of the LGBTQ+ characters on TV were reduced to stereotypes or side characters, or only given coming-out storylines. Also, many of the characters representing the LGBTQ+ community were white, cisgender, homosexual men.
Of course, my point isn’t to discredit these characters and the boundaries they broke. There are many gay men who saw themselves in characters like Kurt Hummel. But at the time, representation for lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people was minimal, so many of us sought answers online.
I’ve been aware of my bisexuality since I was 17, but I first started questioning my sexuality around 14 or 15. At the time, I was active in the Catholic church, having gone through the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, eucharist and confirmation. I was taught that possessing even an iota of queerness is a sin warranting eternal damnation.
I always wondered how being queer could be an act of evil, despite the fact that the LGBTQ+ people in my life were the kindest, most humble people I knew. The summer before freshman year of high school, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” stayed at №1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for seven weeks, so same-sex experimentation couldn’t be sinful if so many people were buying the single and glorifying the act.
Eventually, I found myself searching for answers online. I never actually had an account on Yahoo! Answers online, nor did I ever post a question on the platform, but I managed to find answers to the questions that would keep me up at night.
“Can a guy be straight and have a crush on a guy?”
“Is it normal for a guy to imagine having sex with another guy?
“Can boys be bisexual?”
“Will you go to hell for being gay?
Out of all of the above questions, I found myself asking the third most often. I didn’t know any boys or men in my suburban hometown that were openly bisexual. I had never seen any bisexual boys or men in television or film. It wasn’t until college when I met an openly bisexual man for the first time. I also learned terms like “pansexual” and “non-binary.”
Thankfully, there was a community of queer men on Yahoo! Answers who experienced similar feelings. There were men who were married to women who admitted to occasionally fantasizing about men, or men in same-sex relationships whose boyfriends allowed them to occasionally sleep with women. There was no universal bisexual experience, but I had enough answers for me to make sense of my own sexuality.
Today, it seems like there are more nuanced queer or trans characters in television and film than there are straight or cis characters, and I’m thankful for this. I feel this makes for an accurate reflection of real life. It will also help younger LGBTQ+ people not feel as alone as their millennial or Gen X counterparts.
As for the fourth question, I found that at the time I was questioning my sexuality, I was also questioning my Catholic faith. Even so-called “sins” not pertaining to sex, such as eating shellfish or wearing mixed fabrics, didn’t seem evil to me.
In addition to questions about sexuality, I found myself searching for questions about religion as well.
“Have you ever had an encounter with God?”
“Will you go to hell for not believing in God?”
“Am I a bad person for not wanting to go to church?”
Today, I consider myself agnostic. I believe that there is a God, or some other higher power, but I also believe that no single person knows for sure. I believe that people should live their lives being the best person they can be, not for the fear of going to hell, but rather out of genuine desire to be good.
I came across several different answers to the questions regarding my sexuality, but many of the questions I came across regarding religion could be summed up with “Only God can judge,” and that has been my modus operatus since I was 17.
Now, at 27, I’ll admit that I use Quora instead of Yahoo! Answers, not so much to find answers to questions about religion or sexuality, but rather to find answers to questions I’d look stupid for asking (e.g. “Can I substitute cornmeal for cornstarch?” or “Will I die if I take a melatonin after drinking wine?”). But to this day, I am thankful for the queer community I found on Yahoo! Answers, even if I never once interacted with these people directly.
I still have great admiration for people who ask awkward, cringeworthy questions on Quora or Yahoo! Answers, mostly because I don’t want to be the one who has to ask them. Over the years, the embarrassing questions people ask on these platforms have become the subject of jokes and memes, but for LGBTQ+ people, those asking these questions are the true heroes of our nation.
Thank you, Yahoo! Answers, for being a safe space before safe spaces were a thing. For helping a generation of queer and trans kids get the answers they needed. You will truly be missed.