Pink revolution, online
The Internet has made it even easier for gays and lesbians to discover and embrace their identities.
For some people, the Internet changed their lives overnight, virtually knocking down the wall separating the lives they led and those they wanted to lead. This is how Dikla, now in her twenties, described the first time she sat alone in front of a computer and logged onto the site gogay.co.il.
"I remember when I finally got a computer with Internet access, and suddenly I could go to gogay every day. It made me very happy," recalled Dikla, in an interview with Michal Montauiriano, who researches the needs of lesbian women. "It was wonderful. Every day I could go to the gay-lesbian site. It was really fun."
Gays have adopted the Internet with tremendous enthusiasm, and are among the first to use new information technologies. Further, the Internet has made it much easier for them to learn about themselves and form an identity.
"Thanks to the Internet, gays are coming out of the closet much younger," says Guy Shilo, a clinical therapist and the author of "Hahayim b'Varod" (Life in Pink), about homosexual teens and young adults, published a few months ago by Resling.
"According to studies conducted in a few countries around the world, and whose results hold in Israel, too, 10 years ago the average age for coming out of the closet was 20 or 25. Now it is 16. The Web lets anyone who wants to understand more about himself access information without exposing himself, while at the same time enables people to connect with others with relative ease. This accessibility is one of the reasons that many more young people are defining themselves as gay, are in relationships and are having sex."
Montauiriano, 33, interviewed lesbians aged 20-60, and described the marked difference in the process of self-discovery and self-acceptance before and after the Internet revolution.
"The Internet offered very easy access to much-needed information," she says. "The route young people take today is very different from what it was a decade or two ago. In interviews, older women constantly mentioned how the Internet had changed everything. When they speak about the opportunities they have now, compared to what there was before, they note how little there used to be."
Montauiriano says she conducted her research as part of her Information Studies coursework at Bar-Ilan University, and chose this subject for personal reasons. "As a lesbian, this subject is part of my life," she explains. "When I was a teenager, I remember how significant it was for me when I came across a newspaper article about a lesbian theater troupe. I read it with such enthusiasm, and when my mother came into the room, I quickly put down the paper. Now, 15 years later, my partner and I can sit in front of the computer and find as much information as we want."
Nowadays, lesbians in Israel can find copious information at a large variety of Web sites, and can even meet other lesbians at the shedate.co.il dating site. Tali Binder, the site manager and a professional realtor, says the site now has about 12,000 members.
While online dating sites and the Internet have become a central component of the homosexual experience in Israel, things are different in more conservative cultures, such as in Eastern Europe and Asia. There, homosexuals and lesbians are just beginning to make political and social strides and are still oppressed, and Web sites play a decisive role in homosexuals and lesbians identity-building.
On the other hand, in countries where homosexuals began receiving freedoms a few decades ago, the Internet is having a different, unexpected effect. Many large American cities are slowly losing the homosexual character they were once known for. Gay bars and cafes are closing down at a rapid pace, in part because they simply are no longer needed, now that relationships can be formed online.
It is hard to tell whether this phenomenon has reached Israel, where gay entertainment outlets began to appear at a later date. Even so, here too many gays prefer to closet themselves in front of the high-tech messenger and not to go out to clubs or pubs, particularly if they live outside the big cities. The result is that gay life has become more comfortable, but concepts like community and solidarity seem less relevant to many people.
"As a therapist," says Shilo, "I meet many gays who describe their difficulties in finding a soulmate, and this is actually a result of the availability of sex via the dating sites. The ability to meet people easily for sex affects relationships, and sometimes comes at the expense of the deeper acquaintanceship that comes from several face-to-face meetings."