LiveJournal's popularity showed that there’s just something so human — so elemental — about the need to find and connect with like-minded people.
This article is part of a multi-article series celebrating Pride month and the role the internet has played in the history of the LGBTQIA+ community.
I became a blue-haired, combat-boot wearing teenager with the Millennium, turning 13 three months after the world didn’t end on Y2K. I knew how to type — fast, because all of those instant messages had to be attended to simultaneously — and I was really into journaling. And that’s what brought me to OpenDiary.
OpenDiary was one of the major online journaling sites of the early 2000s, second probably only to LiveJournal. And while there were users of many different backgrounds on there, it was particularly appealing to young queer* teen girls who were exploring what it meant to not be straight. Like me. And like Lauren.**
Like me, Lauren came of age in “the AOL-era” of the internet. Also like me, she was bisexual and blue-haired. But while I was learning about myself in the town where Bernie Sanders started his political career, she was growing up in Connecticut.
Extremely different vibes.
“I was very aware that I was attracted to men and women in my teen years and coming into my sexuality and I was pretty open about that,” Lauren tells Avast. “But I lived in Connecticut. And it’s an interesting place because, politically, it’s very blue. It’s liberal on paper. But it’s also a place where people are very preppy and very traditional.”
When Lauren would tell people in IRL (“in real life,” for those of you too young or too old to know AOL lingo) that she was bi, her sexuality was almost always dismissed as a phase or as attention-seeking.
“Growing up in that moment in time in the aughts, people were very accepting of gay men but there was a lot of stigma against queer women,” Lauren says. “Everyone was okay with the Sex and the City version of gay, like a best friend who likes my shoes and goes shopping with me. But there was this narrative of bisexual girls just doing it for attention.”
While everyone from her parents to her friends didn’t believe Lauren when she said she was bisexual, there was one place that she was able to find not only acceptance of her sexuality, but also an escape from her stifling community and abusive home environment: LiveJournal.
“On LiveJournal, I felt really free to explore that side of myself,” Lauren says. “Being online gave me this amazing tool to feel socially connected with people. I could find my people and find out about all of the things I cared about and find my community — including that queer community. And that was exciting. And liberating. And safe.”
Back in Vermont, I was also pouring my heart out over on OpenDiary. And while my parents and community were much more accepting of my identity than Lauren’s were (my dad was 0% surprised when I came out to him at age 12), I was still a young teenager trying to work things out. For me, that felt like my skin had been flayed from my body and my inner, most private parts exposed were to the air. It’s like every nerve was inflamed, all the time, and every feeling was so real. It was exhilarating and terrifying and so, so much.
In addition to my physical journals, which I carried with me everywhere, OpenDiary offered a space to process those feelings and get them out of my body. It also gave me a viewpoint into what other girls like me — girls like Lauren — were thinking and feeling and doing about their own sexuality. Sure, I had more than one girlfriend (and more than one boyfriend) in my teenage years. But OpenDiary was a space where I could explore all of this stuff with a raw honesty that didn’t always feel possible IRL.
Lauren felt that freedom tool, partly because — unlike social media now — LiveJournal was truly anonymous. You could comment on other people’s public entries, but you didn’t necessarily know who they actually were. Really the only way to know for sure that you knew someone on the site IRL was if they gave you their screen name.
“This wasn’t a time when people were tracking IP addresses,” Lauren says. “It felt very anonymous. You didn’t have a business card on the internet. You didn’t even have a real face on the internet. You were just some goofy reference and a string of numbers.”
But why were queer girls and other sapphically-inclined teens drawn to this medium in particular? It’s not like it was the only site for connecting with like-minded teens: AOL was still pretty big, although its popularity was already starting to dip, and MySpace launched in 2003. Plus there were niche sites started popping up, like Neopets, which was also popular with queer kids.
We could lean into stereotypes to answer that question: “Girls in general (and lesbians in particular) have a lot of feelings,” and journaling is a great way to process those feelings. Maybe it’s the archetype of the dreamy romantic, reading on a window seat, sighing longingly. Or maybe there’s just something so human, so elemental about the need to find and connect with people like us and LiveJournal made that possible for thousands of blue haired girls who were realizing they wanted to kiss other blue haired girls.
That. No matter why else, it was definitely that.
**A quick note about language: terms referring to different elements of the LGBTQIA+ community are very fluid, often changing drastically over time and perceived differently in different places. Please know that the intent of this article is to celebrate and share an element of LGBTQIA+ history that is often overlooked and that all word choices are made with care and consideration.
**Name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.
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