Gay atheists are two clicks away from trans hackers. Cross dressers occupy the same sidebar as gay gamers. A Reddit forum of same-sex parents shares the same website as a group of gay bros.
These are just a few of the myriad of queer subreddits that exist online; open equitable platforms for casual conversation and community construction. Anyone can become a moderator of one of these pages and anyone can contribute to the running dialogue. Subreddits have become refuges for people who often feel out of place in more mainstream LGBT conversations.
Last year, 23-year-old Alexander DeLuca launched Gaybros, a subreddit for gay men who gravitate “towards traditionally male interests,” as he described it to me.
“Some people think that the nature of creating a space that celebrates interests that society labels as ‘masculine’ is inherently misogynistic or exclusive. It’s really not the case, and I think a lot of people realize that when they interact with the community,” DeLuca said.
That community is comprised of close to 20,000 Reddit subscribers, a sizeable base which he and web developer/co-moderator Jon Allen hope to increase with the launch of a new website.
“We know that Gaybros has helped a lot of people come to terms and take pride in their sexuality and masculinity. We want to accomplish that on a broader scale by developing a stand-alone website that offers original and user-submitted content,” Allen said.
They are in the early stages of developing the site, and Allen says they hope to have it up and running by early summer. Gaybros then tried to raise money through an Indiegogo account to fund the new venture.
Their prominence and fundraising campaigns, most recently one devoted to raising $10,000 for the Trevor Project this month, have caught the attention of Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin, who revels in finding new subreddits.
Every morning, Martin goes on Reddit and clicks ‘random’ on the top left corner a few times. He’s stumbled across a strange and diverse set of niche communities, most recently one about people who work in wildlife rehabilitation.
“I wasn’t planning on spending an hour reading through it, but I did and it was fascinating,” Martin said. But besides the novelty appeal of pages like this, subreddits can foster communities in the real world through various meet-ups, ranging from organizing dates to planning sporting events.
“We hear stories all the time of people who meet their eventual spouse, or business partners, or just roommates,” Martin said.
These safe and open forums have become especially significant to the LGBTQ community.
“The Internet changed everything. Everything,” said Rachel Young, a 36-year-old who identifies as a transgendered woman. “We can discuss how we feel and who we are in a nonthreatening space, without risking ‘real life’ relationships.”
Young is one of the moderators of the cross-dressing subreddit, which has nearly 4,500 subscribers. Young reads posts ranging from conversations about gender-play to queries from friends and significant others asking about cross-dressers in their lives.
“It happens pretty frequently and really gives me faith that a lot of people are at least trying to be supportive, even if they don’t ‘get it,’” Young said. Sometimes, it takes an individual subreddit to point out the lack of support existing in online spaces.
Jamie K., 29, created the subreddit transphobiaproject to “identify trouble spots” throughout the rest of reddit where knowledge about trans individuals was limited.
“People post pictures or Twitter posts of someone talking about a ‘man in a dress’ or something every single day, and those posts often receive huge volumes or upvotes and the comments are then filled with horrible shaming comments and hateful jokes,” Jamie said. She identifies as genderqueer pansexual and prefers female pronouns.
While her subreddit fostered what she perceives as valuable conversations about gender identity, Jamie thinks that reddit has a long way to go before it becomes an entirely safe space.
“At the same time, it’s the place where the most change can be made. The internet is still young, and it will shape our world,” Jamie said.
There are queer subreddits founded in places ranging from India to the U.K.
Abbie Archer, 22, manages gaytheists from Edinburgh, Scotland. She is a transgendered woman and an “avowed atheist,” who calls herself “queer as a daffodil.” When she launched her subreddit two years ago, Archer wanted to include a mix of stories about LGBTQ people, atheism and religion. The subreddit has only 474 subscribers, but Archer values it as a vital intersection of two elements of her identity and a part of a larger conversation.
“The internet has helped link up the LGBT community world-wide and give us a safe space to talk openly and in confidence. You’re quite lucky to be a young queer person in the UK today because you’re at a point in time where acceptance of LGBT people as something normal and non-threatening has grown and you have the internet to talk to other people like you,” Archer said.
These shared interests, perceptions and identities create a meaningful support system that has guided individuals to embrace uniqueness and live without fear.
“We’ve had a number of guys say that Gaybros has helped them come out and even saved their lives based off of the support system our community offers,” Allen said. The subreddit helped him feel more comfortable in his own skin, years after he came out.
Moderators like Jon and Alexander, Abbie and Rachel, are members of the communities they created, sharing their experiences with the thousands subscribed to their pages. The dynamism and diversity of subreddits is derived from the contributions of individual storytellers, crafting new and undiscovered communities with the click of a mouse.
These virtual spaces are swelling to new and untenable sizes on a daily basis. And the general manager of Reddit is just pleased to watch.
“It’s cool that [subreddits] can exist without us being aware,” Martin said.
They exist for those who know where to look …
…for those who may need them most.
Gideon Resnick is a journalist who loves politics, coffee and a Goofy Movie. Tweet him @GideonResnick.