To Follow or Unfollow

5 Dec
girl-screaming

photo credit: greg westfall. via photopin cc

It’s been about a year since I became active on Facebook again and I am SO ready to delete my profile. I remember talking to a friend who was in the process of deleting her account right around the same time I was becoming active again. She told me to “just wait” that I would soon be following her lead. Of course at the time I just shrugged her off because I wasn’t struggling with some deeper internal crises between my real life identity versus my identity on Facebook. I’m gay and in love with someone who identifies as transgender, so I have been through that struggle, a few times. In fact, I am so confident in who I am that I wanted to start sharing myself with family and friends again, which was the whole reason for reconnecting on Facebook in the first place.

Turns out though, I don’t know a thing about who everyone else claims to be. In real life you don’t necessarily go around spouting your belief systems to everyone you meet. Unless of course you are like my sister’s husband, a born-again Christian who just discovered politics and doesn’t realize Fox News is fake. Then, I guess you feel entitled to exercise your first amendment rights at all times, including the delivery room. [dramatic pause] While you’re daughter is being born. [bats eyes in disbelief] Instead, we learn how to censor ourselves in certain environments or around particular people. We become privy to social cues that help us decide when a behavior is appropriate or inappropriate, morphing into chameleons that can adapt to different social situations. From a young age we are taught how to “use our manners,” “use our indoor voice” and we quickly learn to never ever EVER talk about politics or religion at the dinner table.

Somehow, whether it’s by a slap of a hand, a dirty look, or embarrassing your Grandma in front of the whole family because you believe a fact printed in your school’s text book over her antiquated religious values, we learn how not to talk about “controversial” issues with certain people. We remember that Mom gets mad when we swear at the dinner table or that Grandma doesn’t like when anyone uses the Lord’s name in vain. We know not to come back from an rewards challenge and brag about how good the food was Abi.  Oops, I’m sorry it’s difficult for me to get through a rant without a Survivor reference, I’ll try harder next time. The point is most of us change ourselves to respect our elders, to keep our job or even to save our relationships.

Unfortunately Facebook doesn’t quite work that way. Whether it’s the posts they like or comments made on other people’s walls, the news feed option on Facebook lets you see what your friends and family are up to even when they aren’t putting on their best face for Thanksgiving dinner. You get to see that you’re homophobic uncle is disappointed about the outcome of the presidential election and in his only post of the year makes sarcastic remarks like “Oh yeah, now I can marry a DOG.” Which, of course, comes directly after your aunt sends you a long  message about how you and your partner are always welcome in their home. You see that your cousin is pro-life and likes Mitt Romney. You learn things about people that you may not have ever wanted to know just by observing their activity on Facebook. Sure you can change your privacy settings so that your family doesn’t see ALL your posts about getting wasted at the bar, but it’s impossible to completely hide your profile. Besides isn’t the whole point of social media is to share your thoughts, ideas and opinions publicly? But, just HOW public do you want too be? Does it depend on who you are talking to?

Sharing personal views on Facebook isn’t all bad though. There are some positive reasons for reconnecting with friends and family. You get a second chance to change your views about someone you may have unfairly judged in the past. Which means you have a chance to redeem yourself to others that may have judged you. You also get to see who your allies are among your family and friends. You see who believes in some of the same things you believe in and where they differ. We are all unique diverse people with many different roles in life and we have opinions about EVERYTHING. Facebook allows you to see where you intersect with people and where you diverge, like that Venn diagram you probably learned about in math class. It has allowed me to show my family who I am without specifically saying that I am gay, an atheist and don’t believe in government. I understand that is a lot for people to take in, so for now I suppose I am keeping my account, but I may need to become more courageous about deleting and hiding people. For my own sanity.

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