“I’m deleting this account by the end of the week. If you’d like, follow my new one, @ByBobbyBox.”
My stomach sank when I published this Instagram Story. The moment felt significant. One year after I came out, I had two Instagram accounts. The first was a surface-level public account for friends and family; the second was a private account where I was free to be as queer as I pleased (and let me tell you, as a sex writer and educator who had repressed his sexuality for almost 30 years, it was G-A-Y).
Deleting this account marked me fully accepting my queerness. I came out at 28 years old, so self-acceptance was a long, enduring journey. During those years, I lived the life others wanted for me, convincing myself that this was for the best, no matter how unfulfilling my life felt.
Growing up in a suburb where hockey and heteronormativity reigned, I played a role to fit in. I became a model student, and my bedroom was filled with trophies and accolades dedicated to my academic and athletic accomplishments. I strived to make my parents proud in every facet of my life because I knew that I would eventually disappoint them when—or, more accurately, if—I came out. As an only child, I felt this pressure tenfold. Overachieving was my way of preemptively cushioning the impact of coming out.
Soon after I came out, I moved to Toronto, a more queer-friendly city, where I was free to re-invent myself—or rather, finally be myself. During this time, I created my second Instagram account to chronicle this journey of self-discovery, documenting my visits to drag shows and gay bars and showing off my collection of jockstraps in front of a freshly Windex-ed mirror. It was incredibly empowering, yet I still felt guilty. Even though this account was private, I was scared that people back home would judge me, or that my parents would be embarrassed of the person I’d become. When a friend or family member requested to add me, I’d guiltily decline. Everybody knew I was out of the closet; I didn’t want them to know just how out I was.
I found comfort in knowing that I wasn’t the only one. A while back, I published an informal poll asking queer folks if they had multiple social media accounts for similar reasons. Fifty-five percent said yes.
Psychotherapist Daniel Olavarria, LCSW, explains that a queer person’s public account often becomes a digital form of “code-switching,” a behavior in which people present different versions of themselves to different audiences.
“It is an adaptive response for human beings that takes on particular importance for historically marginalized communities,” he tells NewNowNext. “Sometimes, it’s used as a means of survival.”
For queer people, wanting to be accepted within our families, social networks, and professional arenas often means presenting a version of ourselves that feels relatable and palatable to these audiences. “There’s an implicit understanding that even if those audiences are accepting of queer communities, that there are often biases that can lead queer people to be viewed negatively by performing their queerness in a way that makes the majority uncomfortable,” Olavarria explains.
As such, the private account becomes a refuge from this bias. It’s akin to how gay bars have historically served as sanctuaries for queer people to socialize safely amid a hostile, homophobic world, Olavarria says: “Private social media accounts can offer queer people a chance to engage with their online community more authentically than they otherwise might be able to.”
After being fired twice in the span of six months for being a trans woman, Angel, 35, created an alternate account to express herself without facing social repercussions. In creating this account, Angel was able to communicate these challenging situations with other trans individuals who could understand and relate.
“Speaking about trans issues with people who do not share this living experience means having to explain oneself all the time, often to people who do not listen or minimize/invalidate your experience,” Angel tells NewNowNext. “Duplicate accounts are a good way to avoid the nerve-racking emotional labor involved every time an ignorant person would see a post that they don’t understand.”
For others, having multiple social media accounts is also a savvy business decision. Gwen Adora (@GwenAdora) is a queer porn creator, influencer, and sex blogger who initially created two accounts to distinguish her porn persona from her blogging identity since she didn’t want “locals” knowing she was a sex worker.
“My blogging account was a lot more loud-mouthed, political, blunt and bitchy, and I would share things about my day-to-day life,” she tells NewNowNext. “My @GwenAdora account is NSFW. I use it to promote my porn and OnlyFans.”
Over time, Gwen’s porn alias preceded her. The two worlds she worked hard to keep separate had blurred together, and people began recognizing her, so she decided it was time she picked a lane. She chose porn.
“It was a business strategy to choose to be Gwen,” she says. “I stopped blogging and started showing my true-er colours through my Gwen accounts because that was the identity that was bringing me money and happiness.”
For many of us, our sense of self evolves as we privately explore our interests and proclivities online. It makes sense, then, that our public-facing selves on social media evolve too. We create private accounts to express ourselves without fear of judgment and interact with like-minded individuals, which makes us more comfortable in our skin. As this confidence builds, we let others in, accepting friend requests from friends and family. Eventually, when we’ve built up enough confidence, we ditch the coded account and go public as our full selves, secrets and all.
I ask Olavarria if he thinks creating a coded account is the right way to go about self-exploration. “Even if we know that we are safe and that the decision that we’re making is best for us, we often still experience internal resistance,” he explains. “But when we have the ability to safely be our authentic selves, we set ourselves free to experience more joy than our younger selves ever could have imagined.”
Since going public with my authentic account, I’ve received nothing but support within my network. People have expressed how proud they are of me, and one friend felt safe to share that she and her boyfriend are in a consensually non-monogamous relationship and use a private Instagram account to vet potential mates. A friend’s wife connected with me by asking if I like Trixie and Katya, her only mainstream touchstone of queer culture. To this day, we send UNHhh clips to each other.
Not long after I posted that momentous Instagram story, Stacey, a childhood friend I’d spent every waking moment playing Barbies with as a kid, messaged me. “Why didn’t I have this Instagram until now!” she wrote. “I thought you fell off the face of the earth! I miss you.”
“I did for a while,” I responded. “I had to do some soul-searching.”