Demarginalization of Lesbian Identities on Social Media During Covid-19
Hyunjin Cha, Korea University
During Covid-19, the world was disconnected from face-to-face communities. Women and queer populations especially suffered from losing their supportive communities (Fish et al., 2020). However, alternative spaces of solidarity were quickly created online. Here, our team investigated a lesbian feminist online community formed in Korea after Covid-19. From April to July 2020, writer Mingyeong Lee sent out a series of stories from a lesbian feminist perspective by email, named Love in the Corona Era. The writer depicted a wide range of relationships between women as lesbianism, including solidarity between feminists to romantic relationships. More than 3,000 women subscribers spread the letters and interacted with each other on social media. The topic of the letter brought out lively discussion on lesbianism, which was new to many subscribers. Subscribers shared on social media that they started to develop lesbian identities after reading the letters and that they recovered from feelings of isolation within the community.
Attending to this compelling phenomenon, our team aimed to understand the subscribers’ psychological experiences via a mixed-method survey in August 2021. First, we recruited subscribers on social media and asked them to recall and describe impressive moments while reading Love in the Corona Era. After analyzing the open-ended responses using CQR-M (Spangler et al., 2012), we discovered four domains: recognizing shared experiences, developing lesbian identities, community on social media, and new possibilities of solidarity. We also asked participants to answer a quantitative survey and analyzed the data. Consistent with our hypotheses, we found that being moved by the letters (Zickfeld et al., 2019) predicted stronger social identities as women, lesbians, and feminists. Moreover, being moved indirectly predicted more frequent positive emotions and collective action participation mediated by social identities.
Our qualitative results revealed that discovering and reevaluating memories within a community that shares similar experiences (e.g., having close relationships with other women; doubting heteronormative assumptions) contributed to the development of lesbian identities. Subscribers were also thrilled about being connected in a new way on social media where they could meet and talk with others sharing a similar identity. Many reported developing a strong sense of belonging and feeling empowered enough to initiate changes in their lives. Similarly, quantitative results confirmed that emotions provoked by reading the letters were related to stronger social identities, including measures of belonging. Stronger social identities predicted positive outcomes even one year after receiving the letters.
In a society where lesbians are still often presented as abnormal and suffering, reading stories about normal and happy lesbians with a critical perspective on heterosexism was liberating for women with lesbian experiences. The writer and the subscribers demarginalized themselves by forming an online community (McKenna & Bargh, 1998). Our study illuminates the capacity of online spaces to activate communities for marginalized groups, who often have difficulties finding each other and cultural resources. Accurate information and empowering stories could reach the targeted population more effectively by leveraging the quick and broad influence of social media.
Fish, J. N., McInroy, L. B., Paceley, M. S., Williams, N. D., Henderson, S., Levine, D. S., & Edsall, R. N. (2020). “I'm kinda stuck at home with unsupportive parents right now”: LGBTQ youths' experiences with COVID-19 and the importance of online support. Journal of Adolescent Health, 67(3), 450-452.
McKenna, K. Y., & Bargh, J. A. (1998). Coming out in the age of the Internet: Identity" demarginalization" through virtual group participation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(3), 681-694.
Spangler, P. T., Liu, J., & Hill, C. E. (2012). Consensual qualitative research for simple qualitative data: An introduction to CQR-M. In C. E. Hill (Ed.), Consensual qualitative research: A practical resource for investigating social science phenomena (pp. 269 –284). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Zickfeld, J. H., Schubert, T. W., Seibt, B., Blomster, J. K., Arriaga, P., Basabe, N., ... & Fiske, A. P. (2019). Kama muta: Conceptualizing and measuring the experience often labelled being moved across 19 nations and 15 languages. Emotion, 19(3), 402-424.