Anonymouse Website Matches Closeted Gays With Mentors
When Aaron Moy remembers his coming out, he knows it could have been done better. In his quest for advice on how to come out, he ended up on Craigslist, which, in retrospect, he said was not the best idea.
"I was lucky to find someone to talk to, to walk me through the coming out process," said Moy. "A couple of years later, I was looking back and didn't want future generations to do the things I did. So I thought, 'why don't I start an easy way for them to connect to people?'"
So along with designer Micah Wolfe and code-writing business partner Aashay Desai, Moy recently launched AnonyMouse, hailed as the world's first-ever website connecting closeted LGBT individuals with certified mentors while at the same time respecting an individual's privacy by keeping everything confidential through a safe, secure and anonymous chat function.
"We specifically ask for as little information as possible when signing up," said Desai. "We even encourage you not to use a username that you use on another website. Mentors are encouraged to remind 'mentees' not to reveal any personal information such as their age or geographical location. We don't log any information aside from what's required from us by law."
Moy said the site was "very simple" to use, requiring just a user name and password to log in and browse through a menu of mentors. If the mentor is online, there will be a little green dot next to his or her name. He or she will receive your request to chat and you can steer the conversation from there. If the mentor is not online, users will see a gray dot, but can still send him or her an e-mail, which will be returned in no less than 24 hours.
The Internet's anonymity was noted throughout the America Online chat-room craze of the 1990s, but even with AnonyMouse's assured privacy, reaching out to the closeted LGBT population is a logistical headscratcher. It is a given the closeted population exists - just about all out gays and lesbians were closeted at one point -- but it is not known who they are, where they are, how many of them there are, or what specific factors there are that exist to keep them from coming out.
Some may not want to come out, others "deal with it" on their own, still others are in denial, and a final few are so deeply self-loathing they are genuinely homophobic. How do you let people know a service exists when they may not, for whatever reason, be looking for it or even know to look for it?
"We've already partnered with organizations like the Trevor Project and Project Outlet," Moy told EDGE, noting that each will either refer people directly to AnonyMouse, or promote the service on their respective Web presences. "And I am in the process of planning regional coverage for the U.S. We will have Regional Heads with local connections to schools and universities who will work with clubs such as the Gay-Straight Alliance Network to get the word out to the students. We also utilize Google AdWords to promote AnonyMouse for those searching for answers. Google is often the first place you'll go -- I know it was for me -- when trying to learn more about 'coming out' or 'being gay.'"
Being a global sales strategist at Twitter also helps. "Because I work in social media," said Moy, "I know how effective it is at reaching a niche audience and will fully take advantage of that."
Each Coming Out Experience Is Different
AnonyMouse acknowledges there is no one-size-fits-all coming out equation. Moy exemplifies how coming out is unique to each individual, and can even go against all conventional thought surrounding the process: He did not grow up in a conservative environment; ironically, it was just the opposite.
"My parents were very liberal and open about gays. I never once felt threatened by them for who I was," Moy remembered. "That wasn’t the problem. The problem was with myself, with accepting who I was personally."
Moy, now 26, was in college with a long-term girlfriend when he reached his limit, yet describes a situation more tedious than critical. "I didn’t have anyone to talk to with about ending things with her because I was gay," he said. "And I didn’t want to talk about that with anyone else. There were a lot of support groups out there, but I wasn’t in a crisis situation, so the Trevor Project was out the door. I was too afraid to go to an actual face-to-face meeting and talk to anyone. And with the third option, the question-and-answer online forums; I didn’t have just one question. I just wanted someone I could talk to on a regular basis who had experienced what I was going through."
To address each individual’s circumstance, AnonyMouse’s volunteer mentors go through a vetting process and come from different backgrounds and ages. Some are in the military, some are political consultants and others already work with LGBTQ youth.
"We have an application they fill out," said Moy, himself an AnonyMouse mentor. "I review them, choose the best people, then do interviews to make sure they are not only supportive of the cause, but empathetic. After mentors are selected, there are a couple of teacher-training sessions on how to use the site, and on best practices. We work with a couple of third-party non-profit organizations to provide training as well."
Moy hoped to extend AnonyMouse to other privacy-sensitive groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, but for now remained focused on the LGBTQ population.
"You come out and go through that process, but 10 years down the road you completely forget all the nuances of coming out," said Moy. "Many organizations, which are great and serve a good purpose, aren’t necessarily geared toward people who are closeted. We need a tool to help them through that process a little bit better."
For more information, visit https://anonymou.se/