BY AMY BIEBER
We all know the internet can be a deeply negative place. It can foster hatred, bullying, and anonymity for the sake of masking bad behavior. But for many, the internet is a saving grace. A haven where one can find support, affirmation, and utilize anonymity to gain a sense of safety.
It is no secret to anyone that I’m a member of the LGBT+ community. I’m married to a woman, so it would be a little tough to hide at this point. I came out as bisexual in my mid-20’s to more people’s surprise than I expected, but by then it was almost no big deal to me. In college, I had already so deeply identified myself as an equestrian first and foremost that throwing another aspect of my identity to the public wasn’t nearly as defining. It was almost as though it never occurred to me that any other label on myself would bring peace to my soul the way that being a rider did.
Not everyone is as lucky as me. Finding your place—your people, your safe place, your niche—is especially a struggle for the LGBT+ and other marginalized members of our society. So many LGBT+ people feel isolated in their geographical community and in their families. For them, the internet provided a lifeline to connect to those who share our stories and support one another even if that “community” isn’t physically nearby. With LGBT+ youth being almost five times as likely to attempt suicide as heterosexual youth, these online communities are literally life saving for thousands of young people who are afraid to come out.
When I went searching online for community, it wasn’t as a queer person, but as a rider. When I first moved to Texas after college, I looked to the equestrian community to put down roots. In college, the riding team was my rock and gave me an easy way to feel part of a family away from home. I knew that I was going to find my way through adulthood with other riders as my people, too. Talking with fellow equestrians on social media has made me feel validated as a rider and supported through my journey—which is exactly what anyone hopes to find in an online community.
But mixed in with this equestrian comradery was something I didn’t expect—an entire group of riders who were also LGBT+. It was a whole other layer of commonality that I had never searched for, but that has been given to me. I sat on the sidelines for a while, watching the younger queer riders share their fears and their hardships, and interact with older riders who acted as role models to them. We are all extraordinarily positive and supportive of one another in our riding endeavors, but through the shared love of riding, we have also come together to support each other and spread positivity in other aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to sexual orientation.
With this added layer, I realized that if I truly embraced the importance of being forthcoming and excited about my identity as a bisexual member of the equestrian community, I could also be a role model for younger riders who are struggling to accept and embrace themselves in life and in our sport.
When I was yelling into the void looking for support with my riding (like has anyone else ever been afraid of a crossrail after ten years of jumping horses???), others answered. Total strangers who had no stake in it other than to say they could relate. Just because they were there, sitting with their phone in their hand and knew what I was going through.
While to an outside observer that seems insignificant, the reality is that little things like that—knowing that someone else, even if you’ve never met them, has had the same experience you’ve had can be validate your entire existence. If there were people out there to commiserate with my riding troubles, why shouldn’t I offer the same to others at every possibility?
Outing yourself online as a rider can be easy. Sports are an easy way to make connections. Most people come to social media to talk about riding, because the people in their daily lives let their eyes glaze over when they talk about horses. Who cares what I do for a living, where I live, or what my name is? All you need to know about me in this space is what kind of rider I am.
But once you’ve gone online, anonymously or not, and made these surface connections with other people who share a huge portion of their lives with you in that you are all riders and lovers of all things equine, you start to realize that what you’ve built is a network of people with whom you already have things in common. That peels away a layer of hesitance in starting to share other things, and you begin to reach out for support other than riding.
And you find, as I did, that the amount of support and empathy to be found goes far beyond riding. It can extend to issues like mental health and eating disorders, trouble at home or school. Things that go beyond what you might have been looking for at first, but discover you need.
I found an entire subset of riders on social media who are LGBT+ who wanted to share their experience where they were deeply connected and felt safe. When I saw those people reaching out, even though I never expected myself to be “that person” online, I reached back.
We often hear the phrase “representation is important.” As riders, we ask that retailers, professional organizations, and related entities present an inclusive image of all kinds of athletes in our sport. I feel, after spending several years as a member of equestrian social media, that we cannot ask others to represent us if we do not do it for ourselves. Now I try to move forward in the world with my bisexual label on the same level of importance as my equestrian one with the hopes that it might lead the way for someone to have as loving and supportive journey as mine.
Amy Bieber is an adult amateur hunter/jumper rider living in the Dallas area. She is a paralegal by day and dedicated dog and horse mom by night.