Michael Martin goes to such a social-media-obsessed high school that when he wrote a coming-out essay that went viral online, his classmates still had no clue he was gay — until he posted on Instagram about the story 12 hours later.
Last December, Martin eased into the coming-out process by dancing with another boy at homecoming and telling his best friend he was gay. None of his classmates seemed to catch on.
Then, he wrote an essay for OutSports.com about being a gay athlete. It was shared 72,000 times on Facebook and written about by Seventeen Magazine, the Huffington Post, the Daily Mail and MTV — and his friends and family still didn’t see it.
It wasn’t until Martin posted a screenshot of the story on his own Instagram account that night that anyone he knew in real life took notice.
Neither his parents nor his West Virginia high school classmates were reading OutSports. Everyone he knew was oblivious to the fact that he was becoming a celebrity in the LGBT online community.
In his essay, he wrote about the difficulties of being gay in a rural West Virginia town, and fear he experienced as a secretly gay member of his school’s football and soccer team.
“I live in isolated mountain area, so I didn’t have any kids to hang around with when I was younger. I was alone but even at a young age I knew I didn’t like girls and found boys attractive instead. I could never tell anyone since my family is really conservative and religious,” he wrote.
Martin’s story went live at 8:34 a.m., and he went through the entire school day watching it go viral without his classmates knowing. Even his parents were in the dark.
He felt “pretty much every emotion you can think of” as his essay exploded online but those around him remained oblivious, he told Business Insider.
Martin recently shared his story with Fast Company as part of a larger feature on Instagram-obsessed teens. When you look at the data for how teens consume information, it’s actually not surprising that Martin was becoming famous in the mainstream news media while the kids he spent his day with had no idea.
Although they’re constantly consuming media, young millennials don’t frequent news sites. Instead, data suggests they “spend more time on social networks, often on mobile devices,” according to the American Press Institute. Most of the news that millennials consume comes through their Facebook wall or their Instagram feed. As a result, “their discovery of events is incidental and passive,” API says.
That’s why Martin noticed barely any real-life reaction to his coming-out until he posted it on his own personal Instagram account around 7:30 p.m.
After the school day had ended, he decided to share a screenshot of the essay on his own account, @wvnatureboy. “That’s pretty much how I came out to literally the entire school,” he told Sarah Kessler from Fast Company.
Once it was on their Instagram feeds, Martin’s classmates were immediately aware that there was a global superstar among them.
“They would not have found it at all if I hadn’t shared it myself,” he told Business Insider.
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