Posts Tagged ‘chatrooms’

h1

my gay online adolescence.

January 28, 2013

Just the other week, Harry Hitchens (from BBC’s Young Apprentice) posted a video on Youtube coming out to the world.

He states that his main motivation for doing this was so that other young people who were learning to accept themselves and their sexuality did not feel so alone. I wish that there had been more of these videos when I’d been growing up, because my gay adolescence was quite lonely; and although I knew I wasn’t the only one, it was a long time before any of my peers were willing to expose themselves so publically and so deeply.

In my youth, we had no Youtube or Twitter. Facebook didn’t arrive until the end of my first year of university. As a teenager, all I had was Faceparty and MSN (and AIM for a brief period, but few in the UK used it), and Myspace (which I used primarily for my music, but I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of people via that medium who have ultimately become good friends). Otherwise, to talk to other people, there were online forums and bulletin boards; awkwardly enough, for a year and a half I navigated my adolescence writing cathartic and experimental poetry on a largely Christian bulletin board. Eventually, for a range of reasons, we drifted apart (although amicably so).

My father took a long time to cave in to broadband; over dialup, I used WinMX to download music one song at a time; occasionally I would download brief gay porn videos that would take HOURS for just a couple of minutes’ worth of footage, that I would then delete upon logging off the net for fear of my dad seeing them. A couple of times late at night once my parents were long asleep, I also cybered with randoms I found in chatrooms on WinMX. The screens of these chatrooms were black, and the writing for different people would be in different colours; it looked much more aggressive and raw than the internet looks now, but there was no permanence to the interactions; the words spiralled into an abyss, into nothing. In the present, every single thing you do online has ramifications; thankfully, I didn’t have to navigate my sexuality and my youth online with the fear of my words being screenshot, paraphrased, used against me at any opportunity being a realistic one. (I know it could still have been done, especially with my father’s IT expertise, but it wasn’t prevalent the way that it seems to be today.)

During the year I spent living in Spain, I used to spend a hell of a lot of time chatting to Hannah on MSN, and a site we explored for a little while was called MeetYourMessenger, which was a combination of Faceparty and MSN. It was not very fruitful however; I remember having one conversation where a guy spoke to me exclusively through ostentatious, glittering animations and smileys. He was blocked after that conversation. I also used to read gay fanfic on Nifty, and I actually got talking to a guy on there; we even met up a couple of times! We also used to cam, and all of these memories remind me of how when flirting on all of these different sites, people were desperate for pictures, for videoed conversations. Separate USB webcams are now a thing of the past, but back then they were an indispensable part of the online experience for some, threatening symbols of sexual predators for others, and a laugh for the lucky rest of us in between.

A lot of people don’t know this, but I originally found Toby through Fitlads, a gay dating site that intimidated me far less than Gaydar. I didn’t have an iPhone at that point so I have never used Grindr, and I think I’d probably find that too intimidating too. Anyways, after a couple of successful conversations on MSN where we both proved to one another that we actually had thoughts in our brains, once we found out that we both were attending UWE for our postgrads, we decided to cut the online stuff and just meet in person. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I had forgotten a lot of these things until I started looking back over my teenage years in detail, and thinking about all of the websites I used to visit. They sound almost quaint compared to what sites are around now, and at the same time as the internet became faster, sleeker and more commonplace, I thankfully became older, wiser and more prudent with my actions. At the age of 11, 12 or 13, I don’t know if I would have been savvy enough to evade every pitfall Facebook (let alone more adult sites) has to offer. From my time at Cirencester College, teaching young people about how to be intelligent about what they share on the internet is important – especially in a culture of digital natives where there is a lot of pressure to share everything (from peers and otherwise). In this same way, just as I discovered the internet as I grew older, is the right to privacy something young people of today will only really discover and understand in their twenties – once it’s, perhaps, a little too late?

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