Posts Tagged ‘exposure’

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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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dream / nightmare – smurf exercise class.

February 26, 2010

I just woke up, and although I have work in a bit (I need to be dressed, teeth brushed and on the bus stop in 45 minutes, ideally), I just had to blog this dream, it’s made me feel really strange.  What’s worse is that it’s the closest thing I’ve had to a nightmare, and you will all probably think it is the most hilarious dream out of all of those that I’ve blogged.  Yet it’s left me with a really uneasy feeling… :S

I was the same age as I am now, but it was like we were back at school, and we were all in changing rooms getting changed back into our clothes after what was ostensibly a swimming lesson.   I was keeping myself to myself, but in the same changing room there was a group of 3 or 4 guys from my year group at school, one of whom was R whom I used to have a massive crush on back in the day.  Anyways, it was meant to be his birthday, and he was having some sort of party, and they were talking (the group of guys were all twats, essentially) and discussing how much they were going to drink, what they were going to do, who they were going to try and sleep with etc. I kept my head down and tried to get changed, but for some reason they were looking at me and asking why I was getting dressed so slowly, did I like being naked with them, I had no chance of anything happening, I should hurry up because I was keeping them all waiting.  I was getting changed as quickly as I could, but when I looked up, they were all dressed and suddenly a teacher came in and informed us that if we didn’t hurry up, the last 6 people might not be able to fit on the bus as there was limited space.

After that, I remember some sort of classroom game, but only vaguely.  What happened next was that my school colleagues appeared to vanish, and were swiftly replaced by the people on my careers guidance course at uni.  Our tutor, Mary, came out and split us into our two practice groups (which is how we’re split up for quite a few of the activities on the course) and told us to go outside, where we’d receive details of the task we would have to prepare.  We all crowded outside, a lot of people were chattering excitedly but I was feeling somewhat melancholy after my earlier experience, so I was still quiet.  Outside it was a replica of my patio at home, but a lot larger in order to be able to fit 23 people sitting around the edge.  Mary stood in the middle and told us that one member from each group had to be a Smurf and entertain a group of youngsters while also doing some sort of exercise instruction class.  I was immediately horrified, while several members of the group laughed.  Then Mary announced that she had chosen one person from each of the two groups to perform this task, while everyone else was going to role-play being the children and watch in the audience.  I don’t remember who she chose from the other group, but from my group she chose me.

I was mortified, and I sat still as the group became more excitable.  I wandered around the outside of the patio trying to evade the task, but the group of my friends started heckling me and told me to be a good sport and have a go.  I was so uncomfortable, I didn’t want to dress as a Smurf, and I didn’t want to expose my body. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me. Plus, it was also a ridiculously stupid activity, and would be of no value to the kids, and I don’t know why Mary would have selected people (let alone me) as normally she would let us come to a democratic decision. So this made me feel pretty upset, and as I stood in front of the group of my friends, I had to fight back tears, and I started to dance awkwardly before abruptly stopping and pleading with someone to swap with me.  Mike got up and stood next to me and put his arm round me and told me it was going to be alright, that it was just a bit of fun and not to take things so personally.  I felt a little better for that, but I still really didn’t want to be a Smurf. I asked if someone would please swap with me, but the group was too busy talking and laughing, or watching the other group’s Smurf, to really pay attention.  Finally, my friends started paying attention to me, and I repeated the idea of swapping out of being a Smurf, since I didn’t feel up to it. My friends started going “aww” and “it’s only fun!”, but then I realised that Mike was volunteering to swap with me.  I was not happy about this, because I would have liked to sit and gossip with Mike (as we usually do), but since he was the volunteer essentially saving me from a fate of wearing a nappy and being giant and blue, I let him take over and sat in the corner.  Immediately, Clare put her arm around me and told me not to worry and just to relax and enjoy myself, but I felt somewhat disappointed in myself that I didn’t have the strength to perform a task I had been chosen for.  I looked up and was again horrified by what I saw: Although Mike’s face was normal, he was now stripped to his underwear, grinding while my group were all heckling, laughing, whooping, trying to reach out and touch his body which was ridiculously thin, muscled and tanned to a deep bronze like that of a body builder (but slim) – in reality, I have not seen Mike naked but I am quite confident his body is not like this! I was horrified and as Clare and some of the women in the group started to grope his underwear (which seemingly fell away), I began to cry with embarrassment that I had been chosen for such a task, that I couldn’t do it, that Mike had had to save me and yet was enjoying being naked and playing the clown in front of the group (which I thought was utterly humiliating and sorta disgustingly prurient), and then I woke up.

Very bizarre. 😦

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sexy fresh.

January 17, 2010

This weekend I haven’t felt particularly sexy or fresh, considering I have a cough like a foghorn and a proper stinking cold (as we say in England).  Yesterday I bought some new jeans from Topman, which are slim fit 32″ light grey.  Before Christmas (in anticipation of the sales) I had been appraising my wardrobe and working out what items I needed, considering I’ve lost a fair amount of weight since starting uni and a lot of my clothes are no longer fitted enough for my liking.  In view of my weight loss, I can’t believe I was ever big enough (read: heifer) to fit into my old clothes.  The problem which is slightly worrying, is that my old clothes were often no bigger than a Medium.  Now I’m a Small, I’ve got a slimmer waist (which still requires toning) and I feel a lot better about myself.  Ironically, swapping my gym membership for an increase in cigarettes and a closer monitoring of my evening snacking post-dinner (and reduction of it) has worked wonders for my frame and for my self-esteem.  But I do question my body image.  Is what we see in the mirror really ever accurate?  How do we know what to trust?

As one of my role models is Mariah Carey, so I can empathise with her desire to flaunt her body.  As a guy, I did this in a slightly different way, but after some really bad fallout from a broken friendship at school, at age 14 over the summer I shed a ridiculous amount of weight due to funnelling my anger through situps.  Suddenly, all my clothes fell off, instead of baggy t-shirts and jeans to hide my figure, I discovered fitted clothes, ways to expose a little bit of skin and just daring to dress more provocatively and wearing clothes and jewellery that my peers hadn’t thought of wearing.  In retrospect, it was perhaps a cry for attention, but I don’t think the emphasis was on “LOOK at me!”; it was more like “Look at me NOW!” For the first time in my life, I felt attractive, and I felt like a normal teenager like those I saw on television, like those who did lots of sports around me and appeared to have no body image hangups.  Between the age of 15 and 23, my weight fluctuated somewhat (again like Mariah 😉 ), but I never allowed myself to get out of proportion or feel “fat” as I had done throughout my childhood.  I learned how to dress and experimented with fashion during my time at university, and now I really like my sense of style, and having shed a lot of weight again, I feel attractive enough to wear whatever I want.

More or less.  I mentioned the grey jeans that I bought from Topman.  They look fine on, but the slim fit needs a slight bit of stretching before I can wear them in public without suffering from whatever the male equivalent of camel-toe is (TMI I know! but I’m getting there more or less, just another day’s wear I think), and pale colours make my legs look elephantine. Except I know that in reality, my legs don’t look massive.  Depending on the mirror I’m looking in, I see a completely different version of myself compared to the one I see looking down at myself.  What do I trust?  I know that my clothes sizes are shrinking down and down, and I can’t ever believe that I used to wear Large sizes, and even Medium sizes are baggy on me – yet I don’t see myself as Small or slim.  I know it must be true, because all the evidence tells me so.  But looking in the mirror, I still see a flabby stomach, a waist and chest which needs toning, situps and pressups (ceasing the gym hasn’t meant ceasing all exercise – I still try and keep fit in my own way), and all the imperfections that were there no matter what size I was.  I don’t know if I’m suffering from body dysmorphia, but sometimes I don’t see myself any differently to how I looked 1, 2, 5 years ago in terms of my body. I do feel better about myself, but that’s mainly from the sizes of clothing I’m buying, people’s nice comments and flattering compliments, and other positive things which have been happening in my life.  Buying a new wardrobe is a lot of fun, and I don’t aspire to go down another jeans size – I’m 6′ tall and anything less than a 32″ waist would look too skinny on me.  Except how would I know?  I can’t trust what I see, I just have to make my best guess.

I don’t know how to explain it any better, so I’ll say this: Before Christmas last year, me and a few of the guys from our careers guidance course ended up going for lunch together in Chipping Sodbury.  Because there was about 13 of us, there initially weren’t enough chairs around the table where we were all sitting, and I’d been upstairs watching Pete & Simon play pool. I came back, and there was a space next to Clare who was sitting on a bay window seat.  I asked if I could squeeze in next to her, and she looked at the space and said “Yeah, you’re only little!” We made a joke along the lines of “how rude!” but I don’t think I’ll ever forget her saying that, even though it was a throwaway comment which wasn’t supposed to mean anything.  I’ve never thought of myself, I’ve never felt “little” in my entire life.  She must see me in a different way to how I see myself.  Lately, people are falling over themselves to tell me how attractive I am, how I’m pretty, how I am sexier than them (even when giving an impromptu presentation at university, which is honestly not when I am trying my utmost to radiate sex appeal).  It’s bizarre, and it’s welcome and flattering because these are compliments and the validation that I’ve been aiming for my whole life (I know that I shouldn’t need it, and I don’t always, but other people’s validation feels awful nice).  I’ve never really felt attractive or sexy before, and now I do. Or at least, I’m closer to that now than I have ever been before.  But it also seems to have come at a price, and I wish that I could look at myself objectively and see what other people seem to see.  Because otherwise, will I truly know when to stop?  I feel that now is probably the time, but I know what improvements I still want to make and I just hope that I don’t go a step too far and mess it all up.  At 24, my looks haven’t come easy, and I don’t want to lose them before I can learn to appreciate them.

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Alicia Keys – The Element Of Freedom (album review).

December 6, 2009

Alicia Keys’ new album The Element Of Freedom comes after her biggest success so far, As I Am, in a career which hasn’t had any troughs or lows to date.  Every album she’s released, from Songs In A Minor to the present has explored depth and soul, has combined traditional elements of R&B with current, up to date production and lyrical exploration of love, loss and self-esteem in a genuinely mature fashion that is beyond Keys’ years.  She’s consistently walked the fine line between critical and commercial success, effectively having her cake and eating it since 2002.  Alicia Keys plays the piano like a professional, but is not an entertainer who hides behind her instrument – she takes risks, sings and dances on stage, and has always commanded respect with an element of political and social awareness to boot.  So what does her new album bring to the table?

Like Rihanna’s Rated R, The Element Of Freedom is impossible to divorce from the singer’s personal life context. Keys has suffered some backlash for her love affair with separated-but-not-divorced super-producer Swizz Beatz.  Fans have turned away from Keys’ maturity and moral standpoints expressed in her material to date, saying that she was phony, that she was no better than the singers who dressed and acted like hos, and the lackluster success (i.e. it didn’t shoot straight to #1 as people presumed it would) of first single “Doesn’t Mean Anything” is perhaps because of this.  Despite a simple yet effective video which sticks to the album concept of being free of material things and going beyond all boundaries, the song was solid but seemed like a softer retread of her previous hit “No One”.  Nevertheless, especially since I’m certainly not in a position to judge Keys’ being in love with a man who is attached, the music is far from bad, and second single “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” as well as her collaborations with Jay-Z, “Empire State Of Mind (Parts 1 & 2)” seem to be coming closer to replicating her usual success.

Here’s to hoping that The Element Of Freedom continues Keys’ string of successes.  Alicia said of the album that “”The way that the songs progress are gonna take you on a natural high. I just want you to feel a sense of freedom, I want you to feel out-of-the-box, feel inspired, You’re definitely going to be taken on a trip, I know you’re going to be shocked, you’re going to hear things that you probably didn’t think that I would sound like. It’s a journey.”  Some of this I agree with, some of it I don’t hear myself.  “Doesn’t Mean Anything” and “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” both build to exhilarating climaxes, not because the music is especially bombastic (it’s anything but, though “Broken Heart” has a compelling drum loop that comes closer to bringing Kanye West’s 808 fascination into the 21st century than he himself seems to be able to manage).  Standout tracks “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Love Is My Disease”, “Distance And Time” and closer “Empire State Of Mind (Part II)” all employ soaring melodies that propel the listener to think and to ride their own emotions; Keys’ production and piano backing compliment each song without ever taking centre stage (as happened on occasion in her first two albums).  Its undeniable that Alicia Keys knows how to write a song, knows how to sing a song and knows how to express a song even with a voice that sometimes is limited – she wrings the emotion out of every syllable be it with a whisper (“Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”) or a throaty, heartfelt plea (“Love Is My Disease”).

So the album is solid – but is it really that different?  As I Am saw Keys taking risks and incorporating traditional pop and even rock elements into her smoky R&B soul with stellar results (as well as a couple of lackluster songs), and that sound continues here, but in places incorporating 80s drums and synths – this sound is definitely in vogue (I still struggle to understand why), but at least Alicia Keys sounds less like she is pandering to fashion than most artists – again, this is tribute to her genuine musicianship.  I find it hard to say that I am “shocked” by anything on this album – ok, for the first time her intro is a spoken-word explanation of the album title and concept rather than a pianist showcase.  Her collaboration with Beyoncé, “Put It In A Love Song”, is fun and the closest Keys has ever come to club-ready, and Beyoncé’s voice and swagger doesn’t dominate the song as I might have feared – the two artists compliment each other perfectly and adeptly ride the compelling bassline. But here is where the surprises end – opening track “Love Is Blind” performs the same function as previous opening tracks “Go Ahead”, “Karma” and “Girlfriend”, in that they are uptempo, loop-driven productions that display the singer’s confidence before she delves into her vulnerability later in the album.  “Unthinkable (I’m Ready)” sounds almost too similar to The Diary Of Alicia Keys‘ “Slow Down”, and while “This Bed” provides an interesting diversion on Freedom, its The-Dream-esque synths and piano are really echoing Prince (which is 80% of what The-Dream does anyway) – and Alicia Keys already covered Prince at the start of her career (“How Come U Don’t Call Me”).  The album ends on a legitimate high with “How It Feels To Fly” and “Empire State Of Mind” exploring her ideals of freedom, exhilaration and expressing her love for New York – but she’s even played those cards before, at the end of As I Am (“Sure Looks Good To Me”) and The Diary (“Streets Of New York”).

As stated earlier, the most interesting aspect of the album, lyrically speaking, is matching the songs to Alicia Keys’ newly revealed love for Swizz Beatz, never mind his marriage.  Her feelings about it resonate through the titles – “Love Is Blind”, “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Love Is My Disease” and particularly “Unthinkable”.  Lyrics such as “Some people might call me crazy for falling in love with you” (“That’s How Strong My Love Is”) and “I’m wondering maybe could I make you my baby / If we do the unthinkable, would it make us go crazy? / If you ask me, I’m ready” (“Unthinkable”) speak for themselves.  Obviously, as members of the public there’s only so much we know about the situation, and only a certain percentage of that is remotely true – but the artists put their souls on a record and we can’t help but speculate, at the same time as we feel the songs and apply them to our own lives and emotions.

So The Element Of Freedom is, generally, more of the same from Alicia Keys.  It’s not nearly as risky as Keys herself might proclaim, and it’s not the best album of 2009, but it does provide some moments of genuine exhilaration, and there are plenty of strong tracks to make the weaker ones (“Like The Sea”, “Wait Til You See My Smile”) nothing to gripe about.  What’s more, Keys has found some freedom in being brave enough to write about her love and experiences in a new way – and if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past three months, it’s that love is stronger than anything and I can feel most of what she’s singing about.  Her piano playing compliments the songs without ever becoming a gimmick.  And anyway, after all, if Alicia Keys is providing more of the same, she’s still doing a damn sight better than your average R&B chick.  The lyrics are still simple but deep, the music is still soulful yet current, the songs are still well-written and hooky.  I believe Keys has a better album in her yet (The Diary Of Alicia Keys is still my personal favourite), but I thoroughly commend her for not dipping in quality throughout the past 7 years.