Bright recalls her reaction: “I’m sitting there at my keyboard and I just dropped my cup of coffee, because I had just fucked this guy in New York City a couple of weeks earlier. In real life. And I felt really embarrassed because, unlike the others, I had not given him money. I had merely had sex with him. I wasn’t that attracted to him. I was on a book tour. It was proximity. Yes, he had been a big fanboy and told me how much he just loved-loved-loved the idea of seeing me and he would do anything for me when I came to New York. Then I said, ‘Well, we can meet.’ He was based in New Jersey. This guy has all these super-brainy women dangling on a string. [He] was, as far as I knew, the first Internet cad.”
There were downsides, there were upsides. My friend Stephen Mayes, a respected photo editor and champion of photojournalists, insists that the Web had a largely salutary effect on the sex lives and love lives of many gay men. “I had had an incredible disability in the gay world of never having picked up a man in a bar,” Mayes confides over drinks at a speakeasy in Manhattan’s East Village. “What the Internet did was give me a new awareness of myself. Previously, the gay bar scene revolved around a body fascism: a prescriptive sense of muscles, tight abs, shoulders that you had to have. And I am less of a physical specimen in that way. So in a bar, my eyes had always been filled with fear—the fear of rejection. Along comes the Web, and I dropped into this world in which I believed my body would be accepted. The Internet released me from all that fear. It suddenly gave me a freedom to meet with men in a way that I’d never experienced before.”
Mayes believes that when it came to the stereotypical sexual aesthetic of the gay man, the digital realm had much to recommend it. “The gay world seems to lend itself to this idea of sharing stuff,” he insists. “It’s open-source, like the Web. It has that reputation: open relationships, sharing partners, etcetera. It has, historically, a sense of being furtive—pushed into the underground for centuries—but once outside social constraints, it was a lot freer within a private, underground context.” In many ways, these were also the hallmarks of the early digital space: a private, members-only society with its own language and codes and libertine ethos that existed under the radar.
At the same time, Mayes recalls, the digital photography revolution of the 1990s served to enhance the sex lives of those who were drawn to the visual, to exchanging private pictures, and to creating homespun erotica that might invite and satisfy the fellow male gaze. In previous decades, many gay men, he says, had relied on Polaroids (which required no processing) since they were concerned about bringing their undeveloped film to the corner drugstore or…
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