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Bright recalls that she had first gone online because she’d heard that on a computer bulletin board called The WELL a community of people was engaged in a discussion thread labeled “Why I Love Susie Bright.”Bright now says, in a series of interviews and emails, “The WELL was like the shiny new toy that everyone in the media was fascinated with. The first time there was a sex hoax on the Internet—at least that I am aware of—it happened at The WELL.There was a private women’s conference that only [female] members could be part of.This elasticity unleashed a new freedom to experiment, fantasize, and role-play.As the digital age bloomed, sexual variety reigned.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. At the Web’s inception, few outside the tech world realized it would be seen as one of the signal events in computer science. Or that it would make it possible for an individual or a group or a government to communicate with billions.
VR sex, theoretically, involved people in proximity or in distant locations donning special suits and/or cybergloves and/or headgear, festooned with wires, and then remotely diddling their partners and sharing a simulated sexual experience, sometimes accompanied by SFX audiovisuals.
Sodomy was illegal in places like Texas until the 2000s. But it was a misguided belief that you were addressing a private club.
So the digital camera freed up people.” And those intimate digital photos could be easily traded electronically. If you wanted to, you could place an explicit photo online to attract partners, and you felt it was private. In fact, anyone could register and, more than that, you could download the image—and suddenly your own photo [would be] feral, animal, developing a life of its own.
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.