Social Media Made Me Grow Up Too Quick

 

In 2012, I stepped foot into the dark, uncharted underworld of Tumblr.com — or what I like to call the black market of social media.

Fresh-faced, 13-year-old me had effortlessly bypassed Tumblr’s Terms & Conditions webpage, and (unbeknownst to me at the time) plunged head-first into content that A) a 13-year-old should be barred from seeing, and B) should probably be tipped off to authorities.

I hadn’t yet received the euphemistic “the-stork-delivers-the-baby” analogy from my parents at the time, but after only a few months on Tumblr, I had become knowledgeable on the consensual agreements required prior to establishing an ethically sound Dominant and Submissive BDSM relationship — talk about kids growing up too fast, eh? (Don’t worry I will, that’s what this essay is about.)

Now, don’t get it twisted HATERS, this is not me kink-shaming. This is me considering the possibility that maybe, just maybe there are some things that a prepubescent child should not be subjected to. Especially given that our teens are formative years, where we’re at the peak of our naiveté. This period of time in our lives is supposed to set the foundation for the way we perceive the world around us, so it’s safe to say that I got a very… questionable head start.

What ensued after Tumblr’s unwarranted sexual awakening was a spark of curiosity that quickly tumbled over into extensive research on the different paraphilias and “means” of reproduction. I dipped my toes into the quicksand of adulthood and ended up getting my leg swallowed whole.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have immersed myself in the theoretical aspects of looooove makin’ that soon, but there was no way I was going to be able to suppress that curiosity when everything I wanted to know was a few keyboard taps (and “Yes, I am 18” buttons) away. No one could’ve anticipated I would be onto such things so prematurely, and they were never going to find out either — incognito mode is a hell of a drug.

After the realization that I inadvertently stole my own childhood, I went fishing for some more repressed coming-of-age memories exclusively for this blog post.

(Ugh, my bravery. Unparalleled.)

An instance that has reluctantly come to mind is how drastically (and inappropriately) my priorities on Facebook changed. I started off very innocently; my sole reason for signing up being to access their selection of games. A few years later, I — still a 13-year-old — was aboard the insidious (mega)trend of using social media as and for self-promotion and validation.

Naturally, sexually charged portraits yielded the most engagement. Women whose photos flaunted sex appeal were showered with compliments, while those who preferred to share pictures of them sniffing petunias in botanical gardens were in a slight attention drought.

Noticing this pattern as a teen, under no friggin’ circumstance was I willing to be part of the losing team — I had standards for myself, you see. I wanted to bathe in corrosive levels of superficial confidence. I longed to surf waves of abundant digital admiration; buoyed by a king carrier of likes and comments. This need of mine, however, meant I’d have to stop photographing myself vacuuming petals with my nostrils, and instead try emulating grown women’s alluring photographic presence.

All I needed was a confidence boost to propel me to internet success.

That boost came when I did a complete 180 and switched up my unibrow for two distinguishable entities. I felt unstoppable after uncovering the sheer force of tweezers, and was ready to conquer the interwebs. So I marched straight to my mother’s vanity drawer.

Digging through stacks of make-up and piles of face creams, I cherry-picked a concealer that was precisely what I was looking for: thick, pore-suffocating, and the wrong shade. I put that to the side, and continued digging for some more goodies that would age me beyond my years, namely a black eyeliner and red lipstick — which I did not have the skills to apply.

After slapping on my concealer, dragging the eyeliner across my lash line (creating sparks of friction), and carefully tracing my fun-sized lips with my (mom’s) red weapon of seduction, I glanced over at the mirror for the final reveal. The chorus to Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girl” began echoing in my mind. That’s when I knew I was ready to show PhotoBooth what I was made of.

The outcome? See for yourself.

macbookselfie

 

I loved this picture — I was in absolute awe at the beauty bestowed upon me. I thought I exuded an air of sensuality and sophistication that not many my age were able to muster and imitate.

My dry puckered lips? Sexy.

The vixen-like squint into my Macbook’s camera? Irresistible.

The close-up, in-your-face shot of my tender facial features? Unprece-fucking-dented.

This was it. This was my peak. And I posted it online for all my Facebook friends to see, admire, and aspire to. All that arduous manual labour for what, you may ask? Fourteen hard-earned likes. Just enough to trigger a dopamine high, but not enough to have me feeling secure for longer than two days. 

The next image I was going to reveal online had to top the previous post –how was I going to do it? How was I going to leech admiration from more than fourteen people? This was in no way shape or form a one-person mission. So I dragged my older sister into it. She ought to have been my stylist, creative director, and photographer.

balk

To take things yet another step further (in order to achieve that fifteen-like hallmark), I was to switch it up and give the public something they hadn’t seen before: a full body picture of me reclining against my balcony wall, romantically eyeing my backdrop’s granulated texture (see third photo).

I even captioned it with a mysterious, femme-fatale quote which read, “I’m only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.” Truth be told, my vocabulary was too limited to allow for misinterpretations or double entendres. I figured such a quote would give this otherwise bland picture an edge.

The overwhelming positive feedback received on this picture (42 likes and THREE comments!) kick-started my obsession with maintaining an enticing online presence. From then onwards, I had to continuously outdo myself. Whether it was feeling the need to prove myself to others or wanting a little ego boost, posting online became a hobby that I am still trying to shake off today.

But it’s quite difficult.

The thing with social media is that it traps you when you’re young and susceptible. It grooms you, making itself an integral part of your daily life. Because well, you need it. All of your friends are on there! That one ex you’d occasionally lurk on — yet wouldn’t be caught dead messaging — is conveniently there at your viewing disposition. Acquaintances and temporary holiday friends you’d only passively check-in on are right there, too! The larger your online social circle, the more added value these platforms have to you; hence, the gradual establishment of long-term loyalty to said platform(s).

The collateral damages of social media consumption aren’t necessarily caused by a platform’s owners (although their ravenous money-hungry demeanor does not sit well with me!), but rather by how people make use of the platform, and for what reasons. Capitalism’s gruesome wrath has not only taken ahold of social media creators, but it’s extended its grip onto users as well. Now that this godawful era of “influencers” (and companies who are willing to entertain their supposed importance) has emerged, it’s even harder to discern a genuine portrayal of identity from a paid, inauthentic one.

Over the last few years, the cost of using social media has doubled, escalating from the initial issue of users being force-fed unrealistic beauty standards at a young age (as per my situation) to perpetuating that these  beauty standards can only be reached through the purchase of products endorsed by (uninspiring, poisonous, often-times problematic) influencers.

Although there’s speculation on the the future of social media (e.g. having to pay for a premium social media experience, regulation, chatbots, VR integration), the long term effects of social media consumption are still unknown.

Will advertisers begin to groom even younger, more impressionable tweens into buying their products? Will we have to pay for privacy? Will platforms’ algorithms change to further promote business exposure rather than interpersonal relationships? Will social media usage eventually dwindle once newer research cements its detrimental psychological impact… or will it require government intervention once it hits unethical extremes?

What do you think? Post about it on Instagram and tag me! 

 

All photos provided by Derya Yildirim. 

Hoe, But Make It Queer Art

DoubleTap is an interview series highlighting creatives whose work explores sex, body, and identity.

 

Grindr, a modern advent that has, in many ways, picked up where the bathhouses left off, is equal parts sexy, hilarious, and demoralizing. The hookup app is what most cis gay men use to find no-strings-attached sex… and queer photographer and anthropologist-lite Andrew Harper has been watching this space for the sake of art and a nut since he was 18 years old.

If you are unfamiliar with the Grindr interface, it displays “looking” users within a 1-mile radius. The messages between interested parties are often brief and nude-laden. Think OkCupid if OkCupid were a focus group of primed and geographically compatible gays — with triple the dick pics. Since it launched back in 2009, the platform has developed a notoriety for its members’ candor (folks say the darnedest things when they’re horny!). Harper, originally from Florida, takes these exchanges and superimposes them over pictures of himself and his friends. The result of which is the popular Instagram account Gaytona Beach.

It’s a simple enough concept, but by pairing real communications with photos of actual queer bodies, a bit of our reality is laid bare on our feeds. Featuring conversations ranging from sweet affirmations to troubling displays of internalized racism, fatphobia, and femme-shaming — Gaytona is a mirror for the community.

Harper set out to explore the dynamics of gay men negotiating sex, and in the process he is uncovering the cultural and social influences that take us to bed.

 

What was the initial inspiration for Gaytona Beach?

Harper: When I was living in Daytona Beach, I felt like I was the only openly gay guy around. I had, up until this point, created an identity for myself from all of these things coming of age in coastal Florida, like sneaking margaritas in to-go cups onto the beach, dancing to New Order until we drove our downstairs neighbor into moving out, going on long drives through the swamps at night and turning our headlights off to really see the stars.

But up until 19 [years old], I had never explored the parts of my identity that related to sexuality. You can imagine that when I first downloaded Grindr it was an immediate addiction, because for most of my childhood and early teen years the majority of gay culture came from Tumblr and porn. So I felt that I had virtually nothing but sex, sin, and conflict to attribute to being gay.

I was surprised by how venomous and angry people could be [on] the app, and how easy it seemed for complete strangers to be just as abusive online as [the people who] shouted slurs at me from their pickup trucks. I started documenting the wild conversations I had, and over the course of a few years, compiled a folder of something like 3,000 screenshots (no joke). I was also in school for photography at the time, and so one day I was going through my photos and found one that reminded me of a conversation I had screenshot-ed and bam — the rest is history. I began telling these stories with these conversations and pairing them with real moments of life around me in that city, and it felt humorous and cathartic.

 

I have to ask, are any of these interactions staged? Are these really all things people have said to you on Grindr?

Believe it or not, they’re 100% real! For the first half of a year or so every message I posted was one [that was] sent to me. Like I mentioned, I had thousands of old conversations and messages to work with. Now I’d say about half of the ones that end up on the page are ones that have been submitted to me. You know how some people get those “Saw this and thought of you!” texts or DMs and it’s like a cute gif of a cat? I get those same messages, but instead it’s a screenshot of a stranger saying “Piss in my ass.” I still pull from that original folder all the time, though.

 

You’re a photographer and — correct me if I’m wrong — but the majority of the images you use for backdrops are other people’s selfies/nudes. What’s the inspiration behind this?

Yes, the majority lately has been that way, but originally this wasn’t the case — it developed over time with the growth of the project itself. Actually, when KAAST and I first met, I was predominantly still using beach landscapes and photos of spring breakers. Using other people’s selfies started when I first started taking submissions, and it happened kind of naturally because I was already using photos of other people but only ones I had taken. Because I was using images of people with anonymity to convey a story, it only made sense to start incorporating selfies and nudes because that’s the majority of photos being passed along on Grindr.

 

Would you ever consider taking your own photos to pair with the app exchanges? Or would that undercut the authenticity of what you’re going for?

I love this question because for the people who have been following the page from the beginning or know me IRL, you can actually spot a lot of photos of myself on there. For a while, I was also using a lot of my portrait work — I spent some time in Orlando before moving to New York last year, and I was working for a commercial studio. My mom also owns a studio in a small coastal town called Ormond Beach, so I had a lot of studio work to play with. I wouldn’t say it undercuts the authenticity because the focus of the page is each individual message, and the photos are just a way of bringing them to life and giving them energy or translating them visually for people.

 

Your posts really run the gambit, hinting at all sorts of queer realities. Are there specific topics you try to tackle with your work?

This changes all the time. Almost weekly, actually.

First I should say I listen carefully to input and criticism. I never expected the project to transform into something that has a sense of responsibility to it, but that’s what’s happened. The topics started as my own personal ones that I encountered — online harassment, drug use in the gay community, the internalized homophobia of others, etc. — these were all things that I was directly exposed to in Daytona Beach. And after documenting those interactions, I decided to express my own perspective.

One time I addressed the local police officers for a homophobic raid they performed (using Grindr!) and tagged them in it. Sometimes [posts are] more lighthearted and humorous, like sugar daddies and small town gossip, but the more interactions I posted for anyone to see, the more responses I got of people being able to relate. Eventually I left Daytona and along with that came a very clear shift in the types of conversations I had and topics that came up (obviously). The bigger the city, the more you see, hear, and experience, and so slowly but surely the page has gravitated towards bigger social conversations. Topics that come up now range anywhere from mental health to body image, and even to things like the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. This might be my favorite part about the page, honestly. If you look at it as a timeline, you can visually track the mindset and journey from small town to big city.

 

How has your approach changed over the years?

As soon as I opened it up to be collaborative, I assumed a sense of responsibility to focus on diversity and inclusiveness. The project used to be just me and my experience — whatever was immediately around me in Daytona Beach.  But that’s obviously changed a lot. My surroundings and my community have transformed.

 

In your professional opinion, what are some of the biggest differences between Grindr in Daytona and Grindr in Brooklyn?

Well, the most obvious difference is the density. Here, the person at the bottom of the list on Grindr is at most like 1,000-2,000 feet away. Back In Daytona, the fourth person over from you could be miles away. Forget about the bottom of the list, they’re usually in the next town over. But to really get an idea of how intensely unique that experience was, you have to take a step back and look at Daytona Beach itself: it proudly wears the locally-crowned title “World’s Most Famous Beach.” It’s the birthplace of NASCAR, a fixture of the American Spring Break phenomenon, and the location of the final showdown between Aileen Wuornos and the law. You can imagine it’s an outlandish group of people down there.

 

Have individuals whose messages you’ve featured ever gotten salty [that you’ve posted them online] after the fact?

Nope, but I never really expected them to anyways. When I first started [Gaytona Beach] that was what felt the most daring about it — I would get these messages that were sometimes so violent or hateful and [would then] posting them for anyone to see. If you were the person who sent that message, you would A) never want to out yourself for it and B) probably not want to talk to the person that you said it to again. I figured they would never reach out to me via Instagram and reveal any personal information by doing so. Besides, the focus of these posts is the dialogue itself — not the person who said it. My intent was never to create a public roast, but instead to evaluate an experience I was dealing with — which I later learned was a universal experience.

Basically, in order to get salty with me about something you said, you would have to address what it was in the first place. On the other hand, I also don’t post any content that would be harmful to someone or reveal their identity, so that would be the only other time I could see someone being salty with me.

 

Gaytona Beach definitely deals in the lead up to a hook-up. Would you ever consider exploring the aftermath of it? I could totally see your format applied to themes like ghosting, unrequited crushes, STI scares, etc.  

I think you’re on to something here….

 

Grindr probably has a more artistic connotation for you than most of us. Do you still use the app for pleasure?  

Yes! I have this account linked to my profile, but I still mostly just use the app for the same reason anyone does. Eventually I want to [unlink the project’s Instagram account] from there, but for now it generates a lot fun conversations.

 

What does the future for Gaytona look like?  

Bright! Last year I learned a lot, and I’ve made the promise to myself this year to circle back to why it all began in the first place. Growth is fun, change is fun — but its background is what made it interesting. Something else you’ll see more of is an integration between this and my day job [Andrew works in healthcare services].

I’m currently designing a system for people who take (or want to start taking) PrEP to get it them affordably, help with office visits and testing scheduling, as well as answering questions and connecting them with LGBT focused medical providers in the city. I realized there’s a lot I can learn from the diverse following of the page. For instance, if you ask your doctor about the side effects you think you’re having on PrEP, they’ll likely say something like “a small portion of people report experiencing side effects but this will go away soon.” I doubted this for a while, and I recently ran a poll of around 350 Gaytona followers that revealed half of them [have at some point] experienced side effects. Out of that group, around 10% of them experience ongoing side effects from their PrEP.

I’m not completely sure what that will look like for the page, but I’m excited about it. I’d really like to use the page to help New Yorkers connect with affordable LGBT care. Aside from that, I have a couple things I’m crossing my fingers for, but you’ll have to wait to see.

 

 

All photos provided by Andrew Harper. You can follow Gaytona Beach here.

 

CamWoman 101

This article originally appeared in Pull Out, a print magazine exploring the relationship between sex and technology. 

 

Camming is like stripping, but you don’t have to make eye contact. You’re still physical, but you only touch yourself. You’re aware people are watching you, but all you see is a reversed-moving-image-selfie. Senses are stimulated yet the entire experience is lacking flesh. It’s stripping — but cheating.  

When I began to consume pornography as a pre-teen, the content was based on what was easily accessible and available. First, it was a Playboy magazine, followed by a VHS tape, but then the Internet happened. Garden-variety adult sites like YouPorn and XVideos mainly featured videos of heterosexual couples, wherein an aggressive man dominates a submissive woman.

As sex digitizes in various ways, Cam Porn has offered a platform to those who seek to challenge the conditions of patriarchal pornography. Camming permits self-identifying women the autonomy and control over production, set design, casting, where content becomes available, and how they market it.  

I masturbate, I twerk, and I sit on homemade hand-frosted cakes as a paid performer. I’m an independent contractor, and I’m able to stream at any time. I operate under an ever-mutating pseudonym on one of the most well known live-streaming sites. Premium members tip webcam models with tokens. They click to initiate the heavy twinkle sound of change dropping in another dimension, highlighting the screen #FFFF00. What models do in their chat rooms is up to them. Members pay for a model’s time either in pay-per-minute private shows or by chipping in with tips during a public chat.  

My cam set is my studio is my bedroom. The equipment I need to work has been collected over the years: webcam and studio lights sent to me anonymously from my Amazon Wishlist, a 27-inch iMac from my father, many folding mattresses that are both a bed and a stage for clients like ollie_2113. The money I make camming buys me high-speed internet service, the cake mix from Pioneer Supermarket, and also inflatable Donkey Hoppers from the bodega on Broadway in Bushwick for my signature Donkey Twerks (basically I hump rubber toys). Additionally, my camming money buys the watercolors I use to paint portraits of the men I C2C (communicate cam to cam) with, the fabric I use to print screenshots of women on, and the rent for the apartment that I stream from. Both the job and the capital, make the artwork.  

Offering off-site content like Snapchat videos, picture sets, and Skype are crucial to maximize income and build a consistent fan base. The work of a CamWoman is dominated by filtering out spam in an attempt to connect with like-minded people. I view the regulars who frequent my chatroom as patrons, individuals who are purchasing availability and friendship. Camming is all about building a community, which takes constant emotional, mental, and physical effort. I’ve thought about quitting if I could find another job that feeds my art career the way camming does, but that would mean abandoning a community that I’ve spent years building: members have become sugar daddies, and also  — friends. 

A man on a Tinder date once told me, “A woman with her own sexual agenda is intimidating.” Both my date’s discomfort with my sexual empowerment and the broader stigma attached to pornography come from the confused sexual shame our “moralistic” society places on women. I don’t subscribe to that shame. A woman making decisions that have to do with her sexuality shouldn’t be seen as anything but smart. 

Women are told that porn isn’t made for us. We are presumed perverse for watching it, being in it or exhibiting our sexuality. Our society’s stance on sex is harmful because it’s uneducated, catering to archaic patriarchal values which gender sex and porn as something for ‘boys only.’ As a pornographer, I can confirm that women willingly participate in porn.

We appreciate it, and we capitalize on it. If we are performing, if we are the “stars,” how is porn not also ours? 

 

 

All photos provided by Lindsay Dye, who you can follow on Instagram here

Behind The Comment

The internet has 4.2 billion users, and 3.03 billion of them are on social media. On average, each individual has around 5 social media accounts, which could be made up of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr or YouTube. The average time spent per day on social media is nearly two hours. So… why is social media so popular exactly?

Is it how it connects people from around the world? The memes? To watch cute animal videos? An escape from reality? Is it the idea that people can create and design their own persona and only show what they think others want to see? Or is it just simply fun? 

I was 10 years old when I first joined Facebook, I was 11 when I joined Instagram, and 13 when I joined Snapchat. For as long as I can remember, a large portion of my life has been shared and spent on different platforms. I have grown up with social media, I have seen the different ways that people use it, and I have changed the way that I use it over the years.

In the beginning, I found it to be innocent and fun, having group chats with twenty other classmates and creating One Direction memes and fan pages. However, throughout the course of my teens, all that has changed. Today, instead of a friend list consisting of six family members, my Facebook friend list comes in over one thousand, some of them I don’t even properly know: possibly people I have met in nightclub bathrooms or a party or split an Uber home with.

Social media is truly amazing, but I do believe there is a harmful and malicious side to it. Today, most young people and teenagers have either a Facebook page or Instagram. If you’re getting bullied at school, home isn’t necessarily a place you can be left alone anymore; apps with private messenger like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat allow people to be tormented wherever they are. There are even websites and apps in which people can send completely anonymous messages.

Ask.fm was very popular when I was around 14: you had a profile and people could send you questions either anonymously or not. Some questions were light-hearted, “Who do you want to know better?” but then questions like “Prettiest girls in your year?” and “Who are your closest friends?” would appear. Imagine going on to your best friend’s profile and seeing that you were not listed as one of the prettiest girls on your year? I distinctly remember receiving a question asking who I thought were the prettiest girls in the grade above me, I listed five girls who I barely knew, but who I idolized and wanted to like me.

After I had answered, I got another question which said “Don’t be stupid, ____ and ____’s group don’t even know you exist.”

Most of the negative comments that I saw on other people’s accounts were about their physique, weight and appearance, I can’t even imagine how these types of comments could affect some people. According to the Canadian Association of Mental Health, students in grades 7-12 who spent over two hours per day on social media reported higher depression and anxiety levels and in the last year, 43% of teenagers have been victims of cyberbullying. Nearly 20% of victims said that they had been targeted from a fake account. This is why I believe that websites that allow people to send messages anonymously are the most detrimental form of social media.

Would these statistics be similar if these activities were not online? Perhaps people feel more bold when they aren’t face to face: if you said something offensive IRL, there are likely to be harsher consequences than if you are sitting at home behind a computer screen.

Adolescence is often marked by insecurity that comes from trying to figure out who you, and I believe that social media can unnaturally persuade the user into trying to be like someone else. These tendencies are only heightened by the advent of online interactions. In some ways, I am an amalgamation of every girl I have ever thought was cool. I had a whole folder of photos on my phone of people I wanted to look like, or bodies that I wished I had — I feel the pressure at nearly 20-years-old,  I can’t imagine the amplified effect for even younger individuals.

Nowadays, many people share almost everything they do on social media, thanks to the story feature that most apps possess. According to best-selling author Steven Furtick, “We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” I have been in situations where I am sitting at home mindlessly scrolling through people’s stories and I see all my friends doing something without me. This will cause major insecurity, I think, am I not fun to hang out with? Have I done something? If they actually liked me, they would’ve invited me.

In my experience, social media has created much unnecessary stress and anxiety. Likes and followers are a social currency, just like money, that we use to assign value to something. We are the product, but in the same vein, we are the ones letting other people assign value to us. While I’ve learned to develop a thick skin, 12-year-olds are using these apps; sensitive and impressionable young people are being exposed to these types of behaviors — good and bad. What is this going to teach them?

Time will tell.

Although, it’s not social media’s fault that these issues are prevalent. Of course the technology enables it, but you wouldn’t blame a Sony television for a bad television show. It is the people who use these platforms who could use education and coping strategies. It starts with admitting that social media can hurt as much as it can help.

 

Photos by Kate Phillips

 

Always On

Who would have imagined that we would take it this far — and how much further can it go?

This is a question I often ask myself as I flip back and forth between social media platforms, rapidly clicking my thumbs as I scroll through different timelines. My gaze resides firmly between being simultaneously transfixed and entirely apathetic. In the scenario I’m describing, the most likely thing to happen next is that I will click the button on the side of my phone, which will plunge my screen into darkness and force me to find something else to occupy my time.

Within minutes, sometimes seconds, I’ll be back refreshing the same sites I was on previously. I hope to see new content that will satisfy what feels like an insatiable need to be stimulated, plugged in, and present in the digital environment. Sometimes I don’t like what illuminates my phone screen, but I’m often deeply immersed. I fall into the age-bracket where I’m young enough to be a product of the information age, but old enough to remember what it was like before the internet. 

On this subject, I tend to err on the side of caution but do not assume a position of holistic rejection. This mindset is driven by witnessing what I think is the best and worst of what these platforms have to offer. It’s easy to simply view sites like Instagram and Twitter as incredible tools that have allowed individuals from across the globe to connect and converse all while carving out beautiful and unique spaces for various communities. We presume that this allows them to explore themselves and become more confident (myself included), build relationships, start careers, and self-express on a scale that they otherwise may not have been able to.

Aspiring photographers can post images on their accounts and receive positive reinforcement that they should keep shooting, even if they’ve never been told before that their work was worth anything. Even one compliment could be the pivotal difference that makes someone quit or keep on keeping on. A person who dreams of being a musician can upload their music directly to a platform like SoundCloud and expose their creation to the world, sometimes leading to fame. It seems that now more than ever, the gradual establishment of a tangible base of supporters can spawn online.

All of these observations are certainly true. But, it is difficult to appreciate those outcomes without acknowledging the more sinister alternatives. There are those who, rather than use the internet as a force for beneficial and healthy connectivity, have chosen to use it to make known the darkest parts of their being. Back when the website Formspring was closer to its height of relevance, I remember receiving anonymous questions that would range anywhere from arbitrarily insulting my appearance to criticizing me for “talking white” to making judgmental assumptions about my sexuality. Not only was it harmful for me to be inundated with these sentiments in general, but the fact that I had no idea who was saying it added a layer of discomfort. I frequently found myself obsessing over commentary by people who were only empowered when concealing their identity.

Another heinous example often seen online is when people become disgruntled with a public figure and, in their minds, justify the act of leaving mean-spirited comments on Instagram photos, hitting “send” on tweets containing words they would never utter offline, and even sending threats of violence in direct messages. I imagine these acts could be incredibly destructive to a person’s mind-state, especially over time.

There are countless examples of users weaponizing the anonymity offered by the internet to bully and harass others. Some have theorized that rather than social media corrupting the individuals who engage with it, the various platforms simply reveal their true character. Without the threat of legitimate, “real life” consequences when someone steps out of line with societal expectations of decency, people feel free to be as venomous or as sweet as they please online.

There are countless things I love about social media and what it offers, and for the most part, I use it daily. However, there are also days where I have to reduce my consumption, as I can feel it wearing me down mentally and emotionally. It is for this reason that I am empathetic to anyone who chooses to always be on, or always be off. We must be mindful of the tight grasp that social media platforms have on us to ensure that we use it in a positive manner and don’t let it fully consume us.

Is it all worth it? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

 

Photos by Sophie Kubinyi. 

 

How Instagram Made Me Feel Worse

In 2013, Brandy Melville showed us that mental illness was trendy. The company’s Instagram featured models in graphic tees with sayings like “cute but psycho” and “stressed, depressed, but well dressed,” thus cementing the romanticization of being mentally ill — if you were hot and skinny, that is.

Alongside mainstream brands’ efforts to blend mental illness and sex appeal, Tumblr was full of pro-anorexia and bulimia blogs with teenagers encouraging each other to perpetuate detrimental behaviors, all to fit the “Scarlet Leithold” definition of Instagram beauty. This beauty was preferably white, tall, and skinny with a cinched waist; extra points if you have blue eyes. I was the opposite with features that weren’t Eurocentric: brown skin, black hair, and 5 foot 3 inches. However, I was skinny so my thirteen year old self’s skewed perception was spared body dysmorphia —  for a while at least. But this merging of body dysmorphia and Eurocentric Instagram beauty standards gained a captivating hold on social media, one that is still continues today.

Since my Instagram account’s conception, I have continuously deleted every photo I’ve posted. I would zoom in and look for imperfections —  with my nose, my lips, my eyes, the way my hands were positioned, my hair, my legs —  literally anything that could become a focal point. If I detected even the tiniest flaw, I’d remove the picture. 

As the Instagram models and influencers on my explore page grew, so did my odd concern with my already tiny waist, in addition to everything else. I was always skinny, and even was dubbed “skinny legend” in high school, yet I couldn’t help staring at myself in the mirror and wondering what I could do to get that hourglass shape and become beautiful.

It was bizarre. Why had I become obsessed with my figure when I had no reason to be? I was healthy and that’s all that should have mattered. I also met the unrealistic societal norm. I never got dizzy spells until I started limiting myself in terms of how much or what I could eat. My weight started fluctuating. My mother threw away the scale, but I could tell when I had lost weight because I spent an unreasonable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror. I even tried deleting Instagram for a bit, realizing that it was the core of this issue, but kept finding myself downloading it again. Not only did Instagram make me feel terrible about my body, but I couldn’t go a day without subjecting myself to endless comparisons to some girl online I didn’t even know.

In the midst of all of this, I failed to recognize the fact that social media profiles are all curated. We see what the person wants us to see. We don’t see the breakdowns, or the constant introspection that comes with being popular on a social media platform. We see models in their “cute but psycho” tees, but all we are granted is the cute; any signs of mental struggle are airbrushed away like stretch marks. We don’t see the FaceTune (if done well), and we don’t see the lives these influencers, models, and stars lead either.

The person I have deemed so perfect and want to look like may be struggling with something much more complex than I am. Therefore, it is unrealistic to hold myself to such expectations. I am not perfect, and what I think is perfect isn’t perfect at all.

I stopped comparing myself to people. I stopped zooming in and tapping delete and let myself be. I would be lying if I said I didn’t compare myself to anyone, given that we are such visual creatures, but my psyche no longer feels this incessant need to berate myself for not being a certain way.

Maybe it’s time for us to log off.

 

Photos by Dina Veloric. 

 

You Can Look, But Not Touch

Everyone has a phone. Everyone takes selfies.

A study conducted by software firm McAfee found that 49 percent of people send/receive sexual content via video, photo, e-mail, or messaging — 16 percent of whom share it with total strangers.

As our society begins to come to terms with the inevitability that explicit photos and videos will be recorded and make their way across the internet, a group of millennials have begun to capitalize on our fixation with the naughty.

You can find Mistress Milan on a screen of your choosing, where the 22-year-old will perform a variety of acts in front of a camera — but only for the right price. However, Milan is not a porn star, at least not in the traditional sense. She is featured in videos (titles range from “Tempted By My Tits” to “Some Words To My Foot Bitch!”), but she ultimately controls how, when, and what exactly she is doing in them.

Operating primarily via Twitter, she posts sexy snippets of herself online to lure potential clients into booking Skype sessions wherein she will verbally degrade and humiliate them from afar. As it turns out, this consensual, sexual cyber-bullying is quite lucrative.

I got the opportunity to interview Milan about her work as a financial dominatrix/humilantrix. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

 

How did you first get in to being a dominatrix?

Mistress Milan: I actually started sex work as a cam-girl when I turned 18, but I didn’t really like it because, to make money, you have to cater more to what the guys want and it’s not my style. I just wasn’t making that much money.

I’m not even sure how I found out about dominating, I think I saw it on social media? Somehow I came across somebody’s page and was like, I could be good at this. 

 

Did you do any type of sex work before the camming?

No, I just did camming. I wasn’t really into the whole sex acts, more just online stuff. I still have yet to do in-person meets, but I’m looking to do that in the future, I just haven’t gotten there quite yet because I haven’t met the right person.

 

Can you walk us through what a normal online dominatrix session looks like for you?

I mainly get most of my clients from Twitter. My Twitter is my biggest following.

 

That’s awesome, what’s your Twitter if you don’t mind me asking?

It’s @Mistress_Milan. I just reach the 1K mark. Once you get there you get more credibility because right now [there are a lot of users] called insta-Doms because True Life did an episode on Financial Doms so there’s a bunch of people who have a Twitter [for this kind of work] but they’re not legit.

So once you reach the one “K” mark people are like, Oh, this person… they have a following. I can believe them, they’re real, not just a fake. 

I post pictures, I send tweets out, and then people send me a DM asking, “Hey, how are you?” Then they’ll tell you, “I’m interested in this kind of fetish and I want to do a session like this,” and then I ask for payment and I do the payments depending on the times and how long the session is. I have people who come back and continue to have sessions with me. It’s pretty straightforward. People come to me.

 

Were there any challenges you had when you first began doing this?

It took me probably almost a year just to get to this point, because there’s a lot of girls who do it. There’s a lot of insta-Doms, so it was pretty hard to get my credibility up there — pretty tedious. You really have to commit your time, you have to be active on social media everyday otherwise [potential clients are] just gonna get forgot about [you].

 

Are you usually the one with your camera on or do [clients] also turn on their cameras for your sessions?

It depends. I charge more if I put my camera on. Sometimes they just want to be watched, sometimes they want to actually see me. It’s pretty 50/50. 

 

Are there any boundaries that you set for yourself while you do this?

I don’t have any actual sex with any of my people. Like I haven’t met people yet. I try to stay away from the really outrageous fetishes… I’ve gotten really extreme [stuff] like scatting. Sometimes I’m like, “That’s probably not legal.” *laughs* 

 

Are you — is the correct phrase”out” — to your friends and family?

Pretty much all my close friends know. My family doesn’t know, my parents are actually Republican and Catholic so I don’t plan on them anytime soon. It’s actually funny; I met with my friend earlier and he told me, “Your old coworker just showed your Twitter to everybody at work,” and I’m like, what?!

If you’re in this line of work you have the risk of always being exposed but I’m fine with it. I make money, I’m happy, so that’s all that matters really.

 

How much do you often charge for a session?

Let’s say they want to do a twenty-five minute SPH [small penis humiliation] session, I’ll charge about 50 to 80 bucks. It depends, my rates are not set yet so I kind of do whatever I feel like.

 

That’s decent money!

I don’t like to do Skype [sessions] for anything below 35 bucks. Even if it’s like five minutes, I’ll still charge 35 because I still have to get on camera.

 

Are most of your clients men or women?

Men. I really don’t have any women contact me.

 

Have you ever experienced any animosity [from a client] when they’re time is up or they want you to do something you’re not comfortable with?

You get a lot of angry people. Let’s say a guy’s message is, “I want you to do this, this, and that.” And I’m like “No.” He’ll be like, “You’re a fake Dom.” He’ll just talk crap to you. You know how guys get when you reject them… happens all the time.

 

How many calls do you [take] a day on average? What’s a busy day?

Maybe like seven a day? But that’s only on weekends, because I still have two jobs   like vanilla jobs in my real life. So I only can do sessions certain times of the day.

 

What are your outside jobs?

I just work in hospitality.

 

You used to be a cam girl and you’ve mentioned before how you got into being a dominatrix because you got more autonomy in what you wanted to do on camera, right?

I like to hold control. I decide what I do, it’s all my decision. 

 

What are some services you offer as a dominatrix?

I deal with a lot of humiliation sessions. Guys really like it when I’m mean and humiliate them. My whole brand is a young, bratty, Brazilian Dom. I humiliate men in different ways and then there’s ones [whose] whole fetish is sending money — that’s my favorite, obviously.

 

What are some of the things you would say to humiliate a guy? 

A lot of times they want small penis humiliation. I don’t like doing race humiliation. I stay away from that because it’s not really my cup of tea.

 

Is that a market? Do men ask you to do that?

Oh, yeah. There’s like snow bunny  which is a white girl who’s into black men. Then there’s racial play… there’s definitely a huge market for it. But I don’t like to do it. There’s also religious humiliation, too. 

 

Have you ever taken it too far on the humiliation scale and guys get upset? Have they ever been like, “That was a low blow!”

Sometimes, but then they’ll get over it. They’ll realize they actually enjoyed it.

 

Have guys ever tried to coerce you into meeting face-to-face?

Oh yeah, all the time. They’ll tell you they’ll pay more, but I just haven’t found the right person because I’m not just gonna meet somebody that I don’t know. 

 

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about being a dominatrix or humiliatrix?

That it’s easy. People think that you can just start doing it and you’ll make a lot of money   that’s not true. It took me, at least, a good six months to start bringing money in. It’s not easy, it takes time. It’s just like a job, you need to put hours in.

 

What’s something you really enjoy about this kind of work?

I like sex work because I think it’s really empowering. It’s not a regular 9-to-5. I choose how much I can make and the freedom… it’s unique. I’m really into kinks and fetishes and sex, so I get the best of both worlds.

 

Has your work ever affected any personal relationships in your life?

My boyfriend knows about it. He’s cool with it, obviously, because I bring in money. But sometimes he’ll get touchy, but right now it’s not affecting anything.

 

Have there ever been times where you’ve been made to feel uncomfortable or afraid while you were camming?

Sometimes I still get nervous right before I get on Skype. But, I get over the fear pretty easily because it’s just another session in the end. I’m still gonna make money and I’m gonna humiliate someone, so who’s really the winner? *laughs*

 

So “Mistress Milan”, is that a character you created?

Yeah, just a name [I came] up with. 

 

Your camming and dominatrix persona, how is it alike and how does it differentiate from Milan IRL?

In real life, I’m actually a very sweet girl. I’m a total sub in real life, pretty much. I’m a Dom for work  that’s my persona.

 

What do you wear on your cams? Do people request you wear certain things? 

Yeah, I have leather. I get requests for thigh-high black boots. Some guys request you wear leggings, some want you to wear jeans. It really just depends.

 

Have you heard about the current legislation FOSTA-SESTA?

Yeah.

 

Has that affected your work at all?

I feel, at first, traffic started to slow down. It’s a little bit better now, but I feel like [FOSTA-SESTA, anti-sex work legislation] has affected it, unfortunately.

 

Are you more nervous that you could be exposed or doxxed?

Not really, because I’m not doing anything that’s fully illegal.

I feel like you will only get in trouble if you’re actually having sex with clients, and I don’t. Cam sites are still provided, in the United States   it’s not illegal. So I’m not too worried about it.

 

Do you have any professional goal within your work? Is there a sort of state you wanna reach? You said you just hit a thousand, what’s the dream for Mistress Milan?

I want to be recognized in the industry  I think that’s awesome. Definitely my goal is to become a known Dom. I’m not gonna stop anytime soon.

 

 

You can follow Mistress Milan and her work on Twitter here

 

 

Millennial Heartbreak

What did our parents do?

Being a twenty-something in a digital age where information is widespread and communication is instant, this is a question I repeatedly find myself asking.

With the global explosion of smartphones and digitized, well — everything, it’s no surprise that our social lives have followed a similar norm of impulsivity, convenience, and temptation to document for the sake of a favorable image.

Social media platforms have become branches upon which users can extend themselves into a world that expands beyond immediate proximity. Every experience, friendship, and relationship is documented so that not only those involved can experience it, but one can share their experiences with their digital circle.

I bring up this question of “What did our parents do?” most often in the context of heartbreak.

Heartbreak comes in many forms and none of it feels good. Whether it be a dramatic split or a peaceful departure, heartbreak is something that attacks every aspect of our egos and rattles what our lives looked before. Although breakups and broken hearts are nothing new, this disturbance of ego presents a problematic clash for our digital selves.

A breakup is something that used to be a painful moment in time. But now it’s something to be reminded of, edited, and readjusted for the public. By using platforms that publicly share personal interests and activities, we subject ourselves not only to the initial pain of a breakup, but to the small kicks to the heart that follow us thereafter. 

There’s the moment you realize your ex unfollowed you on Instagram. Kick.

The moment you see that they like and/or follow a new, attractive person. Huge kick.

The moment you feared the most, when they post a photo with someone — not you —to show the world that they have moved on. Not only does this kick you in the heart, it can cause a total relapse that digs up and un-stitches whatever progress you’ve made with the initial wound, one that’s said to only heal with time.

So that is the problem: time.

As millennials we participate in not just one, but two relative time zones. We subject ourselves to a type of pain that was not nearly as accessible or even imaginable to our parents. Think of it this way — you’re here, in real time. You take a break from real time to scroll through Instagram. You see something upsetting and you are no longer in real time, but in a time that has backtracked. Suddenly you are lost in a different space, one that makes you feel like you’ve regressed more than you’ve progressed. Before you know it, you’ve lost minutes, maybe, if whatever you saw was triggering enough, you lose your whole day.

And here’s another problem: the only thing that makes it better is proving to everyone else that time wasn’t actually spent obsessing over what they posted.

So you, in turn, post a story to show that you’re out, having a good time. Or post a photo to show you got a new outfit, met a new friend. And this makes us feel better only momentarily as we feel validated in our willfulness to “move on” and “have fun,” but doesn’t acknowledge the root of the very unique sadness that comes from looking at photos or content that is painful to our hearts.

We need more love, not “likes.” This different time zone that exists within social media is not a satisfying alternative to real time, and often takes time away from actually thinking or feeling and gives to posting and showing.

The overwhelming sadness and loss that accompanies a broken heart is something as old as humans themselves. Evidenced from Homer to Tolstoy to every pair of eyes sunk in a phone, heartbreak is an inexplicable feeling that continues to be both profound and unbearable. It is an inevitable aspect of what it means to love someone who is only part of your story, not all of it.

So, what did our parents do?

Not this. They felt the same things, but they experienced sadness in real time and didn’t split it with this virtual time zone. There is something powerful in embracing a certain kind of melancholy head on, with full force, rather than numb it with temporary fixes.

Your ex unfollowed you? That doesn’t mean they will forget you.

They posted a picture with their new significant other? That doesn’t mean you were nothing.

With so many different mediums to check in on those who have left our lives, it can be difficult to keep our heads clear of self-doubt and false valuing of every relationship. It goes without saying that this new layer of heartbreak is somewhat unavoidable as our social lives continue to be even more intertwined with technology. I’m the first to say that I have fully appreciated and engaged in the ways social media has allowed me to share, connect, and reflect. I recognize both the beneficial and harmful assets of living in two time zones, but what I mostly realized is the importance of putting my real time and my real self first — not my Instagram self. I have vowed to listen to my heart and what I need in every moment before being quick to show the world that I’m doing #great.

I vow to tend to my heart with care and consideration to what it needs before falling deeper into a time zone that not only doesn’t exist, but doesn’t love back.

 

 

First two photos by Maria del Carmen and the following two by Jairo Granados.

 

 

How To Stay Safe While Dating Online

This article originally appeared in Pull Out, a print magazine exploring the relationship between sex and technology.  

 

Online dating and meeting via the Internet or apps is commonplace these days. However, meeting someone and talking to them online is very different than meeting someone in person. You’re only getting to know a single dimension of the person, and you just see what they want you to see. How you interact with someone in person is extremely important and a fundamental part of a relationship. Here are some basic tips for keeping your online communication safe!

Dating online:

 

  • When communicating online, always keep your personal information private, at least while you are vetting the person! This information includes where you live, the name of your school, phone number, last name, etc. If you’ve been speaking to someone and you feel that you’re ready to take the next step, you can give out your number and eventually set up a public meeting.

 

  • Be honest. If you are sixteen — don’t tell them you’re nineteen. If you identify as man, don’t say that you’re a woman. Don’t deceive someone; it’s not safe.

 

  • Realize that many people online aren’t honest about important things such as their gender or age. Watch out for inconsistencies in their personal information: this can be a red flag that you might be getting catfished.

 

  • Make sure they’re being truthful if they tell you that they’re single or in an open relationship. Following them on social media is an excellent way to figure this out.

 

  • Don’t get in too deep on the internet. People can be very different online than they appear in real life. How you interact with someone in person is extremely important and a fundamental part of a relationship. It’s best not to share personal information until you’ve met IRL and have determined that they are who they say they are and the right person.

 

  • If this person threatens your safety or reveals intimate details about yourself you have not shared with them, block them — but be sure to take screenshots of your conversations beforehand.

 

If you decide to meet…

 

  • Always meet in a public place.

 

  • Make sure you tell someone close to you what you are doing and where you’ll be — just in case.

 

  • Have your friend shoot you a text halfway through your meeting to see how it’s going. If the person you are meeting is weird about your cautionary steps, that’s usually a bad sign that their motives aren’t safe.

 

  • Trust your gut. If you feel like the person you’re meeting is creepy or has a strange vibe — get out of there! Even if you’re in a public place, if you feel something is off, you should get away from them.

 

  • Be on the lookout for inappropriate questions. If someone is asking you about your sex life or how you masturbate during the first meeting… that’s not usually a good sign.

 

  • If you end up hooking up, remember always to use protection! Even if they say that they don’t have any STIs.

 

  • If decide to go home with them, check in with your friends and let them know the address of where you’re headed.

 

  • Friends: if you can’t get reach them for a prolonged period (12 hours, for example) and they’re with a stranger, you should notify a family member or the police.

 

  • Turning on a tracker or activating Find My Friends on your iPhone when you go on a Tinder date is also a good idea.

Great friendships and relationships can originate online, but always remember to put your safety first!

 


Photos by
Jairo Granados.

 

This App Is Changing Women’s Healthcare

 

Tia is a San Francisco based Femtech initiative created to address the many facets of female health. The term “Femtech” may bring to mind images of an obnoxiously pink barbie laptop covered in flower stickers and love hearts… and if that’s your thing, then why not? However, Femtech goes a little deeper than that, and is revolutionizing the world of female health care. Continue reading “This App Is Changing Women’s Healthcare”