It happens all the time. I ask my friend if knows some guy from the community. I give a description, a first name, a few unique traits and get a, “uuuhhh, not sure…” response. I provide a screen name and suddenly my friend lights up and acknowledges, “Oh yeah, he’s great! Known him for years.”
Screen names–identities in the virtual world that provide a succinct description of who the men are and what they do. A carryover from days when most gay men had to shield themselves behind anonymity and pseudonyms, the screen name started gathering importance with the rise of AOL and the communities their chat rooms provided. Here men considered who they were and what they wanted to convey to others and thus their horny little labels took shape.
Today, to some these are quickly made labels to fulfill a profile site requirement. But to many the screen name is a calculated idea that serves as their brief introduction in a digital forest of hunters and prey. A screen name is your identity and like it or not it’s an important component of creating an online brand for yourself.
There’s an art to coming up with a screen name and the results range from accurately enticing to humorously repulsive (and sometimes just confusing). Words like “jock, top, bttm, hung, hairy, masc, muscle, and boy” are combined with any number of other words, numbers (all too often ’69’), and locations to represent the individual. From my experience it’s good to be clear, okay to be clever, and a waste of everyone’s time to be deceitful (don’t say you’re “DomTopMilitarySir” and turn out to be “SubSillySissyFace”).
But this branding process has gone way beyond screen names now. As the virtual world of the Internet continues to expand and link us all in countless spiraling ways, the importance and power of an online presence/identity is clear. With each picture, profile, and post uploaded to the net we are creating a brand for ourselves that has the potential to reach thousands (if not more) and shape who we are in the collective consciousness of the community. Real world reputation building and networking are still potent forces, of course, but it’s the online identity that is a beast with its own blind momentum.
So what happens when JockstrapStallion and CuriousRugby_79 get off the internet and connect with one another in real life? Do their online personas download effectively into the physical world? Did their brief-to-extensive written correspondences truly capture the essences of the men? Do they sudden realize that 5 minutes of voice-to-voice conversation has way more insightful value than 50 text messages?
For any of us who have done this dance from online to real world we know that the results vary greatly. Sometimes the transition is grand with expectations holding up and even being exceeded. And sometimes the transition is rough and the person is shorter, wider, more feminine, or horrible socially awkward (but he wrote such articulate and masculine things!). There’s even an added component to the leather community in that a lot of what we do delves into fantasy and provides spaces for men to explore things that extend beyond the normal day-to-day. So even if MasterArgos thrills you for an evening in his dungeon, you might find him surprisingly human and kind at brunch. A big part of my journey has been figuring out how to navigate these personas and also being able to present myself in a way that feel good and true to myself.
Online reputation, persona projection, fantasy vs. reality. I feel like there are multiple blog posts I could write about all of this, but for today I’ll end with what I know best–genuineness. Whether it’s your screen name, your profile description, or how you flag at the bar, I feel at the end of the day being yourself is what will bring you the most success and happiness. And no matter how hard we try to create other personas for ourselves, we will still always remain vulnerable human beings who need community and support.