This might sound like a social media post in the beginning. But it’s not. It’s more like an experience of sorts I went through with a “friend” I made on facebook. As always, no names mentioned to protect the innocent. I also know these things happen in the straight community all the time on social networks and it’s not exclusive to just gay men. But I have experienced this before, and not on social networks, and I think the motivation with regard to gay men is different. What I’m going to tell you has happened several times to me long before social networks ever became popular. And it’s always been because the gay man was hiding something…in most cases their identities…and it was always based on fear and anxiety.
Sometime last summer I “friended” someone on facebook who lived near me. He’d actually just moved to town. The person in question is a gay male, probably close to thirty years old, and seemed to have solid, honest credentials. You never know with social media. My gut feeling is that facebook and many forms of social media rely on either anonymity or faslehoods to keep going. (Which is also why I wonder how long social media will last, being that it’s based on so much deception…but that’s another post and I could be totally wrong.)Though I don’t give out what I consider too much information, what you see on my facebook page is authentic. But I would estimate about 75% of what I see on facebook is not authentic. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. Social media lends itself to this form of deception just by the very nature of what its all based upon. Also, some people do social networks for fun, and they fudge the truth a little. There’s nothing wrong with that either.
But that’s another post, too. This time I only want to concentrate on the alleged “friend” I met on facebook. First, and I want to emphasize this, we’re talking just a “friend.” I do not, and would not, look for sex on social media. It’s way too creepy for me, not to mention dangerous. I know some people do it and they have a blast. I say good for them. But it’s not for me.
It’s no secret that I’m usually very busy. I barely have time for a social life with work demands and family demands. I live in a small town with a large LGBTQ community where I’ve had the same friends, gay and straight, for twenty years, which also keeps me busy. So I wasn’t rushing to make dinner plans with someone from facebook. Most of my friends and family don’t even like or care about facebook. But getting to know this new “friend” on facebook was nice in the sense that it was new. We hit it off well, had many things in common, and, like I said, this guy seemed authentic. Then, the few times we arranged to do dinner he backed out, which didn’t bother me at all. I figured we’d just meet sooner or later and I didn’t give it a second thought. I also figured he wasn’t taking social networks all that seriously either and he might have had his doubts about me, too. Perfectly normal.
After months of communicating almost daily on facebook, something interesting happened. I received an e-mail that said I’d been tagged in a FB photo by a virtual stranger. I knew the photo I’d been allegedly tagged in was from a facebook “friend” of the guy I’d become friendly with. This time it was a woman “friend” of his. She seemed nice enough from what I saw on facebook. I didn’t give it a second thought…at least not until I went to the facebook page and checked out the photo I’d been tagged in. And, keep this in mind, I don’t know how to tag on facebook. I know the bare basics about posting updates and photos. But tagging isn’t something I’ve bothered to learn. And when I open an e-mail where I’ve been tagged in something I’m honestly not sure what it’s all about.
While I was checking the photo out, I read the names of the people in the photo. They were all strangers and I wasn’t in the photo, which didn’t surprise me. I don’t post personal friend or family photos online anywhere. I have one of two authentic photos of me out in cyber space and that’s enough. But there was my new facebook friend, in this “tagged” photo, with a completely different name. My first reaction was this had to be a mistake. So I did a little cross referencing and checked a few more photos of him…I’m a writer who majored in journalism and I know how to dig for information…and found this friend of mine was using two different names, two different facebook profiles, and basically two different identities. At least this is how is appeared to me. There were too many photos with various names to make it coincidental.
So I thought about it and then e-mailed him. I didn’t want to be rude about it, but I thought we’d at least established a friendship to the point where we trusted each other. (Actually, I was joking about it in the e-mail I sent because I wanted him to know that if he was protecting his identity he had nothing to worry about with me. The last thing I’d ever do it out someone.) Basically, I asked him what was up with the name “thing.” And I did this with a friendly tone, to make a point of showing him it was okay if he wanted to use different names. I didn’t care, but I was curious. And, to a certain degree, being completely honest now, I felt duped. I’d been honest with him. I hadn’t given him false info about me. There’s a lot of info about me on the Internet and I can’t give out false info. I’ve learned it’s much easier to just keep it real and stand behind everything I post or write. This way if I’m ever attacked, which I have been, I have nothing to worry about.
And I did think we had a connection, with potential for a nice friendship outside of social networks. So I was curious as to why this guy felt the need to lie to me…if, in fact, this is what he was doing. I honestly still don’t know for sure. I never received a reply from the original e-mail I sent asking about his various names and profiles on facebook. And I didn’t pursue it any further after that. It’s obviously something he doesn’t want to discuss and I respect his privacy completely. There wasn’t much time or effort invested in the “friendship” and I’m sure we’ll both live happy lives without ever meeting each other.
But this did remind me of an aspect…and insight…into what gay men often do…and to what lengths they will go to protect their identities. My very best friend, who passed away from a massive heart attack at a very young age, never even told his family or friends he was gay. They found out at his funeral…or, rather, it was confirmed at his funeral…they’d suspected for years. So my experience with this facebook “friend” isn’t the first time I’ve run into a gay man using a different identity and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Sometimes it’s so hard to be open and honest about being gay, some men will resort to reinventing themselves entirely. Some have separate identities and maintain them for years. The psychological impact of being gay, for some, is still just as traumatic now as it was twenty or thirty years ago, and not all gay men have reached a point where they are comfortable being themselves and living authentic lives.
This is sad on so many levels it’s hard to write about. It looks like we’ve come so far, and yet I see things like this and I realize there’s still so far to go. And the thing that bothers me the most is that all these gay men who believe they have to have different identities don’t fully understand that no one really cares anymore (at least not in most cases…I know some have valid reasons for not coming out). Like my best friend who died suddenly: his family already knew without him telling them. But the fear and anxiety some gay men have is something they’ve made up in their own heads, and they live with a sense of paranoia and denial when there’s really no need to do it. In many cases, unfortunately, the lies become a way of life and some never change.