My friends and I played sexy on AIM because, in real life, we were bound to the rules of our parents, Catholicism, and the code that tells “smart kids” that sexual experimentation is for screw-ups.
We lied and pretended we got drunk, laughing at our crafty misspellings. Still, the risks of AIM were some of its greatest rewards, especially for teenage girls.
In 2001, I was 16, sitting at the computer in the family room when my best friend, Marla M12, found me on AIM.
I hid a smirk with a frown so my mom wouldn’t wonder what I was up to — at that moment, trying not to be turned on.
“It was pleasurable to meet new people and learn that you were ‘attractive’ somehow,” Katz recalls.
AIM created “a safe space,” genderqueer writer and performer RE Katz tells me. mostly faking, some experimenting, performance.” That performance — complete with the costume of a font and the character of a username — was an attempt at being clever or sexy, at crafting a self. : The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails” and the Twitter account @Your Away Message.
Katz credits AIM as helping shape their own gender expression today. The technology was new, but it wasn’t that different from what adolescents have been doing for ages. “I think it helped young women feel like they could come into their own in a lot of ways,” Moss says. In class, I was the person with the right answer — or the person constantly competing with the other smart kid who said it first.
As Boyd notes, “AIM came on the scene at the height of the first large moral panic around online sexual predators and so the media and many parents panicked about the service, deeply frustrating teens.” We heard stories of women and girls who got raped or murdered by guys they met in chat rooms, lechery that now seems like prelude to the . “You had middle school students getting brave,” Moss says, “asking one another questions about sex, experimenting with language, acting in ways they knew to be inappropriate for school.” For young women who were told that their pleasure was inappropriate, the opportunity to develop a sexual identity online was invaluable.
Our response to these horror stories was to be judgmental. AIM helped us become everything our screen names promised we could be: clever, corny, simultaneously over-the-top and understated expressions of ourselves.