My friend Harley* recently moved from the West Coast to the deep, deep South. And he called me because he was having a serious problem.
You see, Harley is:
- Clearly not White.
- Clearly not Christian.
- On the upper end of the freak scale, sexually
- A federal employee.
This move (concomitant with a nice federal promotion) left him in a very tight situation for meeting people. Even going to his neighborhood bar to watch the game and have a beer had been a recipe for disaster. Most people would say “Dude, join FetLife and get your freak on.” But Harley is right to be concerned about his job and any digital footprint he may leave by searching for fellow kinksters online.
Most of my private practice clients come by referral from other professionals. So I have a good idea of what people are coming in for before they even call me. The individuals least likely to call (or show up if they do call and make an appointment) are individuals involved in BDSM, kink, and/or polyamory. As we move to greater acceptance within bigger society, these are the interests that still have lots of shame and embarrassment attached to them. Harley is building an excellent career as a federal employee; he doesn’t want to see that all come crashing down over a FetLife profile.
But whether or not you are a complete perv doesn’t even necessarily matter. The internet is forever (Don’t believe me? Do a search for waybackmachine…you are soooo busted!), and your social life can be out there for all to see. And just because you are Out in SA doesn’t mean you are Out to Great Aunt Gladys or Out to Your Coworker with the Confederate Flag Bumper Sticker on his Truck. Maybe Gladys knows you dig boys instead of girls, but do you want her to know you and your boy are in the lifestyle? It would be something new to talk about at Sunday dinner, I suppose.
It’s amazing the things I have found out about friends, family, and coworkers when I wasn’t searching for them. The internet algorithms, especially in social media, are brilliant. Facebook recently suggested that I suggested someone who had no mutual friends or any other connection to me…other than the fact that his number was in my phone a couple of years ago because we chatted for a while. Never even went out with him (turned out he was creepin’ on his girl), but the Facebook algorithm made the connection and suggested we be besties. Eww, no thanks.
Now I ascribe to the Polish proverb of not my circus, not my monkey. So if I bump up into something online that suggests that you are into shibari, then more power to you. But Aunt Gladys might freak out. Or a coworker. Or your current boss. Or a prospective boss. The Wall Street Journal polled 2000 hiring managers about employment deal breakers, and your interactions on social media are being watched and being judged (Kwoh, 2012). A little rope play in exchange for your career? Not what you had in mind.
So here is the advice I gave Harley.
- For the love of Buddha, don’t use the same email that you use for work related stuff when looking to snag. I shouldn’t have to keep saying that, but I have bumped into co-workers online and knew it was them for just that reason. Seriously. Separate email. Internet Perving 101, playa.
- Extra layer of precaution? Get a burner phone and don’t attach that phone number to any of your more public (read: family and work friendly) online profiles.
- Don’t use a work computer to do your thing. Don’t use the work WiFi with a personal device either.
- Consider using dating sites that are more freak-friendly but aren’t employer red flags. OkCupid and PlentyOfFish are going to get more of a by from an employer than FetLife or ManCrunch. Many of the profiles on these sites will be replete with keywords within other people’s profiles that will help you scope out whether or not others have similar interests.
- Use the URLs to find the IRLs. People do still hang out in person. You can use the web to find out what’s going in your hood without having to join a group or site and make a profile. Check out MeetUp (many will have meeting dates and activities posted and you can roll in without joining the group). If your thing is BDSM, look for a local munch (Despite the name, it’s just an in-person meet and greet for interested individuals. It’ll be at a bar or restaurant. No one will be naked or on a choke chain. It’s a good stepping stone activity.).
- Check out fliers at local bars, coffee shops, and bookstores. Speaking of shibari? There is a rope bondage group that meets in San Marcos every month. I know this because there is a flier posted at Wake The Dead Coffee House. Sometimes low tech is best.
Harley went the MeetUp route. Started going to some activities in his new hood. Made some friends, stopped staring at the blank walls of his rental condo. He is now dating an awesome person and found that person without putting his career at risk. Should he have to hide who he is? No, of course not. But it is the reality of the digital age. Should he have to hide who he is? No, of course not. But it is the reality of the digital age. Think and plan accordingly.
*Harley is clearly a pseudonym in case you wondered. Because I don’t know any Black men in the history of ever that are named Harley.
Post Print Follow Up:
Since this article ran in the Spring print issue of Out in SA, Harley sent me pictures of him and his new Boo. And he recently called me so I could meet this awesomesauce person over the phone. They are freaking adorable, and I am so happy for them both. Like John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, I love it when a plan comes together!