I remember when we first got a computer at our house. I remember the excitement and amazement of it all, and being told over and over that it was something for all of us even though my older brother instantly seemed to receive special treatment in regards to its general use.
My biological mother set it up in a corner against the door that gave to our emergency exit, back to the rest of the corridor, with a little curtain that could be pulled if, for some odd reason, we wanted privacy. One of the first thing that pops back to mind when I think of what the internet was back then, or at least, what my first experience with it was as a 13 year old girl tragically obsessed with our family dog, Xena, were the chat rooms. I’m not exactly sure, within the vague memory that I have of my mind as a child, how new—or old—chat rooms were when I entered them for the first time. MSN and Yahoo and all of that jazz were of a popularity they most certainly don’t have today, but they were mysterious and exciting and it seemed so close to magic the concept of instant communication with complete and utter strangers at the tip of my fingers. I’m so glad we didn’t have a webcam at the time, or I would have attempted to discover the wonder of it all too.
I can’t remember exactly whether I was warned about penises and pedophiles on the internet before or after I first experienced the ultimate, and still very accurate, internet experience when you’re a woman on the internet.
When I attempt to think back to my first penis flashed to the face type of encounter, I only remember surprise and confusion, and not so much the person or even less the penis in question. I was never one of the kids who lied about their age and invented some identity as a 20-something years old woman living in New-York, working as Tolkien’s assistant and in love with Stephen King in order to hide my true age. (When I learned that Tolkien was long dead, it was my first heartbreak.) Nevertheless, my 10 or 11 or 12 (who knows) year old self who was quite obviously a child to anyone that talked to me on those chats, yet, I had many people ask me: “ASL??” which I learned much later meant Age/Sex/Location, and by people I mean middle aged men of all nationalities with a taste for the pre-pubescent.
My brother never had to deal with a thing such as penises being sent when you were expecting someone’s face, or not expecting anything in particular at all. His time on the internet was penises and flashers free, as well as worries free, as I always had an adult monitor me one way or another. The time I spent on our computer was much different than how my brother spent it. I had to share a lot of it with my younger sister who at the time could not for the life of her bear to stay put for much long at all, I often had adults pass by and “ask” me what I was doing and with who I was talking and if I knew them and then to prove that I did actually knew them, over and over, which seemed odd at the time and now seems logical, yet oddly saddening.
Most of my childhood was spent wondering why I couldn’t do the things that my brother could do, and why we had to have different toys and hobbies, what made a thing a thing for a girl or a thing for a boy? When my brother got his first N64, I received a massive, pink, Barbie house which my mother kept insisting was “yours, but let your sister play if she wants”. I hated being the middle child, and I hated whatever it seemed to mean, to be a girl, on AND off of the internet.