IN 1999 A GAY FRIEND confided to me a unique way of making money that capitalized on the growing technological possibilities of the Internet. The idea, like many Internet schemes, sounded too good to be true. With a seventy dollar webcam, a few dozen gay porn photos easily pinched off other porn sites, and a basic knowledge of HTML programming, I could build my own webcam site where the producer, director, and ostensible “star” would be myself. Gay men would flock to it and pay to watch me do … well, whatever! To a poor, 21-year-old undergraduate intrigued by the hubris and hyperbole surrounding overnight dot-com millionaires, the idea sounded like an easy way out of undergraduate poverty.
My relationship with HTML programming began when I was seventeen and set up my first webpage, a simple collection of poetry, personal photographs, and links to my favorite websites. Since that initial homestead, through which I tried to define and declare myself to a wider, more anonymous world, I had consistently maintained a home page that hadn’t progressed beyond portraying a current distillation of my life for anyone who happened by.
I called my website “As You Gaze Upon Me” and put some effort into marketing it to on-line clubs and directories that listed and discussed gay webcams. I needed only a few hours to construct a series of rudimentary pages, nested so that as one traveled “into” the site, each subsequent page promised greater access to the identity of the person introduced on the first page. This introductory page displayed suggestive photos of me taken with the webcam: grainy, color images showing off my skinny body in a tight T-shirt, flexing non-existent biceps, and pouting for the camera. I introduced myself as a college student and aspiring writer saving money to study abroad in London (which was true). Samples of my creative writing could be read for free on the next page. In addition, I posted my mailing address (something no webcammer is ever advised to do), so that “fans” could send donations of a hundred dollars and receive, in gratitude, a self-published chapbook of my poems, humbly titled Veritas et Excrementum. Posting my address meant that donations came more easily, but also that, if someone really wanted to, they could find me. Once at a local theater, a man approached me and told me what a fan he was, adding, “By the way, I live across the street.”
Jason Weidemann lives and works in Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.