By Maedbh Pierce
All major points of my selfhood lead back to a URL that sparked the journey. The first time I had sex? The internet. Kink? The internet. ED [eating disorder] content? The internet. Love? The internet. Heartbreak? The internet. And so, my bisexuality, too, even when I failed to know how I should name it, found hearth in the digital.
In the covertness of the internet, a place where concealment was a ready commodity, there was solace. And, as I became further dissonant and dissociative of the falsity of my day-to-day, I initiated a pattern that I would continue when feeling dissatisfied with the immediate—the gestation of a secret dream, one for which the internet has been a willing host, one in which I simulated who I might one day have the autonomy and concomitant chutzpah to be.
Although I recognized early on that my desire diverged, Wattpad was the first place I attempted to articulate and accept this. Considering this (and being 14), my cognitive capabilities to critically represent the complicatedness of coming to address festering stigma and self-denial left me desiderate. Embedded within my characters were heteronomous stigmas I misconceived as autogenous—that I was hypersexual, capricious, and needed a man—that secretly, I was either straight or gay, and that there was no way I could calmly exist donning this cloak of multidirectional desires. On this website, marketed as the enabling connector of a globe-spanning writing- and reading-community, my 14-year-old baby-bi self discovered an anchor where my particular skill set, the capacity to write and love those of all/null genders, constituted a significant quotient of the going social currency. And so, I released myself to this strange technocracy, where the digital mimicked the real in a more—to my taste—satisfactory manner.
To my—albeit non-exhaustive cognizance—the vessels through which my bisexual dreams might digitally actualize were interminable, each cybernetic pitstop providing its personalized brand of refuge. Tumblr was for the kids who had mastered aesthetics and for the queer kids for whom navigating an algorithm was an unconscious—or perhaps cognizant—gift. Though a casual feature of a renaissance of Big Tobacco marketing and ED content, it gave me Shannon and Cammie (though I favored YouTube’s Lucy and Meghan.) Vine was for those who were funny or theatrically gifted, and I never watched through the immediate medium but via coalescing vessels Facebook or Instagram. And while Instagram is the only one that remains in my radius today, in those years, my Instagram feed, not then so algorithmically attuned or fixation-curated, was merely a linear representation of how much less cool I was than my peers and Facebook, a legacy which then and now poses the existential inquiry: Were any of us truly unwelcome? Or were some (present writer included) merely more willing to wallflower than others?
The internet has remained a place of particular importance throughout my life. With age, the forums I utilized transitioned, from AMINO and Chatroulette to, eventually, dating apps and apps promoting friendship and bridging the space between the digital and the real. Going back further, the places in which I had been my most authentic self had always been cyber. I had perused Stardoll, Monster Island, Club Penguin, Monster High, Nintendo Chat, and IMing—all in the hopes of finding a space I wholly belonged, but also recognizing that part of the draw was that it would always be liminal, I would always be free to leave—it wouldn’t be sensible not to.
Wattpad was abandoned as the rest were, and though there is a record of everything we do on the internet—if we have the means to find it—the only difference is the physical, accessible history, and the stable URL. Any work team I have been a part of has been digital—cutting out the small talk I do not know how to satisfactorily make, or the work friendships I can’t quite determine the haptics of. It is hard to determine, if I would have been different, had escape not been available—if this is really a case of radical autonomy or if my avoidant personality has been on a wild trip I will eventually disembark.
I do know, however, that when nobody else can aid me, the internet and I are ready, albeit enabling, accomplices. And, as I move into writing an MA thesis exploring some of these themes, I consider my time on Wattpad, of those before me whose worlds were so much more compressed, of digitalization, globalization, localization, and all the arguments for, against and through. But really, critical as I might be, as a woman and a queer born somewhere safe yet distant to everything I am, I think, thank god for the internet.
Currently studying an MA in Journalism, Media, and Globalization, Maedbh Pierce (she/her) is an English and Philosophy graduate (UCD, Dublin) and freelance writer. Her writing explores and celebrates queer identity, life, and culture and has been featured in Unicorn Magazine, Shameless Magazine, Coven Berlin, and The Single Supplement. Find her on Instagram (maedhblouise) or on LinkedIn (maedbh-pierce).