3 min

Something wicked lurks in cyberspace

You never know who's behind the profile

Dear Dr Ren:
I’m a bi guy in my late 30s. I’m content with my social life in the gay community, but I also like being with women sometimes. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in a serious relationship and I use the Internet to meet new women. Now with this Fortuny thing, I’m scared to post. Also, what woman would believe me now? Any suggestions?

Fortuny’s Victim

Dear Dr Ren:
As a polyamorous kinky woman, I have relied on the Internet to meet new partners for years. Now Jason Fortuny has taken all the years of trust we in the community have built up and ruined it. I feel far more at risk now, both of being exposed and of attracting crazies. Now that the Internet’s gone, what are your thoughts about how women can find dates?

Pissed at Fortuny

Dear Fortuny haters:
These are samples of the furor resulting from an “experiment” by Jason Fortuny, a 30-year-old Seattle network administrator, who posted a fictitious ad on posing as a woman seeking kinky sex. He then published the numerous real responses, complete with identifying information.

The consequences for the men who revealed their identities to Fortuny were in some cases disastrous. Fortuny’s objective, it seems, was to vilify BDSM and its practitioners. What actually happened is that a working system, finely tuned over years of trial and error, collapsed, at least temporarily.

Women have always needed to screen potential lovers, and we’ve become good at it. With Internet dating now commonplace, we demand that potential partners be honest about their identities. In the kinky world, honesty is an even more essential requirement and so here too, systems evolved to allow honourable people to contact each other. Fortuny’s experiment wiped that out. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Fortuny picked the wrong target. He aimed to discredit “str8 brutal dom” males “who like 2 give intense pain and discipline” to women. He didn’t figure those men to be decent, honest or respectful. He probably didn’t think much of the women he was pretending to be either. Though many innocent victims fell for Fortuny’s vicious prank, what the world saw was that even the “perverts” followed the rule of telling the truth in responding to personal ads. Fortuny’s breach was a wakeup call. Now it is clear that we need a system that can provide security from villains like him as well as from other dishonest responders.

I believe, Pissed at Fortuny, that we already know the security measures. We have used them in the past. Sadly, when women post ads we assume the worst and devise methods of filtering out the creeps. We e-mail and phone a few times before meeting in a public place. Someone else knows where we are for that meeting and calls us on our cell phone to check on us. We do some sleuthing (Vancouver’s alternative community encourages reference checking) before meeting privately and then maybe not where we live. Perhaps we should rely a little less on the Internet and a bit more on monthly brunches and private parties to meet others in the kink community. Perhaps Fortuny’s dirty trick will bring more interested folk to conferences and community events.

To you, Fortuny’s Victim, I say you are correct to protect yourself.

Get a separate anonymous e-mail address on a personals site that requires registration.

Respond to ads that make you feel good–not just the ones that make you feel hard–with cautiously truthful information about yourself.

Make sure your cell phone number isn’t address traceable.

Be willing to meet in person when she suggests it. Be forthcoming with references.

The truth is that we want to hook up and we want to do so safely. The further from “acceptable” sex we get, the more cautious we must be about how we proceed. This has always been so.

The current political climate encourages conservatives to expose sexual libertarians as a danger to what they call “traditional family values.” The personal becomes ever more political. Whether you want the freedom to find partners for butt fucking or romantic monogamous vanilla sex, what Fortuny did affects you.

Fortuny is just one more in a long list of critics who would silence those who demand the right to express their sexuality without fearing loss of personal freedom. We’ve struggled through the McCarthy years, Stonewall, the AIDS epidemic, and Conservative Christian Values. Someone will always be ready to send us back to our closets. This is one more time to say, “Hell no, we won’t go.”

Safe, sane, consensual sexual expression is neither shameful nor–in Canada, so far–illegal. If we allow debacles like Fortuny’s experiment to silence us, we lose. Should we use more discretion? Perhaps. Must we forsake the Internet as a means of connecting? Certainly not.

We need not be shamed by being called shameful. Stand proud while staying safe. To paraphrase Emma Goldman: If you wanna dance, you must be part of this revolution!