In previous decades, many gay men, he says, had relied on Polaroids (which required no processing) since they were concerned about bringing their undeveloped film to the corner drugstore or one-hour photo shop.
“There was a social stigma,” says Mayes, “and, more importantly, legal issues in taking your film to the lab.
(CGI—computer-generated imagery—was a huge gaming and cinematic breakthrough in the 1990s.) Cybersex was sim stim.
There were quite a lot of women on The WELL—for an Internet group, it was a shocking number. It didn’t even occur to me that computers were supposed to be a guy-only space.
[As part of ] this private women’s conference—it was more gossipy and talking about our private lives and things you didn’t necessarily want everyone else to see in public—someone started a topic called ‘That Son-of-a-Bitch.’ ” She laughs. “This woman told a story about how she’d met this wonderful man on The WELL and it just all seemed so incredibly touching and poignant and like a match made in heaven. So we were ‘listening’ to her describe how sexy it was.
It has, historically, a sense of being furtive—pushed into the underground for centuries—but once outside social constraints, it was a lot freer within a private, underground context.” In many ways, these were also the hallmarks of the early digital space: a private, members-only society with its own language and codes and libertine ethos that existed under the radar.
At the same time, Mayes recalls, the digital photography revolution of the 1990s served to enhance the sex lives of those who were drawn to the visual, to exchanging private pictures, and to creating homespun erotica that might invite and satisfy the fellow male gaze.
“What the Internet did was give me a new awareness of myself.