Growing up in regional Victoria, I didn’t know any openly gay guys in my town. It was pretty isolating.
Online spaces were actually the only place I could meet other gay guys. Gay apps gave me the chance to talk to other guys and meet them. I had always assumed I’d be a lonely gay kid and never have any friends, so when I was talking to other people online it made me feel connected, even though they were usually ages away. It wasn’t until after I’d met other gay guys that I realised how isolated and lonely I was. Without those apps, I might still be isolated, and probably incredibly depressed.
There were some people who I’d message every single day – the fact they were from all over the world only made our connection stronger. We could talk about the most intense, intimate things, and share our deepest secrets because we knew we’d likely never meet. Typing out your feelings and hitting enter is WAY easier than saying them face to face. These people were my best friends at the time, and they completely transformed my life for the better.
Not all the apps were dating apps, but in the ones that were I found it was pretty common to trade photos with other guys. Sometimes if the conversation went a particular way, I’d feel comfortable sharing some more personal photos, including nude ones.
One day a friend sent me a link to a page online that had collected my photos and posted them in a gallery.
It made my stomach drop.
At first I was mortified and really embarrassed. I still don’t know who shared my photos and from which app.
I’d always been really careful never to include my face in any photos where I was naked, but this person had also posted other photos of me beside them, where I was clothed and my face was visible. Side by side it made it very obvious who the naked-mirror-cropped-at-the-neck photos were of – and it was clear they were taken in the same room.
When it happened, I was more worried about those images being used to link back to me being gay, and that I would cop flack for my sexuality.
My friend was so amazing though and was angry for me. I was sort of stuck in this mindset of wanting to ignore it and hope it’d just go away. I remember being really overwhelmed, and feeling as if bringing any attention to it would only make things worse.
I felt like crap, and I remember wondering how many other people had come across the images of me, and being scared about what they would think. I think for gay guys in particular, even for guys who are pretty confident in their sexuality, there’s so much shame in a naked photo being shown to a wider audience. When you’re gay, you worry about being labelled ‘that gay guy’ who is also a ‘pervert’. Or you worry about being seen as a loser who falls for other people’s tricks.
What Mitch wants others to know
Having my friend’s support helped. We both reported the image to the website and it was taken down in a couple of days. Knowing who to reach out to in this situation helped a lot, and I’m incredibly grateful for that support.
Looking back, I think my fear was really linked to homophobia, and that’s a really big part of what needs to change. I imagine in the same way that a girl being slut-shamed is linked to sexism.
I still use dating apps, but I make sure I never include my face in any picture I send anyone – it means that even if someone downloaded pictures of me, I could easily say, ‘nah that’s not me, it’s a fake.’ If you do include a head shot alongside naked pictures, ensure that they don’t have the same background or furnishings in the shot. My friend gave me this advice and it has given me back my confidence.
The whole thing was a really full on experience but it is possible to come out the other side and still have fun online.
*Mitch’s story combines the experiences and emotions of a number of individuals in this situation. Stock photo. Posed by model.
You will find options for support and counselling services below. There are also a number of ways you can take action to try to remove and report abusive images.
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