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Article from ejc/rec Campbell, EJC/REC, Volume 13, Number 1
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 13 Number 1, 2003


ALWAYS USE A MODEM:

FRAMES OF EROTIC PLAY AND PERFORMANCE INN CYBERSPACE

 

John Edward Campbell

University of Pennsylvania

 

Work there, play there, love there but if you have sex in cyberspace, be sure to always use a modem

~Allucquère Rosanne (Sandy) Stone, 1996

 

Abstract: This paper examines an online phenomenon thoroughly problematizing the distinction between the virtual and the physical: cybersex.  In particular, this paper analyzes the discursive frames of play and performance emerging from an online erotic encounter between two gay male interactants on Internet Relay Chat (IRC).  It is hoped that a microanalysis of this phenomenon may aid in understanding not only how individuals incorporate emerging media technologies into their negotiation of everyday life, but also what role the body plays in online interaction.  The intent then of this paper is to move from the theoretical to the concrete by examining an actual transcript of online erotic interaction and provide one possible analytic framework by which to apprehend it. 

I.  Getting It On Online: An Introduction

When introducing cyberspace in his dystopic novel, Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson described it as a cerebral realm of "bodiless exultation." However, a growing body of research examining online interaction suggests that people are entering cyberspace for anything but "bodiless exultation."  According to these social scientists (Branwyn, 1994; Stone, 1996; Hamman, 1996; McRae, 1997; Mills, 1998), much of the discourse occurring in virtual environments centers around and refers back to the body, both playfully and erotically.

This paper examines an online phenomenon thoroughly problematizing the distinction between the virtual and the physical: cybersex.  In 1994, Jack Richard of Boardwatch magazine estimated that as many as 50,000 people were engaging "in daily cybersex using up to 700 real-time chat lines" (in Nguyen & Alexander, 1996, p. 116).  Considering the exponential growth of the Internet, it is likely the number of people engaging in online erotic interactions has markedly increased since Richard's estimate.  Studying this phenomenon may aid in understanding not only how individuals incorporate emerging media technologies into their negotiation of everyday life, but also what role the body plays in online interaction.  Unfortunately, though computer-mediated communication (CMC) researchers have discussed online erotic exploration (Branwyn, 1994; Bruckman, 1996; Dibbell, 1996; Hamman, 1996; McRae, 1997; Mills, 1998; Reid, 1996a, 1996b; Shaw, 1997; Stone, 1996; Turkle, 1995), none have, thus far, examined an actual instance of cybersex. 

The intent of this paper is to move from the theoretical to the concrete by examining an actual transcript of online erotic interaction and provide an analytic framework by which to apprehend it.  Unlike early CMC research that sought to make generalizations about the use of Internet, this study focuses on the particular by examining a transcript of the online interactions between two individuals on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) who I refer to as Youngmuscle and NY-Guy.  (Due to the sensitive nature of the transcript, I have altered the online handles of these interactants to ensure their anonymity.[1])  This analysis endeavors towards addressing the following epistemological and ontological questions: How is online erotic interaction negotiated between interactants?  How does it constitute an erotic experience for them?  How do how the participants communicate their desires within the restrictions of the medium?  How do grammar roles of performance and the performance of roles shape the online experience of these individuals?  However, before directly engaging with this transcript, it is helpful to clarify what precisely is being referred to by use of the term "cybersex" based on the existing literature.

Let's Talk About (Cyber)Sex

"Cybersex," also referred to as "virtual sex," and, more crudely, "teledildonics," remains an online phenomenon frequently invoked but seldom delineated.  McRae (1997) describes it as "erotic interaction between individuals whose bodies may never touch, who may never even see each others' faces or exchange real names" (p. 74).  Hamman (1996), in his study of virtual sex in American Online chat-rooms, attempts to offer a more functional, if bifurcated definition:

The first form is computer mediated interactive masturbation in real time.  In this form of cybersex, users type instructions and descriptions of what they are "doing" to each other and to themselves while masturbating.  The second form of cybersex identified here is the computer mediated telling of interactive sexual stories (in real time) with the intent of arousal.  Users who take part in this form of cybersex tell each other sexual stories online with the intent of arousing themselves and other users (1996, p. 3).

Hamman's definition indicates the importance of the physical body in this virtual experience; cybersex involves the arousal and even the touching of the real-world self.  Interactants engaging in this activity may not be able to actually touch each other through the electronic ether, but they can simulate that touch using their own real-world experiences and physical bodies.

By use of the term "cybersex," I am not referring to simply any form of erotic activity mediated through communication technology (such as phone-sex), but to erotic activity conducted through computer-mediated communication (CMC), and specifically through synchronistic, or "real-time" forms of CMC (such as online chatrooms).  This is the understanding of cybersex used in Hamman's research, and arguably by the majority of those currently writing about the phenomenon.  Branwyn (1994), in one of the earliest investigations into online erotic activity, distributed questionnaires and conducted interviews with dozens of online enthusiasts to develop a "basic understanding of how compu-sex works" (p. 229). 

Based on his data, Branwyn identifies three distinct forms of cybersex: The first, and according to Branwyn, the most "commonly reported form of compu-sex is one in which participants describe and embellish real-world circumstances: how they look, what they're wearing, what they're doing" (p. 230).  I will refer to this form of online erotic activity as "reality based."  The second form of cybersex identified "involves the creation of a pure fantasy scenario . . . similar to fantasy role-playing games (such as Dungeons & Dragons), where each participant's fantasies are tailored to fit the collective story being created by all players" (p. 230).  I will refer to this second form of cybersex as "fantasy storytelling," which Branwyn indicates is more common during group "orgy" situations.  The final form of cybersex identified by Branwyn is what he refers to as "tele-operated compu-sex."  Here an interactant "gives actual lovemaking instructions over the computer to another party ('Jim, I want you to slowly undress Carol')" (p. 231).  The most striking distinction between this mode of cybersex and the two prior forms, "reality based" and "fantasy storytelling", is the lack of narration and word play, and the focus on functionality.  Here interactants are not so much describing an erotic situation (whether the basis of that situation is "reality" or "fantasy") as simply instructing each other in the performance of specific acts.  In contrast, the transcript examined in this study is best characterized as a composite of the first two forms of cybersex: "reality based" and "fantasy storytelling."

One serious limitation of Branwyn's work, though, is his assertion that cybersex "almost exclusively mirrors . . . real-world intercourse" (1994, p. 234).  In describing the cybersexual, Branwyn suggests that participants "begin with foreplay and progress through increasing levels of (spelled out) intensity ending with an on-line orgasm," noting that an on-line orgasm "looks like something out of a comic book, with drawn-out ohhhhh's, ahhhhhhhhh's, WOW!!!'s, and the obligatory 'I'mmmm commmmmmmminnnggggggg!!!!!'" (p. 234).  However, when Branwyn suggests that "compu-sex" mirrors real-world intercourse, one must ask whose real-world notions of intercourse is he referring to?  Is he taking into consideration sex between same-sex partners?  Califia (1994) contends that members of sexual minorities have very different understandings of what constitutes the erotic than the conventional view of "heterosexual, vanilla, male-dominant intercourse" (p. 11).  Thus, I argue for the need of a more expansive understanding of the cybersexual, holding that what constitutes an erotic activity is ultimately a deeply personal and particular matter. 

In light of the particularity of the erotic, devising a generalizable definition of cybersex proves an inherently flawed endeavor.  My intent, however, is not to offer a definition for the phenomenon of cybersex, but rather to examine a single instance of the cybersexual, exploring what this online interaction means to those involved in it.  In this study, I identify the discourse examined here as cybersexual because the interactants themselves described it as such when presenting me with the transcript.  Thus, my designation of this transcript as an example of cybersex is not so much an externally imposed classification, as an internally claimed description.  In examining this transcript, I draw upon the conception of discursive hierarchical frames of experience developed by Bateson, Goffman, Handelman, and Turner.

Framing Frames of Online (Erotic) Play, Performance, and Power

Danet, Ruedenberg-Wright, and Rosenbaum-Tamari (henceforth Danet el al.) argue that cyberspace "provides perfect insulation to maintain a play frame" (1997, p. 4).  Though this paper supports that assertion, it is important to identify what precisely are being referred to by use of the terms "play" and "frame." 

Handelman (1977), in his discussion of play, ritual, and meta-communication, identifies play as "a way of organizing activity, and not a particular set of activities," within which "players are enabled to alter their usual coordination of acts through repetition, exaggeration, novel combination, and a high degree of freedom" (p. 185).  Handelman suggests an important social attribute of play is the construction of an "amoral" realm, a realm of "what can be," that "pleases players by permitting them a masked individuality (playing at symbolic types, identical definition of the situation, loss of self) which enables mass participation without collective responsibility" (p. 186).  Thus, if play offers an amoral space, a space of "what can be" (as opposed to what Handelman refers to as "immoral," or "what is"), then by engaging in play, opportunities are created for exploration beyond conventional social boundaries.  This, of course, includes opportunities for sexual exploration, which Schechner (1988) refers to as "dark play."  I, however, prefer to use the term "erotic play."[2]

Danet et al. (1997), identify four features of interaction in cyberspace that foster this ideal space of playfulness: "ephemerality, speed, interactivity, and freedom from the tyranny of materials" (p. 5).  However, particularly in the instance of queer erotic play, a fifth feature of online interaction merits acknowledgement: anonymity.  Chauncey (1994), in examining the experiences of sexual minorities in pre-Stonewall New York City, argues that the relative anonymity of Manhattan was a key reason why gay men "felt freer there than they would have at home to seek out gay locals and behave openly as homosexuals" (p. 133).  By use of the term anonymity, Chauncey is not implying that gay men only engaged in "anonymous, furtive encounters between strangers" (p. 133).  Rather, the "complexity of the city's social and spatial organization made it possible for gay men to construct the multiple public identities necessary for them to participate in the gay world without losing the privileges of the straight" (p. 133-134).

 

Similarly, the anonymity found in cyberspace arguably affords interactants the freedom to engage in erotic play and explore sexual desires they may not be able to do in "real life" (RL).  As with Chauncey's discussion of gay men in pre-Stonewall Manhattan, this anonymity does not suggest that interactants in cyberspace engage in only furtive virtual sexual encounters, remaining strangers to each other's online personae.  Rather, virtual environments (like queer-identified channels on IRC) permit interactants to construct online personae and engage in erotic interactions without physical, social, or economic risk to their real-world selves. 

Transitioning to the second term invoked by Danet et al., the theoretical understanding of "frame" used in this analysis is derived from Bateson's (1972) initial concept of discursive frames of reference, and Goffman's (1974), Handelman's (1977), and Turner's (1986) elaboration on it.  Turner indicates that "to frame" an activity "is to discriminate a sector of sociocultural action from the general on-going process of a community's life" (1986, p. 140).  To prior work on "frame analysis" (coined by Goffman  in 1974), Turner introduces the notion of "nested" frames, arguing that "social events are contained in multiple frames, hierarchically arranged, frame within frame, with the ultimate 'meaning' of the event shaped by the dominant, 'encompassing' frame" (1986, p. 140-141).

This understanding of "framed" frames was fundamental in Danet et al.'s examination of an online "virtual party" (1997).  In their analysis, Danet et al. relate this conception of "nested" frames to computer-mediated communication (CMC) using the technological term "multitasking."  In object-oriented windows environments, multiple software applications can be running simultaneously, though only one application window may be visible to the user at any specific moment: "Technically, only one frame at a time is 'foregrounded' while all others are 'running in the background'" (1997, p. 11).

A critical aspect of frame analysis is the conception of meta-communication.  Bateson (1972) asserts that frames are meta-communicative because any "message which either explicitly or implicitly defines a frame, ipso facto gives the receiver instructions or aids in his attempt to understand the messages included within the frame" (p. 188).  Thus, each frame carries with it a "meta-message" (Bateson, 1972; Handelman, 1977; Turner, 1986; Danet et al, 1997), which not only identifies the understanding of the frame itself, but also facilitates in the transition between frames, a process Goffman (1974) refers to as "keying."  Building upon the work of Goffman, Jacobson (1996) examines a form of keying, the use of real names as opposed to pseudonyms in MOOs as a form of social "cues."  Usefully, Jacobson notes that cues "signal the nature of the context [frame] and include where and when the action is taking place; the characteristics, roles, and relationships of those who are participating in it; and the manner of their behavior" (p. 463).  In identifying how transitions between frames are cued, an understanding can be reached on how those interacting within that frame perceive the social boundaries of their activities.

An aspect, however, of the meta-message that has not yet been examined by those cited above concerns implicit understandings of power in erotic play.  Within this analysis, my understanding of power is informed by the work of Foucault.  In his examination of the history of sexual discourse (1978), Foucault articulates a complex theoretical framework for the understanding of power within social relations, arguing that where "there is desire, the power relation is already present" (1978, p. 82).  According to Foucault, power dynamics are always inherent in relations of desire, for power is already implicated in the very construction and social apprehension of desire.  In this analysis, power will be understood as a fundamental dynamic of the interaction itself.  Thus power here is not so much an external force (though this does not dismiss the existence of external forms of repressive power) exercised over the interactants, but rather an internal force within which the interactants are always already implicated.  Foucault wrestles with articulating this understanding of power, referring to it as a "multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization" (p. 92). 

Building upon Foucault, I analytically approach this online interaction between Youngmuscle and NY-Guy as a complex strategic situation, knowing that there will be inherent power dynamics because of what Foucault refers to as the "omnipresence of power."  As he states: power "is produced from one moment to the next, at every point, or rather in every relation" (1978, p. 93).  This allows us to conceptualize power on a micro-level, emerging from the very sexual relations of these individuals.  I would contend that the negotiation of power is reflected in the practice of keying, or the use of cues to move from one social context to another.  Therefore, the power relations between the interactants constitutes a fundamental part of the frame's meta-message.t

II. The Online Red-Light District

Commenting on his online research, Hamman notes the difficulty of obtaining an actual transcript of cybersex: "One side effect of me asking to observe or see transcripts of cybersex is for me to be called a 'pervert' by one respondent and a 'weirdo' by another respondent.  After a few times asking unsuccessful [sic] to be granted access to live cybersex or transcripts of it, I have reassessed the important of this access" (1996, p. 8).  However, during a three-year ethnographic study of the activities of interactants on three queer-identified IRC channels, #gaymuscle, #gaychub, and #gaymusclebears, two participants, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy, offered me a transcript of their private online interactions.[3]  This collection of almost daily online conversations over approximately four months (July 29 - October 19. 1997) includes several instances of what can be characterized as cybersex, or online erotic play.  This transcript was made available to me because of the close online friendships I established with each individual over a period of several years as well as our shared identification as gay males.

It is important to keep in mind that the interactions examined here are shaped by the medium of Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a particular form of synchronistic computer-mediated communication (CMC).[4]  Of particular note is Baym's (1995) observation that online interactants "cannot use the usual contextualization cues conveyed by appearance, nonverbal signals, and features of the physical context" (p. 139), and thus they "invented, and continue to invent, new ones" (p. 152).  Emoticons are one such reaction to the lack of social cues; another is the development of something referred to here as "cyberactions."  Cyberactions ‘words that are bracketed to indicate a bodily action occurring during, but not part of the "spoken" dialog’ differ from emoticons in that they represent a conscious act of the body rather then the involuntary response of the face.  It is conceivable that the use of cyberactions will be more prominent during instances of cybersex where they function to represent erotic physical acts, touching, licking, kissing.  This is exemplified in this brief excerpt of online interaction (which can be characterized as friendly flirtation) from Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's larger transcript: 

<Youngmuscle>  I'M BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!!!!!!!   :-)  <HUG>

<NY-Guy>  Welcome back, baby!

<Youngmuscle>  Thanx, Sugar!  :-)

<NY-Guy>  _lick_

<Youngmuscle>  hehehehehehehe, stop, that tickles   oh, wait, DON'T STOP!!!!!

<NY-Guy>  _lick_

<NY-Guy>  _lick_

<NY-Guy>  _lick_

<Youngmuscle>  hehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehe, ok ok, uncle!!!

<NY-Guy>  _lick_

<Youngmuscle> no fair, stud!  :-)  I said uncle!!  :-)  <BIG BEAR HUG>

The use of emoticons and cyberactions (i.e. _lick_ and <BIG BEAR HUG>) demonstrate the discursive incorporation of the body into online interaction.  Youngmuscle and NY-Guy are a considerable geographic distance apart, yet Youngmuscle hugs NY-Guy when they are reunited.  NY-Guy cannot touch Youngmuscle's physical body, yet he licks him repeatedly until Youngmuscle can't take the "sensation" anymore and calls "uncle!"  Youngmuscle continuously indicates his physical enjoyment of the interaction by smiling, perhaps despite himself:  "no fair, stud!  :-)  I said uncle!!  :-)"

This brief exchange illustrates the problematic nature of distinguishing the real-world body (the physical self) from the experiences of the online persona (the discursive self).  It is by drawing upon the experience of the biological body, that Youngmuscle is "tickled" by NY-Guy's repeated licking.  It is by his own real-world understanding of a smile, that NY-Guy knows that Youngmuscle's emoticons indicate his enjoyment.  As Argyle and Shields (1996) suggest, emoticons and textual representations of bodily actions (e.g. cyberactions) "are clues that lead us back to ourselves, back to our bodies to try to understand what it is that a person is trying to say" (p. 67).  The use of cyberactions facilitates the transformation of online discourse from a purely cerebral experience, to one of physical significance, and ultimately one of erotic arousal.

 

III.  Here We Go: Analysis of Online Erotic Play

At this point, I turn to the analysis of the actual transcript of Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's online interaction.  The section selected for analysis (what Goffman refers to as the "strip") represents one evening of activity out of a much larger transcript covering some four months of private interactions.  (The complete transcript of the evening's interaction between Youngmuscle and NY-Guy appears in Appendix I.)  Since this transcript represents a single, distinct event between two IRC interactants, it is possible only to generalize tentatively about what online erotic play means to all those engaging in it.  Notably, my analysis of this particular online encounter is informed by those interviews I conducted with these individuals during my aforementioned ethnographic study of gay-male chatrooms.

Working in the virtual field, notes on methodolgy

Riessman (1993), in writing about the analyses of narratives, indicates that transforming "spoken language into a written text" is a serious endeavor, involving theoretical and interpretive decisions "because thoughtful investigators no longer assume the transparency of language" (p. 12).  However, research in cyberspace presents very different considerations.  In the instance examined here, the transcript is already provided by the interactants themselves.  Thus, no initial decisions need be made on how to represent their dialog in written form; the transcript shows fundamentally what appeared on their screens during the interaction. 

The most significant difference, however, is that this text is now static, whereas at the time, it appeared fleeting.  Here the text can be read slowly, with sufficient time to reread any unclear passages.  Then, however, to keep up the appearance of real-time conversation, the text would have scrolled swiftly by on the screen.  Unfortunately, the static nature of this transcript makes it impossible to examine another potentially important attribute of synchronistic computer-mediated communication: pace.  The pace at which interactants compose and send responses is likely to shape the intensity of their online experiences, and it is conceivable that pace is critical in online erotic activity where a particular celerity may be needed to maintain the sensation of real-time interaction. 

Though the text appears fundamentally unchanged in terms of content, a decision was made to number the lines in the fashion of Labov's paradigmatic structural approach to narrative analysis (Riessman, 1993, p. 18).  This was done solely for ease of reference in the analysis itself.

Framing the erotic within frames of experience

In examining the transcript of Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's interaction, four frames of experience become apparent, and arguably a fifth frame emerges, albeit only fleetingly.  These frames are identified as: Frame 1. Real Life (RL); Frame 2. Cyberspace (IRC); Frame 3. Youngmuscle & NY-Guy's Private Channel; Frame 4. NY-Guy's Fantasy World; and Frame 5. Youngmuscle & NY-Guy's Erotic Performance.  This final frame of experience represents an ephemeral space where both Youngmuscle and NY-Guy assume the roles of, and therefore become the fantasy characters inhabiting NY-Guy's fantasy world.  As with Turner and Danet et al., these frames are viewed as "nested" within one another (see Figure 1.), with Frame 1. Real Life (RL), serving as their "primary framework" (Goffman, 1974).  Each of these frames and their accompanying meta-messages will be examined in the order they are encountered within the transcript.

Figure 1. Five nested frames constructed during Youngmuscle and Ny-guy's erotic activities

Frame 1, "Real Life" (RL).  As Danet et al. (1997) indicate, by "being alive and functioning, the IRC players are already in the REAL LIFE mode, which in Western culture is dominated by the expectation of 'serious' activity in the workaday world" (1997, p. 12).  This Real Life mode constitutes the primary framework by which these individuals will, as Goffman (1974) explains, "locate, perceive, identify, and label a seemingly infinite number of concrete occurrences" (p. 21).  In this Real Life frame, Youngmuscle identifies himself as a 21 year-old gay, white male living in the southern United States, while NY-Guy identifies as a 29 year-old gay, white male living in the northeastern United States.  As I have never physically met either individual, I acknowledge the possibility that their online personae differ from how their physical-world selves may be characterized by society (in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and/or class).  Interestingly, within this frame of experience, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy would have never "met", Youngmuscle has never been to the northeast region of the United States, and NY-Guy has never visited the state in which Youngmuscle resides.

If, as Goffman (1974), Handelman (1976), and Danet et al (1997) suggest, the meta-message of this frame is the expectation of "serious" activity, then the notion of play invoked in the other frames is defined against this expectation.  An equally important meta-message of this primary frame of experience concerns sexuality.  Within this frame of experience, both interactants identify themselves as members of a sexual minority, and as members of a sexual minority, both may experience sensations of alienation from mainstream social activities.  As Wolfe (1997) usefully reminds us, "sodomy laws still exist in twenty-four states and the District of Columbia," only "three states and sixty cities have even limited antidiscrimination legislation, and there is none on the national level," and thus "[v]iolence and discrimination occur with little recourse, legal or political, even today" (p. 314-315).  In light of the overtly homophobic 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the national venue provided Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and the murders of gay men like Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither, Gary Matron, and Winfield Mowder, post-Stonewall American still represents a hostile society for many sexual minorities.  It is this potentially hostile society that constitutes the primary frame of reference for both Youngmuscle and NY-Guy. 

Using this framework of Real Life (RL), Youngmuscle and NY-Guy are able to identify the frames created within cyberspace as virtual, and therefore realms of fantasy and play.  This is not to suggest that these virtual spaces are not very real and significant to the interactants, only to indicate that they are spaces of their own design.  Unlike Real Life, these virtual spaces of their own creation need not be dominated by a heterosexual paradigm; rather same-sex sexuality can feasible be positioned as a the norm.  Of course, the real world does not simply disappear while Youngmuscle and NY-Guy are logged onto IRC.  As indicated previously, the real-world body plays a critical referential role in making online interaction meaningful.  However, Real Life is "back-grounded" while both interactants dedicate their attention to the virtual realms they interact in.

Frame 2, Cyberspace (IRC).  Once logged onto IRC, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy are in cyberspace, which frames all of their online activity.  Arguably a primary meta-message of the cyberspace (IRC) frame is one of play, and therefore, as a space of "what can be" (Handelman, 1977, p. 186).  For these interactants, cyberspace may be seen as a domain of exploration, presenting the opportunity to assume new roles and engage in performances without risk to their real-world selves.  Within this frame, either interactant can join as many group interactions as they feel capable of  the medium itself presents no limitations.  Thus, one meta-message of IRC is that of infinite possibilities.  As members of a sexual minority, experiences for these two interactants in the frame of Real Life may be governed by the need to conceal their sexuality in order to protect their jobs, possibly their familiar relations, and quite probably their physical well-being.  The anonymity of cyberspace, however, allows both Youngmuscle and NY-Guy the opportunity to express their desires unburdened by such threats. [5]

It is in this frame of cyberspace that these individuals met.  During an interview in November of 1997, Youngmuscle discussed how he initially made contact with NY-Guy:

<John> Can you please describe for me how you first started chatting with NY-Guy?  How did you first describe yourself to him?

<Youngmuscle> well, he contacted me first...a mutual friend told him he should talk to me...i describe d myself as 6'9" 325# blnd/blu solid muscle [6]

<John> Do you remember how he started that first dialog with you?

<Youngmuscle> basically saying hello and asking for my stats...told me which friend gave him my nick

<John> What is meant by "stats"?

<Youngmuscle> what i look like

<John> When someone asks for stats, precisely what type of information do they expect to receive?

<Youngmuscle> age height weight eye color hair color

<Youngmuscle> stats also include measurements of muscle size

<Youngmuscle> things of that nature

Notably, within this frame of IRC, and particularly on those channels Youngmuscle and NY-Guy frequent, the convention of "stats" is a means of textually representing the (unseen) physical body.  Based on my interviews with individuals on IRC, the intent of this practice of providing key descriptive information and quantitative measurements is to allow interactants to "see" each other's offline bodies.  This practice represents another instance of how online interactants socially adapt to the restrictions of the medium.[7]  However, as Youngmuscle's comments demonstrate, this convention also offers individuals the opportunity to construct online "fantasy" personae dramatically departing from the real-world self, at least in terms of physical characteristics.

Frame 3. Youngmuscle & NY-Guy's Private Channel.  The third frame of experience comes into existence when, within IRC (cyberspace), Youngmuscle and NY-Guy create a private channel (i.e. a dedicated window displaying only their dialog within the larger window of the IRC interface).  Within this frame, the sensibility of infinite possibilities found by simply logging onto IRC is restricted as each interactant takes on specific roles.  Based on later interviews, NY-Guy ostensibly takes on a role reflecting how he sees his real-world self.  Youngmuscle, however, exploits the opportunities presented by the medium to constructs a role very different (at least physically) from how he describes his real-world self. 

Here Youngmuscle engages in the performance of a constructed fantasy-self he refers to as the "stud role"  a young, male bodybuilder described by Youngmuscle as "6'9" 325# blnd/blu solid muscle smooth."[8]  In a later interview concerning his online experiences with NY-Guy, Youngmuscle briefly commented on the online persona he assumed:

<John> The initial description you gave NY-Guy of yourself you once called the "stud role," is that correct?

<Youngmuscle> yes, that was the stud role...a man good, too good to be real, perfect in most everyway.

During this same interview, Youngmuscle provided some indication of why he took on this "stud role" with NY-Guy:

<John> When NY-Guy first messaged you, he asked for stats?

<Youngmuscle> yes, so he'd know what i looked like

<John> Where your "stats" how you saw yourself offline?

<Youngmuscle> no, they weren't

<John> How did NY-Guy react when he received your "stats"?

<Youngmuscle> he was very excited from what i could tell

<John> How did you feel when he responded that way?

<Youngmuscle> it was fun, exciting...a sexual release

<John> Why was it a sexual release?

<Youngmuscle> it was a sexual release...sexual role playing...living out a fantasy for each of us

The online persona constructed by Youngmuscle during his interactions with NY-Guy can be characterized as aggressive, overtly sexual, and obsessed with not only getting bigger and stronger, but also with engaging in conspicuous displays of physical prowess.  During interviews, however, Youngmuscle indicated that this online persona differs dramatically with how he perceives himself in real-world interactions:

<Youngmuscle> well in real life i am very shy, online i don't have to be

The departure of Youngmuscle's online persona from his understanding of his offline self supports McRae's assertion that online erotic play "allows for a certain freedom of expression, of physical presentation and of experimentation beyond one's own real-life limits" (1997, p. 75).  His assumption of a fantasy persona the "stud role" suggests that, at least for Youngmuscle, this frame represents a form of meta-communication Goffman (1974) refers to as "make-believe."  By "make-believe," Goffman refers to an activity with no avowed practical consequence, arguing that the "reason" for engaging in such non-productive fantasies comes "from the immediate satisfaction that the doing offers" (1974, p. 48).  Immediate satisfaction is one possible explanation not only for why Youngmuscle and NY-Guy create this private space on IRC, but also for why Youngmuscle assumes a physical description departing so radically from his real-world self in terms of size and strength.  As McRae suggests, this phenomenon, which I refer to as virtual body-bending, is not particularly uncommon in online interaction. 

Having already established the "stud role" persona during the prior evening's interaction, Youngmuscle is already engaged in an online performance when he initiates this frame (private channel) by greeting NY-Guy on the evening of Tuesday, July 29, 1997:

Session Start  Tue Jul 29 23 20 55 1997

Line 1.  <Youngmuscle> hey!!!

Line 2.  <NY-Guy> hi!

Line 3.  <Youngmuscle> how are you doing??

Line 4.  <NY-Guy> I am happy, very happy, to see you!

Line 5.  <NY-Guy> I've been thinking about you all day

This exchange of dialog constitutes the actual beginning of the transcript, and the initiation of Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's private space.  They greet each other, having met online the previous evening.  NY-Guy immediately indicates his eagerness to again be "speaking" with Youngmuscle (lines 4 and 5).  Youngmuscle indicates his excitement (albeit more subtly) by employing redundant punctuation marks, using three exclamation points in line 1 ("hey !!!"), and two question marks in line 3 ("how are you doing??").

NY-Guy's excitement can be attributed to his belief in Youngmuscle's "stud role."  Later interviews revealed that, at this point, NY-Guy does in fact believe Youngmuscle to be in Real Life what he describes himself to be on IRC, attesting to Youngmuscle's virtuosity in his performance.  Youngmuscle's excitement could be attributed to NY-Guy's apparent acceptance of his "stud role," and his willingness to play along. 

The meta-message(s) then of this frame may prove more complex than those found in the underlying frames.  Though this is clearly a space of queer sexuality as well as erotic play and performance, the power dynamics of the relationship are ambiguous.  From one perspective, NY-Guy is in the power position by either accepting or rejecting both Youngmuscle's greeting and his performance of the "stud role."  However, if NY-Guy believes Youngmuscle to be in "real life" what he describes himself to be in cyberspace, then arguably Youngmuscle is in a power position by allowing NY-Guy to engage in erotic play with a representation of his physical fantasy.  The ambiguity and tentativeness surrounding the power relationship between Youngmuscle and NY-Guy supports Foucault's understanding of power emerging from and negotiated within the dynamics of the interaction itself. 

Line 6.  <Youngmuscle> i'm honored to have such an affect  on you     i didn't get anything from you in email  though     i was so waiting for your fantasy!

Line 7.  <Youngmuscle> i'm truly honored to have been in  your thoughts all day

Line 8.  <NY-Guy> Well, two problems    one, I sent myself an  e-mail at home with your e-mail address and it didn't  arrive, so I will need your address again   two, I didn't  have a chance to stop at the storage area tonight, I will  tomorrow

Line 9.  <Youngmuscle> well my email is [e-mail address omitted]   and that is ok    i can wait   but i am  SOOOOOO horny tonight    was hoping to have some  interesting reading

After the initial greeting, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy discuss the prior evening's interaction (lines 6 through 9).  During that introductory conversation, NY-Guy informed Youngmuscle that he writes erotic stories, promising to electronically mail Youngmuscle copies of those stories (thus the reference in line 6).  The discussion of these erotic stories continues (lines 10 through 18) until Youngmuscle extends the invitation to enter another frame of experience by requesting that NY-Guy "make up a fantasy" for him now (line 19).  This request serves as a clear invitation to NY-Guy to engage in online erotic performance with Youngmuscle, providing NY-Guy the opportunity to express his sexual desires through the vehicle of storytelling:

Line 19.  <Youngmuscle> make up a fantasy for me now     something simple is fine      i just wanna know you better and get to know what i have to look forward to in that email

Line 20.  <NY-Guy> Okay, some of the fantasies I've written are based in reality and some are in a fantasy world, which would you like?

Line 21.  <Youngmuscle> fantasy i think     total fantasy world!

What is of particular interest is how this erotic story is referred to by both as "a fantasy," not a fantasy story.  The discourse between Youngmuscle and NY-Guy suggests that this event constitutes something more significant to them than merely the telling of a story.  Rather, it can be inferred that this represents the construction of a fantasy world, a space of erotic play, where both can explore their sexual desires.  Certainly, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's online experiences support the conception of storytelling as an active process for all parties.

 

This dialog prefaces the construction of the fourth frame of experience (NY-Guy's Fantasy World).  After Youngmuscle's invitation (line 19), NY-Guy readily agrees, giving the option of the form of erotic realm that will be created (line 20).  In return, Youngmuscle emphatically elects for a "total fantasy world!" (line 21).  Youngmuscle's decision to opt for a world of "total fantasy" may indicate his desire for an erotic experience as distance as possible from his primary frame of experience (i.e. "real life").  As members of a sexual minority, it is not difficult to understand why either NY-Guy or Youngmuscle would desire a fantasy realm far removed from a reality dominated by a heterosexual paradigm.  In essence, this desire for an online "fantasy world" is comparable to the "utopianism" Jenkins (1995) argues gay and lesbian media fans seek in particular science fiction texts, such as Star Trek.  As Jenkins indicates, gay and lesbian fans of science fiction describe "something more than an abstract notion of escapism," rather such "utopian fantasies can provide an important first step towards political awareness, since utopianism allows us to envision an alternative social order which we must work to realize" (p. 242).  The need for fantasy realms of affirmation “…spaces where it is possible to envision an alternative to the dominant paradigm …” should not be underestimated for those groups that find themselves socially and politically marginalized. 

Having given the option of the form of realm to be constructed, NY-Guy assigns the roles each will perform. 

Line 22.  <NY-Guy> Okay, well "J", who I think is really you, and I are the characters, ok? 

Line 23.  <Youngmuscle> perfect

Line 24.  <NY-Guy> So, while I am writing, I will be referring to  "you" and "J" and they will both be you in my mind

Line 25.  <Youngmuscle> ok, kewl

Line 26.  <NY-Guy> Okay    here we go   

Line 27.  <Youngmuscle> i can't wait!

In line 22, NY-Guy indicates that he will perform the roles of storyteller and protagonist, while Youngmuscle will assume the role of the other primary character "J."  Youngmuscle agrees to this in both lines 23 and 25.  This assigning of roles suggests that these interactants are about to engage in a form of theater, where their erotic narrative will be enacted.  Arguably then, this represents a form of storytelling raised to the level of theatrical performance, even if only for their private benefit.  Notable is the indexical collapse in line 24, where NY-Guy indicates that Youngmuscle and the character of "J" are one in the same in the frame of the story world.  NY-Guy's declaration …"Okay    here we go" in line 26 functions as Jacobson's notion of a "cue," signaling that the nature of the social interaction is about to change. 

Frame 4. NY-Guy's Fantasy World: After Youngmuscle indicates his eagerness for the storytelling to commence (line 27), NY-Guy provides an initial description of the fantasy world setting (lines 28 and 29).  NY-Guy's brief description provides the transition, or "keying" (Goffman, 1974), into this new frame of experience: an erotic fantasy realm textually created by NY-Guy for his and Youngmuscle's mutual enjoyment.  Labov would identify these opening lines as the narrative's orientation (Riessman, 1993).

Line 28.  <NY-Guy> The sun was rising, and as it stirred, so did J    J awoke to the sound of the morning birds and recalled  how he and his beloved, Mark     

Line 29.  <NY-Guy> came to rest in the mountain tops

Line 30.  <Youngmuscle> mmmm mountains   full of romance!   you don't have to reply to my comments   just letting  you know i'm paying attention  

At this point, Youngmuscle has yet to assume the role of "J," as indicated by his comments on NY-Guy's initial description of the fantasy world (line 30).  Notably, Youngmuscle explicitly states how NY-Guy should interpret his response ("you don't have to reply to my comments").  Thus, as NY-Guy begins constructing this erotic fantasy world, Youngmuscle enters this frame of experience as a spectator.  NY-Guy continues with the storytelling, immediately launching into the complicating action of the narrative (lines 31 through 35).

Line 31.  <NY-Guy> Three days before, J and Mark were walking through the forests of their homeland when they heard a yell for help   J, a tall youth from a race of giants lifted  his beloved carrying him tenderly as he ran to see what  was happening

Line 32.  <NY-Guy> Mark, feeling safe and loved in the powerful and strong arms of J as they raced toward the screams used his psychic powers to probe ahead to try and find out what was happening

Line 33.  <NY-Guy> As they approached the screams, Mark realized it was a trap, but the warning came to late    Before he could warn J, they were attacked from all  directions

Line 34.  <NY-Guy> J gently placed Mark on the ground and charged the unknown enemy

Line 35.  <NY-Guy> His powefully muscular 6'8" frame thundering angrilly towards their attackers

Line 36.  <Youngmuscle> he is very close to my height    and i will be that tall   most likely taller

Line 37.  <NY-Guy> The battle didn't last long, they were overwhelmed by the shear number of attackers and awoke to find themselves chained in a dungeon wall

Line 38.  <NY-Guy> J awoke to see Mark unconscious and bleeding from a wound to his forehead  Seeing his  beloved injured, J released such a yell as to make the walls shake 

Line 39.  <Youngmuscle> oh, only chains huh? don't think that will be much of a problem

Line 40.  <NY-Guy> He easily broke free of the chains and rushed to the side of his beloved

The complicating action can be summarized as the two protagonists being lured into an ambush by a false call for help where they are then overpowered by multiple attackers.  What is of particular interest is not this action, which proves in some respects incidental, but rather the descriptors and qualifiers NY-Guy employs surrounding the interactions of the two protagonists, "J" and "Mark."  In lines 31 ("J  lifted his beloved carrying him tenderly as he ran"), 32 ("Mark, feeling safe and loved in the powerful and strong arms of J"), and 34 ("J gently placed Mark on the ground"), NY-Guy not only repeatedly indicates the physical strength and power of the character of "J," but also the tenderness and affection "J" feels towards "Mark."  If, as NY-Guy indicated in line 24, "J" is Youngmuscle and "Mark" is NY-Guy," then these seemingly superfluous qualifiers actually serve to develop the erotic experience.  "J" is being described as what NY-Guy believes Youngmuscle to be in Real Life, particularly in line 35 ("His powerfully muscular 6'8" frame") which draws directly upon the description Youngmuscle gave of himself during the prior evening's conversation.  As NY-Guy describes it, "J" and "Mark's" (and therefore, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's) interactions are framed by tenderness despite "J's" immense physique.  This repeated theme of "J's" physical strength and power tempered by his gentleness towards "Mark," provides "Mark" (and perhaps through the character of "Mark," NY-Guy) with sensations of safety and affection. 

Though Youngmuscle comments on the story as a spectator (lines 36 and 39), not yet engaging in the performance of the character of "J," he continues his performance of the "stud role" by suggesting that his height corresponds to that of "J's" ("he is very close to my height").  At this point, NY-Guy continues with the storytelling, working towards an explicitly sexual event:

Line 40.  <NY-Guy> He easily broke free of the chains and rushed to the side of his beloved

Line 41.  <NY-Guy> With a gentleness and gentle as the strength he used to break free, J lifts his beloved and kisses him, trying to awaken him

Line 42.  <NY-Guy> At first, Mark does not respond   J begins to panic, thinking that his beloved my be dead

Line 43.  <NY-Guy> Again he tries kissing Mark

Line 44.  <NY-Guy> Slowly Mark stirs

Line 45.  <NY-Guy> His eyes open and he sees is blonde haired, blue eyes giant love and reaches out to hold him 

Line 46.  <NY-Guy> Happy to see that Mark was alive, you begin to kiss him

Line 47.  <NY-Guy> He kisses you back

Again, in line 45, NY-Guy draws the description of the character of "J" ("blonde haired, blue eyes giant") from Youngmuscle's online description of himself, further collapsing any distance between the two.  In these lines, NY-Guy continues to refer to "J's" gentleness towards "Mark," and "Mark" being his "beloved."  In fact, the word "beloved" appears once in each of the first three lines (lines 40 through 42).  Notably, an interesting and important indexical shift occurs in line 46 ("Happy to see that Mark was alive, you begin to kiss him").  NY-Guy continues to refer to "Mark," but suddenly starts referring to Youngmuscle as the character of "J" by use of the pronoun "you."  This is repeated in line 47 ("He kisses you back").  Interestingly, NY-Guy has not discarded the intermediary function of the character of "Mark," stating "He kisses you back," rather than simply "I kiss you back."  Still, the shift from using "J" to actually referring directly to Youngmuscle with the word "you" marks an important transition, arguably representing an invitation for Youngmuscle to engage in the performance of character of "J."  This possible invitation, however, is followed by an unexpected action on the part of NY-Guy:

Line 48.  <NY-Guy> <Are you liking this so far?>

Line 49.  <Youngmuscle> i'm loving this so far!!

Line 50.  <NY-Guy> <okay, continuing>

In line 48, NY-Guy suddenly breaks the frame, momentarily suspending the erotic fantasy world and returning both he and Youngmuscle to the space of their private channel (the third frame of experience).  To indicate that this is only a pause in the narrative, NY-Guy is careful to bracket his dialog (lines 48 and 50).  The narrative has reached a pivotal point it is about to become explicitly sexual and NY-Guy appears to require Youngmuscle's feedback before continuing.  Youngmuscle, in return, indicates his approval of the erotic narrative in line 49 ("i'm loving this so far!!"), employing redundant exclamation points for emphasis.

The briefness of this event should not belie its importance to the entire online interaction.  NY-Guy breaks from the fourth frame of experience at a crucial moment, evidently seeking assurance that Youngmuscle is enjoying and aroused by the action being described.  This suggests the importance of Youngmuscle's involvement in the erotic fantasy for NY-Guy.  Though it may have appeared up to this point that NY-Guy directs the action of the narrative autonomously, the question posed in line 48 indicates the negotiatory nature of this interaction.  Arguably, if Youngmuscle had not expressed his approval, the direction of the following narrative would have been altered.  The desire for feedback denotes an implicit understanding (a meta-message) that NY-Guy will have control over the direction of the erotic experience only as long as it proves mutually gratifying. 

Line 51.  <NY-Guy> The more they kissed the longer and more passionately they kissed

Line 52.  <NY-Guy> They kissed for hours, lost in the love they felt for each other and the strength of the bonds of their love

Line 53.  <Youngmuscle> oh, that is so hot

Line. 54.  <NY-Guy> J began to gently remove Mark's clothing

Line 55.  <NY-Guy> Mark responded in kind by removing J's only piece of clothing, his leather loin clothe 

Line 56.  <Youngmuscle> loin cloth    very nice!

Line 57.  <NY-Guy> As Mark removes the loin cloth, J's massive  cock falls heavilly upon Mark's chest 

Line 58.  <Youngmuscle> mmmmmmmmmmm still sounds like me so far

Line 59.  <NY-Guy> Mark reaches out and gently begins to stroke J's cock   As he lovingly touches it, it begins to  grow larger and larger 

Line 60.  <Youngmuscle> ahhhhhhh

Line 61.  <NY-Guy> Continuing to kiss each other gently, J reaches for Marks tender and sensitive nipples

Line 62.  <NY-Guy> Using his giant hands with the gentleness of a soft summer's breeze, he begins to massage Mark's nipples   Mark lets out a moan so deep and so primal  that the sound of it excites J even more and his cock,  which was slowly increasing size, immediately reaches it's full size

This section (lines 51 through 62) represents the longest sustained instance of explicitly sexual action in the narrative.  NY-Guy initiates the sexual experience with online foreplay in the form of kissing, which, as he indicates (line 52), continues for "hours."  In line 52, NY-Guy continues to emphasize the love between the two protagonists ("lost in the love they felt for each other and the strength of the bonds of their love"), further suggesting the importance of deeper emotional feelings between the fantasy characters for NY-Guy. 

Youngmuscle (line 53) indicates his approval of the direction of the online interaction ("oh, that is so hot").  Perhaps prompted by Youngmuscle's feedback, NY-Guy escalates the erotic action to a virtual ceremonial undressing of the characters (lines 54 and 55): "J" removing "Mark's" clothing (NY-Guy again careful to qualify the action as gentle), followed by "Mark" removing "J's only piece of clothing, his leather loin clothe."  Youngmuscle responds approvingly to this erotic image of the "loin clothe" in line 56 ("very nice!").  Again seemingly spurred by Youngmuscle's feedback, NY-Guy becomes more sexually explicit, describing "J's massive cock" falling "heavilly upon Mark's chest" (line 57).

In line 58, Youngmuscle indicates a momentary shift into the fifth frame of experience, that of erotic performance.  Youngmuscle responds to NY-Guy's description of "J's" cock falling upon "Mark's" chest with an onomatopoeic expletive, as if he were physically experiencing this sensation ("mmmmmmmmmmm ").  For a brief instant, any online distinction between the character of "J" and Youngmuscle are blurred as Youngmuscle moves into the performance of "J."  This occurs again, when, after NY-Guy indicates that he "gently begins to stroke J's cock" (line 59), Youngmuscle responds with another onomatopoeic expression of physical pleasure ("ahhhhhhh").

Throughout, NY-Guy continues to emphasis the gentleness and tenderness of the character's physical interaction (NY-Guy employs variations of the word "gentle" four times during this section).  Interestingly, as the action builds to a climatic event, NY-Guy again breaks the frame to obtain Youngmuscle's feedback:

Line 68.  <NY-Guy> Are you enjoying my fantasy?

Line 69.  <Youngmuscle> i am loving it   but i was hoping for a few more feats of power    but it is still awesome

Line 70.  <NY-Guy> There is more to come    this is only the first of 3 days 

Line 71.  <Youngmuscle> hmmmmm, sounds awesome!!!!!

Here again, before continuing, NY-Guy seeks Youngmuscle's assurance that the experience is mutually enjoyed.  In line 69, Youngmuscle indicates his enjoyment, but also offers a suggestion of what can be done to increase his gratification ("a few more feats of power"), further demonstrating the negotiatory nature of this online interaction.  In response, NY-Guy indicates that there will be more of what Youngmuscle desires, referring back to the meta-message of this frame.  This is confirmed when Youngmuscle requests the continuance of the erotic storytelling (line 85).

Line 85.  <Youngmuscle> ok, kewl     can we continue the  fantasy??  ;-)    i am loving it!

Line 86.  <NY-Guy> I can give you a little more but then I need to get to bed, ok?

Line 87.  <Youngmuscle> ok, but i'd sorta like to get to  somemore of the power feats stuff   that is really hot      i  love the romantic notion of defending my lover!

Line 88.  <NY-Guy> You will    right now they are having sex  though    I can skip over the sex parts if you like and go to the escape 

Line 89.  <Youngmuscle> ok, sex is always nice!

Line 90.  <NY-Guy> Continue with the sex or go to the escape?

Line 91.  <Youngmuscle> the escape!

This exchange (lines 85 through 91) represents the most conspicuous instance in the transcript of negotiation regarding the form of erotic interaction.  Arguably, when entering NY-Guy's fantasy world frame, there is an implicit understanding that NY-Guy must strive towards providing an erotic experience gratifying to both he and Youngmuscle.  If the storytelling performance proves unsatisfying for Youngmuscle, there is the possibility that he could simply leave the channel or logoff IRC altogether.  Further, the erotic experience appears to be enriched when Youngmuscle engages in the actual performance of "J."  Therefore, NY-Guy must construct a fantasy world not only capable of holding Youngmuscle's attention, but enticing enough for him to engage in erotic performance.

Return to Frame 4. NY-Guy's Fantasy World: In line 92, NY-Guy resumes his storytelling, returning both he and Youngmuscle to his fantasy world with a remarkably brief transitional summary.

Line 92.  <NY-Guy>     <they have several hours of love making>  

Line 93.  <NY-Guy> J and Mark slow get dressed and begin to look around

Line 94.  <NY-Guy> Noticing that there is not obvious exit, Mark and J begin searching for a way out

Line 95.  <NY-Guy> Tapping on the walls, Mark finds a narrow bit of wall

Line 96.  <NY-Guy> J walks up the wall and raises his massive arms and strikes the wall

Line 97.  <NY-Guy> The wall begins to collapse under the sheer power and strength of J's blows 

Notably, in this transition back into the fourth frame of experience (line 92), NY-Guy is careful to indicate that the characters of "J" and "Mark" experience "several hours of love making," not simply several hours of sex.  Perhaps an incidental point, but in light of the repeated allusion to the love between the characters, it is likely this again indicates a conscious decision to establish a loving relation between these fantasy characters, and, perhaps by extension, between Youngmuscle and NY-Guy.  NY-Guy, in transitioning to the "escape scenario" requested, is careful to use descriptive terms emphasizing the physical strength of "J" (and therefore Youngmuscle), particularly in lines 96 ("raises his massive arms") and 97 ("the sheer power and strength of J's blows").  After Youngmuscle indicates his approval in lines 98 and 101, NY-Guy introduces complicating action into the escape scenario (line 106), affording both interactants the opportunity to engage in erotic performance: 

Line 106.  <NY-Guy> Okay    so     making there way into the  corridor, Mark suddenly grabs J by the arm 

Line 107.  <Youngmuscle> something is wrong! ;-)

Line 108.  <NY-Guy> Mark turns to J and says, "I sense danger ahead   Be careful, beloved "

Line 109.  <NY-Guy> J stands in front of Mark and begins walking down the hallway 

Line 110.  <Youngmuscle> i'm always careful with you my love!

Line 111.  <NY-Guy> Yes, I know you are my love

Line 112.  <NY-Guy> Mark gasps out loud

Line 113.  <NY-Guy> J turns

Line 114.  <NY-Guy> Mark warns him of intense evil behind the  door at the end of the corridor 

Line 115.  <Youngmuscle> thanx for the warning

Frame 5. Youngmuscle & NY-Guy's Erotic Performance.  As NY-Guy introduces the complicating action of the "escape scenario," an important transition occurs (line 110): Youngmuscle shifts into the frame of erotic performance (the fifth frame of experience), assuming the role of "J."  NY-Guy immediately follows him into the performance frame.  Arguably, Youngmuscle assumes the performance of the "J" character in response to NY-Guy providing the fantasy scenario Youngmuscle requested, replete with the desired feats of strength and power.  Youngmuscle cues this shift into the fifth frame of experience by directly addressing NY-Guy in the manner of a romantic lover ("i'm always careful with you my love!").  Evidently accepting his cue, NY-Guy maintains the performance by addressing Youngmuscle as his fantasy-lover character: "Yes, I know you are my love."

Interestingly, Youngmuscle did not need to preface his transition into the performance of "J."  Rather, his brief dialog in line 110 functioned as both transition marker (cue) and performance.  However, it is also possible to read Youngmuscle's dialog as reflecting personal feelings he desires to genuinely express to someone, perhaps NY-Guy.  As Handelman (1977) indicates, a key aspect of play is the greater degree of freedom afforded by the reduction in accountability to one's actions or words.  Thus, Youngmuscle can express his love for NY-Guy (or who he imagines NY-Guy to be) through his performance of "J" without fear of rejection, for it is expected within this space of erotic play.  This would support Danet et al. assertion that the reduced liability of online interaction "frees participants to be other than 'themselves,' or more of themselves than they normally express" (p. 7).

Line 116.  <NY-Guy> As they approach the door of evil, it explodes  open   The force of the blast sends Mark and J several  yards down the hallway

Line 117.  <NY-Guy> J lands onto of Mark protecting Mark from  falling debris with his own body 

Line 118.  <Youngmuscle> sends me several yards???

Line 119.  <NY-Guy> yes    it was a big explosion

Line 120.  <Youngmuscle> wel i can handle debris better than you

As the action builds, Youngmuscle signals his increased invested in his performance of "J" by questioning the narrative event in line 116: "sends me several yards???".  Referring to "J" as "me," Youngmuscle expresses concern by use of redundant question marks.  Line 118 can also be read as Youngmuscle momentarily questioning NY-Guy's authority over this fantasy world. 

When NY-Guy responds that the action previously described was correct (line 119), he reasserts his authority over the events of the narrative.  Perhaps, implicitly referring to his understanding of the meta-message governing this fantasy world: "play along and allow me to tell the story and control the events of this world; in return, I'll provide the erotic experiences you desire."  Ostensibly accepting NY-Guy's authority, Youngmuscle continues his performance of "J" in line 120 ("wel i can handle debris better than you").  The indexical use of the words "I" to refer to "J," and "you" to refer to NY-Guy (via "Mark"), suggests his complete immersion in the space of performance.

Line 121.  <NY-Guy> As they shake off the debris, a loud roar issues from the giant hole where the door used to be   A giant scaled claw reaches out from the darkness [9]

Line 126.  <NY-Guy> The dragon, nearly twice as tall as J let's loose another roar which shakes the walls of the dungeon

Line 128.  <NY-Guy> The dragon spoke, "My master doesn't want you to leave   I am here to keep you from leaving   The  only way out is over my dead body "

Line 129.  <NY-Guy> Suddenly the dragon attackes

Line 130.  <NY-Guy> Spitting fire at Mark and J 

Line 131.  <Youngmuscle> ok, that can, and will be arranged!

Line 132.  <NY-Guy> J pushes Mark out of the way of the fire

Line 133.  <NY-Guy> J's arm is burned slightly as some of the dragon flame touches him

Line 134.  <Youngmuscle> you son of a bitch!

Line 135.  <NY-Guy> Recovering quickly, J begins throwing the heavy peices of the broken wall at the dragon

Line 136.  <NY-Guy> Mark unleashes the full force of his psychic abilities and hits the dragon with a powerful psibolt

Line 137.  <NY-Guy> Stunned by the psychic attach, J pressed the attack

Line 140.  <NY-Guy> Grabbing a sharp piece of wood as he runs,  J charges the dragon's belly      

Line 141.  <NY-Guy> But, the dragon, recovering more quickly  than expected unleashes another firebolt at Mark   This  time, it strikes him in the chest and sends him flying  down down the corridor and slamming into a wall 

Line 142.  <Youngmuscle> he will pay for that!

Line 143.  <NY-Guy> Seeing what he believes to be the death of his beloved, J slams the wooden stake into the heart of the dragon and clean through the other side

Line 144.  <Youngmuscle> FUCKER!!! die!!!

Line 145.  <NY-Guy> The dragon collapses on top of J 

Line 146.  <Youngmuscle> get the fuck off me!

Line 147.  <NY-Guy> J rips the dead dragon's body apart as if it were paper and rushes to the aid of his beloved

Line 148.  <NY-Guy> Mark is barely alive when J reaches him

Line 149.  <NY-Guy> J cries as he sees the life of his beloved fading away 

Line 150.  <Youngmuscle> my beloved!

Line 151.  <NY-Guy> Before he dies, Mark whispers     "dragon     blood    heal   "

Line 152.  <NY-Guy> J carries the broken body of his beloved to the dragon's carcass 

Line 153.  <Youngmuscle> you can't die!

Line 154.  <NY-Guy> He takes a handful of dragon's blood and feeds it to Mark

Line 155.  <NY-Guy> After a moment, a white light begins to envelope Mark

Line 156.  <NY-Guy> It glows brighter and brighter until J is blinded 

Line 157.  <Youngmuscle> ahhhhhh

Line 158.  <NY-Guy> J closes his eyes

Line 159.  <NY-Guy> When the light fades, he sees Mark sitting up   Competely healed 

Line 160.  <Youngmuscle> my beloved!

Line 161  <NY-Guy> Mark sends feelings of love to his beloved and they embrace as if it were the first time all over again

Line 162.  <NY-Guy> J cries, "don't die on me again, my love     please don't   "

Line 163.  <Youngmuscle> please!!

Line 164.  <NY-Guy> Mark hugs J and tells him, "Don't worry, I  never will   I will never leave you 

Line 165.  <Youngmuscle> good!

Lines 121 through 147 constitute the climatic action of the "escape sequence," while lines 148 through 165 represent the story's resolution  the so called "happy ending" expected in contemporary understandings of fairy tales.  This section of the transcript represents the longest sustained period of performance by the interactants.  Repeatedly, Youngmuscle speaks in the voice of "J," or rather, in this virtual space, Youngmuscle becomes "J."  He expresses anger towards the antagonistic agent (lines 134, 142, 144, and 146), concern over "Mark's" wounds (line 150, 153), wonder at "Mark's" miraculous healing (line 157), and finally joy at being reunited with his restored "beloved" (lines 160, 163, and 165).  Youngmuscle's performance needs no prefacing, nor particular bracketing of dialog to indicate to NY-Guy that he is speaking as "J."

Consistently, NY-Guy responds adroitly to Youngmuscle's performance, arguably augmenting the intensity of this online fantasy.  For example, when NY-Guy indicates that the dragon's corpse has fallen on "J" (line 145), and Youngmuscle responds with "get the fuck off me!" (understood as "J" referring to the dead carcass), NY-Guy immediately indicates that "J rips the dead dragon's body apartand rushes to the aid of his beloved" (line 147).  During this sequence, Youngmuscle, in the character of "J," not only speaks directly to "Mark" (NY-Guy), but now begins to refer to him as his "beloved!" (lines 150 and 160).  This may well represent Youngmuscle's perceptiveness of NY-Guy's desire to be addressed as such within this space of erotic play.  This sequence also demonstrates Youngmuscle's deftness in maintaining the performance of "J."  When NY-Guy indicates that "J" attacks the dragon with a wooden stake (line 143), Youngmuscle immediately responds with "FUCKER!!! Die!!!" (line 144), typing the word "FUCKER" completely in caps to signal his yelling this as some form of battle cry.  Further, when NY-Guy writes that a bright white light envelops "Mark," momentarily blinding "J" (lines 155-156), Youngmuscle responds with an onomatopoeic expression of his wonder ("ahhhhhh").  Youngmuscle's dexterous performance supports Branwyn's contention that in forms of cybersex based on fantasy storytelling, all those involved work creatively together "so that the eroticism and consistency of the story line can be maintained" (p. 230).

Closure of Frame 4. NY-Guy's Fantasy World: NY-Guy brings the narrative to a close with a bracketed transitional summary (line 166), similar to the one used to return both he and Youngmuscle to the fantasy world in line 92.  In terms of Labov's narrative structural categories, line 166 represents the story's coda, a "transformation in consciousness" (Riessman, 1993, p. 37) back to the realm of their private channel.  To emphasis this return from the space of performance and fantasy storytelling, NY-Guy provides a clear marker of closure (line 167).

Line 166.  <NY-Guy> <they spend the rest of the night together making love and making it to the surface of the  dungeon>

Line 167.  <NY-Guy> END OF STORY FOR TONIGHT

Line 167 explicitly signals the return to the frame of Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's private channel, while implicitly invoking this frame's meta-message, or at least NY-Guy's understanding of it.  Within the space of their private channel, NY-Guy arguably believes the evening's performances have ended, expecting that he and Youngmuscle are now speaking as their actual selves.  Of course, the notion of speaking as one's self in cyberspace does not necessarily mean speaking as one's real-world self, as is the case with Youngmuscle who is still engaged in his "stud role."  Thus, while NY-Guy may perceive their private channel as a space of genuine interaction, Youngmuscle views it as a space open to performance.  Upon returning, Youngmuscle immediately comments on the erotic performance:

Line 168.  <Youngmuscle> awesome!!!!!!!!

Line 169.  <Youngmuscle> ok   i'll cya tomorrow!

Line 170.  <NY-Guy> You bet!

Line 171.  <Youngmuscle> that is soooo hot!

Youngmuscle expresses his enjoyment (lines 168 and 171), suggesting that NY-Guy's storytelling performance has succeeded in fulfilling its purpose  erotic pleasure.  NY-Guy seems to indicate his desire to repeat the experience by responding to Youngmuscle's invitation to see him the following evening (line 169) with "You bet!" (line 170). 

Line 174.  <NY-Guy> Okay, then    I'm going to bed now   I'll be  dreaming of you

Line 175.  <Youngmuscle> no you'll be dreaming of J!

Line 176.  <NY-Guy> You are J

Line 177.  <Youngmuscle> sounds just like how i would act in  those situations!

Line 178.  <NY-Guy> If that is so, then you are definitely the J I've  always dreamed and written about

Line 179.  <Youngmuscle> yeah, i defend my lover no matter  what, and always will   no force could stop me from  saving my lover or protecting him

Line 180.  <NY-Guy> I know  

Line 181.  <Youngmuscle> well i guess you need your sleep

Line 182.  <NY-Guy> Yes, I do    how I wish I were sleeping in your  arms I have in many of the stories as I have with J in my  dreams

Line 183.  <Youngmuscle> that would be awesome, i'm sure  you would feel totally safe

Line 184.  <NY-Guy> I know I would

Line 185.  <NY-Guy> Well, until one day when we can be that  way    sleep well my beloved 

Line 186.  <Youngmuscle> and i would feel total love in return!

Line 187.  <Youngmuscle> you too

Line 188.  <NY-Guy> Yes, you would

Though the fantasy storytelling has formally ended, the indexical collapse of Youngmuscle with the fantasy character "J" continues into this frame of experience (line 176).  Notably, NY-Guy refers to Youngmuscle as his "beloved" (line 185) outside the ostensible fantasy frame of erotic play.  Within this third frame of experience, where each interactant is expected to be speaking as themselves, the use of terms like "love" and "beloved" arguably carry more accountability, and therefore more risk.  Finally, the frame of their private IRC channel is brought to a close with each wishing the other a "good night" (lines 189-190), and NY-Guy bestowing a departing "kiss" (in the form of a cyberaction) before leaving the channel.

Line 189.  <NY-Guy> Good night 

Line 190.  <Youngmuscle> good night

Line 191.  <NY-Guy>  kiss

Session Close  Wed Jul 30 00 55 32 1997

If each interactant now logs off IRC, then both Youngmuscle and NY-Guy return to their primary frame of reference, Real Life (RL). 

IV.  Why Was That Soooo Hot?  Discussion of Analysis

This analysis of the frames of experience discernable within the transcript allows us to draw three general conclusions concerning the online interaction between Youngmuscle and NY-Guy.  The first inference concerns the nature of the erotic itself.  Within more conventional frameworks, the telling of a fantasy story of escape from a Medieval-like dungeon, complete with giants, fire-breathing dragons, death and resurrection, would not constitute a sexual act.  Some online researcher may not consider Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's transcript representative of the cybersexual because there was no apparent "physical" orgasm.  Certainly Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's interaction do not mirror traditional notions of real-world intercourse, as Branwyn (1994) suggests in his research.  Yet, to these interactants, this fantasy storytelling does appear to represent an intensely erotic, or, in Youngmuscle's words, a "soooo hot!" experience.  The following morning's online discussion between the individuals supports this assessment:

Session Start  Wed Jul 30 09 07 41 1997

<Youngmuscle> hello!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

<NY-Guy> Good morning, sexy!

<Youngmuscle> your fantasy did a number on me  last night!

<NY-Guy> Yeah?  Wait until you get the rest of it   =)   More sex and feats of strength await you

<Youngmuscle> hmmmmmm, well I used some of it's  parts and had my own fantasy before bed last  night     really turned me on!! ;-)

<NY-Guy> Me too

<Youngmuscle> I shot a HUGE load thinking of it    it  was soooo hot!!

Based on Youngmuscle's comments from the following morning, he did not experience a physical organism during the actual storytelling, but was clearly sexually aroused by his online interaction with NY-Guy.  The lack of a physical organs during the event itself may lead some computer-mediated communication researchers to problematize my identification of this online encounter as an instance of cybersex.  However, I would hold that an offline organism does not constitute a prerequisite for meaningful online erotic play. 

In addition to lacking the prerequisite "physical" orgasm, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's online interaction differs from stereotypical notions of the cybersexual in another respect.  McRae (1997) has argued that popular discourse concerning cybersex "has tended to classify it with the type of fleeting, anonymous erotic experience that can be obtained in sex clubs, pick-up bars or by calling professional phone-sex lines" (p. 74).  However, Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's interaction suggests something quite to the contrary.  Not only do Youngmuscle and NY-Guy express in their parting dialog the mutual intention to "see" each other again, but permeating NY-Guy's erotic storytelling are references to the love, tenderness, and safety the characters offer each other.  Notably, in the space of the fantasy-world, the word "beloved" is used some fifteen times (thirteen times by NY-Guy, and twice by Youngmuscle) to address the other, and, during the escape sequence alone, the phrase "my love" is used three times.  The dialog exchanged within the fantasy-world frame, suggests the interactants (particularly NY-Guy) desire a loving and affectionate, as opposed to a "fleeting, anonymous" online erotic experience.  Certainly, the exchange when NY-Guy and Youngmuscle are saying good night to each other (lines 174-188) suggest one of affection and tenderness.

In addressing the question of what in particular makes this online interaction so erotically satisfying to these individuals, the discourse within both the third and fourth frames of experience offers a strong indication.  NY-Guy's dialog during and after his storytelling performance suggests his desire for a powerful giant-like, or hyper-masculine figure that will protect him from harmful forces, treat him tenderly and "with the gentleness of a soft summer's breeze" (line 62), while constantly reassuring him of "the bonds of their love" (line 52).  In their parting dialog, NY-Guy shares his desire when commenting: "how I wish I were sleeping in your arms I have in many of the stories as I have with J in my dreams" (line 182). [10]  Youngmuscle, however, appears aroused by "the romantic notion of defending [his] lover!" (line 87), fulfilling the role of invulnerable protector and performer of remarkable "feats of power" (line 69).  As Youngmuscle states in his parting dialog in the third frame of experience, "i defend my lover no matter what, and always will   no force could stop me from saving my lover or protecting him" (line 179).  In contrast to alarmist discourses that contend cybersex centers solely on exaggerated references to genitalia (though that does appear in the fantasy storytelling), the erotic for these individuals appears to depend as much on expressions of emotional investment and protection. 

The second general observation drawn from this analysis concerns the power relations found within the different frames of experience.  As previously indicated, I draw upon Foucault's understanding of power emerging from the interaction itself, where an individual negotiates the exercise of agency over another's actions.  This transcript supports this negotiatory and dynamic conception of power.  In Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's interaction, power is both willingly given by the individual (though always with conditions), and is in a constant state of flux between the two interactants, momentarily shifting from one to the other.  For example, within the virtual space of his fantasy world (the fourth frame of experience), NY-Guy appears to dictate the circumstances encountered, the actions possible, and the roles performed.  However, when examined within the context of the larger transcript, it becomes apparent that he only does so based upon understandings reached in the space of Youngmuscle and NY-Guy's private channel (the third frame of experience).  The dialog in the third frame of experience indicates instances of negotiation concerning what events will take place within the story world, and what actions the characters will engage in to ensure mutual satisfaction (lines 48-50, lines 68-71, and lines 85-91).

Finally, this examination reveals an interesting observation concerning online performance: performances in virtual environments can be framed within other online performances.  When entering the frame of their private channel, Youngmuscle's is already performing his "stud role," a role NY-Guy bases his character of "J" on in constructing his fantasy world in the fourth frame of experience.  When Youngmuscle engages in the performance of "J" in the fifth frame of experience, he is actually assuming the role of the "stud" assuming the role of "J."  This performance within a performance appears to intensify the erotic experience for both interactants.  This may be because only as the hyper-masculine "stud" playing the role of the giant "J," can Youngmuscle engage in the feats of "physical" strength necessary to defend his lover "Mark" (NY-Guy) from harmful forces, and protect him while he sleeps in the giant's (the "stud's" (Youngmuscle's)) arms.

One final note of interest concerns the lack of emoticons employed by NY-Guy throughout the storytelling.  At no point within the fourth frame of experience does he employ iconic smiley faces, winks, or the like.  Danet et al. (1997) has indicated that some online interactants "reject emoticons as 'in poor taste,' or in conflict with standards of good writing associated with literate culture" (p. 3).  This is a possible explanation of why NY-Guy avoids the use of these online symbols during his storytelling performance, especially considering that he prides himself a writer.  It is equally plausible that NY-Guy avoids using emoticons during his erotic storytelling because he felt they might detract from the intensity of the experience.  As Danet et al. comment, these symbols are often used for "marking one's intent as non-serious" (p. 3), and though this interaction represents an instance of online erotic play, I suspect NY-Guy takes this play very seriously indeed.

V.  End of Story: Some Concluding Thoughts

Within this particular online encounter, NY-Guy's performance as both storyteller and the character of "Mark" affords him the opportunity to act out a romantic adventure in which he can safely express his affection for his fantasy-giant lover, "J," represented by Youngmuscle.  Youngmuscle, in turn, is allowed to act out the role of his fantasy self (i.e. his "stud role") within a utopian setting where he engages in conspicuous feats of power and strength he would be unable to do in the real world.  Of course, these feats would be meaningless without the presence of someone to both witness and admire them, and thus NY-Guy's complimenting performance is essential in making this online encounter gratifying.  The discourse analyzed suggests it is the very intensity and adroitness of their online performances within the fifth frame of experience that transforms this online interaction into a cybersexual encounter.  In addition, Youngmuscle's performance of his "stud role"  a character corresponding remarkably to NY-Guy's fantasy lover "J"  augments the eroticism of their interactions in the fourth frame of experience, NY-Guy's fantasy world. 

While these erotic performances are experienced within hierarchical discursive frames constructed within cyberspace, they draw upon the interactants' primary frame of reference (Real Life), particularly in regards to the physical body.  In contrast to Nguyen and Alexander's claim that "[t]echnology abstracts us from our existence as physical beings in the world" (p. 99), the corporeal body appears to function as an essential resource in making NY-Guy and Youngmuscle's online experiences meaningful.  Far from being disembodied, the discourse of these interactants repeatedly refers back to their material bodies both playfully and erotically.  However, the restrictions of the medium does afford these interactants the opportunity to engage with the body in novel ways, and thus Youngmuscle is able to virtual body-bend by assuming his "stud" persona online.

Equally of note, is the ease with which individuals are able to transition between frames of experience, requiring only minimal cues.  Though some cues are explicit (such as the "end of story" transition in line 167), others are extraordinarily subtle, requiring the interactants to be alert to each other's online actions (such as Youngmuscle's shift into the performance of "J" in line 110).  Furthermore, the acceptance of transitions into different frames of experience indicates the negotiatory power dynamics of this online interaction.  Should the other individual not accept a cue of transition  such as refusing to recognize that Youngmuscle is now speaking as the character of "J" in line 110  the eroticism of the online experience would be undermined.  Thus, a key aspect of this frame analysis is how relations of power are implicated in the successful and, as importantly, the failed transitions between different frames of experience.

Future computer-mediated communication research may need to consider the existence of parallel frames of experience.  Within some modes of online interaction, such as IRC, it is possible to conduct simultaneous but separate interplay  in essence, parallel interactions in which individuals can assume disparate roles.  The technical structures of the medium allow for a unique cycling through frames of experiences as individuals can engage in multiple but discrete online performances concurrently.  Such forms of online interaction necessitate the development of new theoretical models of social intercourse.  Thus, rather than merely envisioning frames as hierarchical, an understanding of distinct yet parallel discursive frames where individuals move in and out of diverse performances needs to be developed.

Further, as this transcript demonstrates, online erotic play can take on forms quite distant from those identified by either Branwyn (1994) or Hamman (1996).  This suggests that understandings of what does or does not constitute an erotic experience are deeply personal; what may appear sexual to one may appear quite innocent to another.  Even the notion of an actual online climax is deeply problematic, begging the question of how we identify a real-world orgasm in virtual space.  Thus, returning to my earlier argument, when speaking of the cybersexual, it is impossible to establish universal parameters on what constitutes an online erotic act.  The particularity of the (cyber)sexual obliges us to invest in long-term study of diverse online communities if we are to apprehend what makes erotic online play meaningful to those engaging in it.

Indeed, my interactions with Youngmuscle and NY-Guy over a period of several years granted me an appreciation for their online experiences I would not have otherwise.  I was fortunate in witnessing the development of their online relationship from one I would characterize as erotic play to one based on sincere friendship.  After some two months of cybersexual encounters, such as the one examined here, Youngmuscle revealed his construction of the "stud role" to NY-Guy.  Ultimately, the two individuals establish a lasting online friendship as indicated in an interview with NY-Guy conducted some two years after their initial meeting:

<John>  You use to chat with someone that went by the nick of Youngmuscle?

<NY-Guy>  Yes, [NY-Guy's uses Youngmuscle's real-world name].

<NY-Guy>  I still do.

<NY-Guy>  Not as much as I used to, but we still chat.

<John>  how do you feel about him?

<NY-Guy>  I think he's a sweet kid.  Nice.  A good imagination and fun to talk to.

<John>  Did you know he was not what he originally presented himself to be?

<NY-Guy>  Eventually, yes.

<NY-Guy>  He's not the first person who's done that.

<John>  How did you feel when that happened?

<NY-Guy>  Well, I was a little disappointed he lied, but it's easilly forgiven.  I understand that need to be something that your not and how IRC can give you that since there is no way someone can verify that.

<NY-Guy>  I easilly forgave him for it and we're still friends.

The longevity of their friendship indicates the emotional investment individuals can experience towards online relationships.  Far from fleeting, online relations can, in fact, last for many years (as illustrated by NY-Guy and Youngmuscle's continued association).  In contrast to the claims of Nguyen and Alexander that the attraction of cyberspace is "people getting hooked on anonymity" (p 102), Youngmuscle and NY-Guy experiences suggest that some individuals may well be going online seeking genuine friendships. 

It is equally possible individuals go online seeking affirmation in the form of virtual utopian spaces.  The dangers of being uncritically celebratory should not lead online researchers to readily dismiss the potential importance of what could be characterized as the momentary utopianism found in these online fantasy frames of experience.  For sexual minorities, these virtual spaces offer unique opportunities to explore non-normative sexuality without risk to their economic, social, or physical selves.  Jenkins (1995) has commented that science fiction "represents a potential resource for groups which have had very limited stakes in the status quo, for whom the possibility of profound social change would be a desirable fantasy" (p. 242).  Likewise, the prospect for new forms of erotic play presented by computer-mediated communication can represent a valuable resource for those whose sexual desires do to conform to the dominant model. 

Finally, the complexity found in this particular transcript indicates the need for further research into the growing phenomenon of online erotic play.  Certainly, the novel use of punctuation throughout the transcript, as will as the adroitness of the interactants' turn-taking, particularly during the frame of performance, can be examined through a number of different micro-sociolinguistic approaches.  Though I draw upon Turner's conception of frame analysis to gain insight into how Youngmuscle and NY-Guy make sense of their online experience, techniques of conversation analysis and narratology could reveal significant new insights concerning communication in text-based virtual environments.  Additionally, cyberspace presents a remarkably unique opportunity for ethnographers and qualitative researchers: the ability to examine social interaction without having to be present.  This demands new consideration of how the researcher's presence, or lack of thereof, impacts the behavior studied.  Ultimately, it is my hope that both more transcripts of this nature will become available to social researchers, and more social researchers will take up the challenge of addressing the immense complexity of online interaction.

APPENDIX I: Transcript of online discourse between Youngmuscle & NY-Guy.

Session Start  Tue Jul 29 23 20 55 1997

1.      <Youngmuscle> hey!!!

2.      <NY-Guy> hi!

3.      <Youngmuscle> how are you doing??

4.      <NY-Guy> I am happy, very happy, to see you!

5.      <NY-Guy> I've been thinking about you all day

6.      <Youngmuscle> i'm honored to have such an affect  on you     i didn't get anything from you in email  though     i was so waiting for your fantasy!

7.      <Youngmuscle> i'm truly honored to have been in  your thoughts all day

8.      <NY-Guy> Well, two problems    one, I sent myself an  e-mail at home with your e-mail address and it didn't  arrive, so I will need your address again   two, I didn't  have a chance to stop at the storage area tonight, I will  tomorrow

9.      <Youngmuscle> well my email is XXXXXXXXXXXXX   and that is ok    i can wait   but i am  SOOOOOO horny tonight    was hoping to have some  interesting reading

10.  <NY-Guy> Well, you will soon   I promise   You want to  know that scariest thing about you and the guy I write  about in my fantasies?

11.  <Youngmuscle> yeah!!

12.  <NY-Guy> The character never had a real name, but I  reffered to him as "J"

13.  <Youngmuscle> interesting!! damn, that is wicked!

14.  <NY-Guy> Very

15.  <NY-Guy> When I told my friend, XXXXXX about it, he  freaked!

16.  <Youngmuscle> could i ask you a favor?

17.  <NY-Guy> He thinks we're fated to be together one day!

18.  <NY-Guy> Sure can

19.  <Youngmuscle> make up a fantasy for me  now     something simple is fine      i just wanna know  you better and get to know what i have to look forward  to in that email

20.  <NY-Guy> Okay, some of the fantasies I've written are  based in reality and some are in a fantasy world, which  would you like?

21.  <Youngmuscle> fantasy i think     total fantasy  world!

22.  <NY-Guy> Okay, well "J", who I think is really you, and I  are the characters, ok? 

23.  <Youngmuscle> perfect

24.  <NY-Guy> So, while I am writing, I will be referring to  "you" and "J" and they will both be you in my mind

25.  <Youngmuscle> ok, kewl

26.  <NY-Guy> Okay    here we go   

27.  <Youngmuscle> i can't wait!

28.  <NY-Guy> The sun was rising, and as it stirred, so did J    J awoke to the sound of the morning birds and recalled  how he and his beloved, Mark     

29.  <NY-Guy> came to rest in the mountain tops

30.  <Youngmuscle> mmmm mountains   full of romance!   you don't have to reply to my comments   just letting  you know i'm paying attention  

31.  <NY-Guy> Three days before, J and Mark were walking  through the forests of their homeland when they heard  a yell for help   J, a tall youth from a race of giants lifted  his beloved carrying him tenderly as he ran to see what  was happening

32.  <NY-Guy> Mark, feeling safe and loved in the powerful  and strong arms of J as they raced toward the screams  used his psychic powers to probe ahead to try and find  out what was happening

33.  <NY-Guy> As they approached the screams, Mark  realized it was a trap, but the warning came to late    Before he could warn J, they were attacked from all  directions

34.  <NY-Guy> J gently placed Mark on the ground and  charged the unknown enemy

35.  <NY-Guy> His powefully muscular 6'8" frame thundering  angrilly towards their attackers

36.  <Youngmuscle> he is very close to my height    and  i will be that tall   most likely taller

37.  <NY-Guy> The battle didn't last long, they were  overwhelmed by the shear number of attackers and  awoke to find themselves chained in a dungeon wall

38.  <NY-Guy> J awoke to see Mark unconscious and  bleeding from a wound to his forehead  Seeing his  beloved injured, J released such a yell as to make the  walls shake 

39.  <Youngmuscle> oh, only chains huh? don't think  that will be much of a problem

40.  <NY-Guy> He easily broke free of the chains and  rushed to the side of his beloved

41.  <NY-Guy> With a gentleness and gentle as the strength  he used to break free, J lifts his beloved and kisses him,  trying to awaken him

42.  <NY-Guy> At first, Mark does not respond   J begins to  panic, thinking that his beloved my be dead

43.  <NY-Guy> Again he tries kissing Mark

44.  <NY-Guy> Slowly Mark stirs

45.  <NY-Guy> His eyes open and he sees is blonde haired,  blue eyes giant love and reaches out to hold him 

46.  <NY-Guy> Happy to see that Mark was alive, you begin  to kiss him

47.  <NY-Guy> He kisses you back

48.  <NY-Guy> <Are you liking this so far?>

49.  <Youngmuscle> i'm loving this so far!!

50.  <NY-Guy> <okay, continuing>

51.  <NY-Guy> The more they kissed the longer and more  passionately they kissed

52.  <NY-Guy> They kissed for hours, lost in the love they  felt for each other and the strength of the bonds of their  love

53.  <Youngmuscle> oh, that is so hot

54.  <NY-Guy> J began to gently remove Mark's clothing

55.  <NY-Guy> Mark responded in kind by removing J's only  piece of clothing, his leather loin clothe  

56.  <Youngmuscle> loin cloth    very nice!

57.  <NY-Guy> As Mark removes the loin cloth, J's massive  cock falls heavilly upon Mark's chest 

58.  <Youngmuscle> mmmmmmmmmmm still sounds like  me so far

59.  <NY-Guy> Mark reaches out and gently begins to  stroke J's cock   As he lovingly touches it, it begins to  grow larger and larger 

60.  <Youngmuscle> ahhhhhhh

61.  <NY-Guy> Continuing to kiss each other gently, J  reaches for Marks tender and sensitive nipples

62.  <NY-Guy> Using his giant hands with the gentleness of  a soft summer's breeze, he begins to massage Mark's  nipples   Mark lets out a moan so deep and so primal  that the sound of it excites J even more and his cock,  which was slowly increasing size, immediately reaches  it's full size

63.  <Youngmuscle> this sounds so perfect

64.  <Youngmuscle> how big is the fantasy cock?

65.  <NY-Guy> Reluctanly, Mark pulls his lips away from J's  lips   He slides down under J's massive torso and  places the tip of the massive 15 inch cock into his  mouth

66.  <NY-Guy> <think your will make 15 inches?>

67.  <Youngmuscle> <is is possible  only 3 more to  go  but my doc won't make any quarantees>

68.  <NY-Guy> Are you enjoying my fantasy?

69.  <Youngmuscle> i am loving it   but i was hoping for a  few more feats of power    but it is still awesome

70.  <NY-Guy> There is more to come    this is only the first  of 3 days 

71.  <Youngmuscle> hmmmmm, sounds awesome!!!!!

72.  <NY-Guy> Do you have a deep voice?  J, in my  fantasy, does 

73.  <Youngmuscle> yes, i'm 6'6' most tall guys have  deep voices

74.  <NY-Guy> Can I hear it?

75.  <Youngmuscle> what do you mean?

76.  <NY-Guy> I mean, can I hear you voice?  Would you  call me on the phone?  You can call collect so it won't  appear on your bill 

77.  <Youngmuscle> sorry, i don't really know you  yet      and i don't like calling guys from the net   please  understand

78.  <NY-Guy> Maybe one day?

79.  <Youngmuscle> maybe

80.  <NY-Guy> Do you have a sound card?

81.  <Youngmuscle> it is not working      think i'm gonna  have to replace it   otherwise i would record a  wav file  and send it to you

82.  <NY-Guy> Would you do that when you replace your  current card?

83.  <Youngmuscle> yes, but it will be a few weeks  before i replace it    ok?

84.  <NY-Guy> Okay, I can wait   I've waiting this long  before running into my fantasy-made-flesh, that I can  wait a little longer 

85.  <Youngmuscle> ok, kewl     can we continue the  fantasy??  -) i am loving it!

86.  <NY-Guy> I can give you a little more but then I need to  get to bed, ok?

87.  <Youngmuscle> ok, but i'd sorta like to get to  somemore of the power feats stuff   that is really hot      i  love the romantic notion of defending my lover!

88.  <NY-Guy> You will    right now they are having sex  though    I can skip over the sex parts if you like and go  to the escape 

89.  <Youngmuscle> ok, sex is always nice!

90.  <NY-Guy> Continue with the sex or go to the escape?

91.  <Youngmuscle> the escape!

92.  <NY-Guy>     <they have several hours of love  making>  

93.  <NY-Guy> J and Mark slow get dressed and begin to  look around

94.  <NY-Guy> Noticing that there is not obvious exit, Mark  and J begin searching for a way out

95.  <NY-Guy> Tapping on the walls, Mark finds a narrow bit  of wall

96.  <NY-Guy> J walks up the wall and raises his massive  arms and strikes the wall

97.  <NY-Guy> The wall begins to collapse under the sheer  power and strength of J's blows 

98.  <Youngmuscle> awsome power   how thick is this  wall??

99.  <NY-Guy> The wall is 4 feet thick

100. <NY-Guy> In 4 blows, the wall completely gives way  opening into an empty, candle lit corridor 

101. <Youngmuscle> awesome    nice strong arms!! ;-)

102. <NY-Guy> Yessir

103. <Youngmuscle> yes sir???

104. <NY-Guy> You know, like yes sirree bob    ya know?

105. <Youngmuscle> oh, ok   kewl

106. <NY-Guy> Okay    so     making there way into the  corridor, Mark suddenly grabs J by the arm 

107. <Youngmuscle> something is wrong! ;-)

108. <NY-Guy> Mark turns to J and says, "I sense danger  ahead   Be careful, beloved "

109. <NY-Guy> J stands in front of Mark and begins walking  down the hallway 

110. <Youngmuscle> i'm always careful with you my love!

111. <NY-Guy> Yes, I know you are my love

112. <NY-Guy> Mark gasps out loud

113. <NY-Guy> J turns

114. <NY-Guy> Mark warns him of intense evil behind the  door at the end of the corridor 

115. <Youngmuscle> thanx for the warning

116. <NY-Guy> As they approach the door of evil, it explodes  open   The force of the blast sends Mark and J several  yards down the hallway

117. <NY-Guy> J lands onto of Mark protecting Mark from  falling debris with his own body 

118. <Youngmuscle> sends me several yards???

119. <NY-Guy> yes    it was a big explosion

120. <Youngmuscle> wel i can handle debris better than  you

121. <NY-Guy> As they shake off the debris, a loud roar  issues from the giant hole where the door used to be   A  giant scaled claw reaches out from the darkness

122. <Youngmuscle> shit, a small challenge?? or a large  one?

123. <NY-Guy> <wait and see   >

124. <Youngmuscle> ok

125. <NY-Guy> Puffs of smoke begin to seep out into the  hallway as the head of young adult dragon sticks it's  head out through the hole in the wall

126. <NY-Guy> The dragon, nearly twice as tall as J let's  loose another roar which shakes the walls of the  dungeon

127. <Youngmuscle> ok, a big challenge!

128. <NY-Guy> The dragon spoke, "My master doesn't want  you to leave   I am here to keep you from leaving   The  only way out is over my dead body "

129. <NY-Guy> Suddenly the dragon attackes

130. <NY-Guy> Spitting fire at Mark and J 

131. <Youngmuscle> ok, that can, and will be arranged!

132. <NY-Guy> J pushes Mark out of the way of the fire

133. <NY-Guy> J's arm is burned slightly as some of the  dragon flame touches him

134. <Youngmuscle> you son of a bitch!

135. <NY-Guy> Recovering quickly, J begins throwing the  heavy peices of the broken wall at the dragon

136. <NY-Guy> Mark unleashes the full force of his psychic  abilities and hits the dragon with a powerful psibolt

137. <NY-Guy> Stunned by the psychic attach, J pressed  the attack

138. <Youngmuscle> kewl!

139. <NY-Guy> As J charges the dragon, he hears Mark's  thoughts in his mind    //beloved, the dragons scales  are weakest on its belly    strike it there   //

140. <NY-Guy> Grabbing a sharp piece of wood as he runs,  J charges the dragon's belly     

141. <NY-Guy> But, the dragon, recovering more quickly  than expected unleashes another firebolt at Mark   This  time, it strikes him in the chest and sends him flying  down down the corridor and slamming into a wall 

142. <Youngmuscle> he will pay for that!

143. <NY-Guy> Seeing what he believes to be the death of  his beloved, J slams the wooden stake into the heart of  the dragon and clean through the other side

144. <Youngmuscle> FUCKER!!! die!!!

145. <NY-Guy> The dragon collapses on top of J 

146. <Youngmuscle> get the fuck off me!

147. <NY-Guy> J rips the dead dragon's body apart as if it  were paper and rushes to the aid of his beloved

148. <NY-Guy> Mark is barely alive when J reaches him

149. <NY-Guy> J cries as he sees the life of his beloved fading away 

150. <Youngmuscle> my beloved!

151. <NY-Guy> Before he dies, Mark whispers     "dragon     blood    heal   "

152. <NY-Guy> J carries the broken body of his beloved to  the dragon's carcass 

153. <Youngmuscle> you can't die!

154. <NY-Guy> He takes a handful of dragon's blood and  feeds it to Mark

155. <NY-Guy> After a moment, a white light begins to  envelope Mark

156. <NY-Guy> It glows brighter and brighter until J is blinded 

157. <Youngmuscle> ahhhhhh

158. <NY-Guy> J closes his eyes

159. <NY-Guy> When the light fades, he sees Mark sitting  up   Competely healed 

160. <Youngmuscle> my beloved!

161. <NY-Guy> Mark sends feelings of love to his beloved  and they embrace as if it were the first time all over  again

162. <NY-Guy> J cries, "don't die on me again, my love     please don't   "

163. <Youngmuscle> please!!

164. <NY-Guy> Mark hugs J and tells him, "Don't worry, I  never will   I will never leave you  

165. <Youngmuscle> good!

166. <NY-Guy> <    they spend the rest of the night together  making love and making it to the surface of the  dungeon   >

167. <NY-Guy> END OF STORY FOR TONIGHT

168. <Youngmuscle> awesome!!!!!!!!

169. <Youngmuscle> ok   i'll cya tomorrow!

170. <NY-Guy> You bet!

171. <Youngmuscle> that is soooo hot!

172. <NY-Guy> I have a question, would you mail me a  picture of you? 

173. <Youngmuscle> not yet

174. <NY-Guy> Okay, then    I'm going to bed now   I'll be  dreaming of you

175. <Youngmuscle> no you'll be dreaming of J!

176. <NY-Guy> You are J

177. <Youngmuscle> sounds just like how i would act in  those situations!

178. <NY-Guy> If that is so, then you are definitely the J I've  always dreamed and written about

179. <Youngmuscle> yeah, i defend my lover no matter  what, and always will   no force could stop me from  saving my lover or protecting him

180. <NY-Guy> I know  

181. <Youngmuscle> well i guess you need your sleep

182. <NY-Guy> Yes, I do    how I wish I were sleeping in your  arms I have in many of the stories as I have with J in my  dreams

183. <Youngmuscle> that would be awesome, i'm sure  you would feel totally safe

184. <NY-Guy> I know I would

185. <NY-Guy> Well, until one day when we can be that  way    sleep well my beloved 

186. <Youngmuscle> and i would feel total love in return!

187. <Youngmuscle> you too

188. <NY-Guy> Yes, you would

189. <NY-Guy> Good night 

190. <Youngmuscle> good night

191. <NY-Guy>  kiss

Session Close  Wed Jul 30 00 55 32 1997

 

Endnotes

[1]  Though I have altered the individuals' actual online nicknames or handles, I have substituted names that maintain the sensibility of the original handles.

[2]  The preference for using the descriptive term "erotic" as opposed to "dark" for referring to play that centers around sexual exploration or experimentation originates from the desire to divorce sexual activity in general from connotations of immorality.  This is particularly important in addressing same-sex sexuality, which has been long stigmatized as deviant and unhealthy.

[3]  This three-year ethnographic study of the experiences of gay men in IRC chatrooms serves as a basis of a forthcoming book  Getting It On Online: Cyberspace, Sexuality, and Embodied Identity  where I explore many of the issues raised in this analysis more extensively. 

[4]  As the more technical and functional characteristic of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) have been discussed extensively in the existing literature on computer-mediated communication, notably Reid (1991), I do not find it necessary to repeat such information in this study. 

[5]  In one online interview with Youngmuscle conducted during my ethnographic study of gay-male chatrooms on IRC, he indicated that he lives "in the heart of the Bible belt," and generally does not feel safe patronizing gay establishments alone. 

[6]  The use of ellipses in Youngmuscle's responses are not an indication of omission, rather he is using them as an indication of a pause or change of topic. 

[7]  This convention of "stats" may become less and less relevant as the online trading of pictures ("pics") and forms of video conferencing (like ICU) increase in popularity. 

[8]  In this description, Youngmuscle is employing abbreviations conventional to IRC:  "blnd/blu" indicates blond hair and blue eyes, and "smooth" indicates very little or no body hair.

[9]  The use of ellipses indicates the omission of descriptive dialog or brief aside comments made by Youngmuscle.  This is done to focus attention on the action of the narrative, and the interactants' performances, similar to Bell's 1998 approach to the studies of the narratives of DES daughters involved the deletion of "descriptions, asides, interactions between teller and listener, and most of the evaluation" (Riessman, 1993, p. 34-35).

[10]  Due to the speed at which the interactants compose messages in order to maintain the appearance of real time conversation, this manner of awkward wording is common.  Taking into consideration the context of the exchange and the unconventional use of grammar in online interactions, NY-Guy comments in line 182 can be read as: "how I wish I were sleeping in your arms, as I have slept in the arms of 'J' in many of my stories and my dreams."

 

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