One of the most wonderful things about a big city, and London in particular, is the general anonymity.
Though the swing scene and kink scene seems such a small, incestuous world that the same people pop up over and over, you can stroll through most streets secure in the knowledge that no a soul knows who you are. You can change your look, your manner. Be who you want to be for the night. You won’t run into your auntie or your boss, who will stop you and say ‘what on Earth are you supposed to be today?’
You have the relative freedom, time and money permitting, to wake up each day and be whoever you want. You aren’t confined to the restricting social expectation of consistency. You can have a new adventure. Live a new lifestyle. Think new thoughts. Be a new you.
In spite of this general physical anonymity, the world online likes to keep a damning, somewhat indelible footprint of every experiment. Face recognition software tracks us, tags us. It locates us, stalks us. Find someone on a dating site and flirt a little, next thing they pop is a suggestion on your Facebook. That company you applied to decides to message you on WhatsApp where you have a cheeky picture. Make a naughty Instagram, set it to private, and facebook is suddenly suggesting it to all your old work colleagues and religious relatives.
Maintaining anonymity is harder that it seems. Even with a pseudonym and full face avoidance, bits and pieces slip through the cracks. While once it was conceivable to conceal and divide work, personal, and sexual life, the online world tries to merge them. We are worried about being ‘outed’.
While there are now ‘protected categories’ upon which employers can not legally discriminate: sexuality (in the form of gay/bi/heterosexual) and gender (male/female/trans) there is a whole world of unprotected identities and sexualities. You are not protected as a poly, as a libertine, as a swinger or as a kinkster. You are not protected as a sex worker (of any kind, even a little cam work or selling your knickers as a side hustle).
In certain ways you can face discrimination if you do not conform to living your life by very archaic, conventional religious values, even if you are yourself not religious or conventional, and neither is your boss or co-workers. In some ways, we have not moved far beyond the Victorian values of casting an outwardly conforming persona while secretly all revelling in vice. Just don’t get caught? Don’t bring shame or controversy or real humanity to the business image?
Is it any wonder we need to wear masks? Make fake names, fake jobs, whole doctored personalities to present to the scene. Lest the two should ever cross. There are few people with such absolute freedom from judgement by work, relations, exes- anyone with an axe to grind or potential power to make you trouble- that they can act with complete impunity and be their full self in all places without division.
There are a few things I do to avoid potential recognition:
-I wear a mask and try to avoid full face photos
-I have a pseudonym
-I don’t widely share details of my life when there is a crossover between my work as a writer and my day to day self.
-I try to look as different as possible when at work or out at an event- from wigs to makeup to attire. The way I carry myself and the way I talk. You’d stand next to me on the bus and never suspect a thing.
As much as I’d like to be ‘out and proud’ for everything I am, do, and believe in; society just isn’t ready to protect me yet. This can make me feel a hypocrite and a fraud. Yet for now it is the best I can do without causing harm to others indirectly. It also lets me take on the role of masked crusader. Even Batman got to have a private life, right?
Another strange way I’ve found I’m hidden is that I seem to have a lot of doppelgängers: from people overseas to Kinkster’s just down the road from me. Porn actresses, escorts and swingers. I’m forever being asked ‘Is this you?’ or ‘is this your other account?’
Generally, the answer is no. I’m not sure whether or not I should be glad that they are generally up to a lot more mischief than I am. Not to worry, my clone army. You do you.
The mask is not simply a pretentious affectation: it is an indication of my personal boundaries when I open my life, sexual history, thoughts and feelings out to the world at large. This underworld of society’s secret fringe delights is where my adventures happen. This is the world I study. Some may dislike it, disapprove, judge. Seek to exact retribution for my lack of conformity and failure to affirm and validate their own choices by duplicating them.
For those who see the mask as a lack of courage, I understand. But heed my words and not my face. Or you are looking for me in the wrong place.