A gay man has recounted a disturbing encounter he had when he was just 15 and met up with a guy he chatted with online.
Matt Beierschmitt, from New Jersey, tells the story in a new video from I’m From Driftwood.
He wants to remind other young LGBTI people to be extra careful when they arrange to meet up with strangers. Preferably, they should seek out safe spaces to meet with like-minded peers.
‘I wanted to just have a connection with somebody’
Matt says that he was chatting to men in an AOL chatroom. This was in the mid-90s – before apps, social networks and instant messaging. His family didn’t know that he was talking to guys online.
‘I’m in the male-for-male chat room and I’m talking to this guy.
‘I’m 15. He’s probably in his thirties and no one knows my age – I’m telling them I’m older.
‘This guy is very eager to meet me and very – just kinda gave me negative vibes but I’m desperate to meet somebody. I wanted to just have a connection with somebody.
‘I take a kitchen knife with me just to be safe’
‘So I just have a really weird feeling about him, so before I go to meet him, I literally have to like sneak out of my parents’ house. I take a kitchen knife with me just to be safe.
‘It was one of the wood-handled kitchen knives that wouldn’t cut a carrot but I thought it would kill somebody.’
Matt snuck out of his house through his bedroom window and met the stranger close to a nearby river. He didn’t have a cell phone so just arranged to meet, went to the arranged point and waited for the man to show up in his car.
‘So he picks me up and we drive to one of the parking lots on the river. And it’s dark and, you know, I’m not really into him. He’s not hideous, but just not really into him and, you know, he’s into me, and I’ve already come all this way.
‘So I feel obligated to do something so I end up fooling around with the guy. I was a little nervous but we end up fooling around maybe 10 minutes. Afterwards I get out the car immediately and I just start heading home.
‘You forgot your knife in my car’
‘I don’t know if it was that night or the next night but I’m online again and I get an email from him saying, “It was nice to meet you. You seem like a nice guy. And you forgot your knife in my car.”
‘I was mortified but I didn’t really care because I was petrified at the time and glad I brought it.’
In contrast, shortly afterwards, Matt began talking to another young guy who worked at a local movie theatre. Matt went to the theatre to check the guy out, and they went on to form a friendship. It was Matt’s first proper gay friend, and they remained good friends for the following decade.
‘When I found Jeff, I was able to be myself, be honest, just be me. When I was 15, I had to find people online because in 1996, there wasn’t anything else.
‘I think today, I think it’s important to have safe spaces where young queer youth can go meet other people like them, so they’re not putting themselves in these weird predicaments like I was, meeting a complete stranger, down by the river with a knife.
‘It’s funny now to think about it, but it’s also really scary. I don’t want anybody to be in that position.
‘I think anybody that’s young, in the closet, not even in the closet but still needs allies, they need to find safe spaces near them. You need people like you, going through the same thing as you so you can make mistakes with them, learn from their mistakes, and help each other out. It’s important.’
‘Safe spaces are crucial’
Lukasz Konieczka, Director of Services with North London based Mosaic LGBT Youth Center, agrees, telling GSN, ‘Safe spaces are crucial not only for keeping people safe but also they serve as a validation of identity and as a source of support and education.
‘The majority of emails we receive from young people start from stating how lonely they feel. That need to meet people “like me” is a very basic one and if there are no safe places to do so safely then young person is looking for that need to be met by any way they can get it which in this time and age is often the internet or gay scene.
‘We even get social workers making a referral as they worry about the well-being of a young person who has started going to bars and clubs or started meeting people for sex at a very young age.
‘It can be dangerous as on the gay scene those vulnerable young people are often seen as “twinks”, and they become fetishized as they are using the only bargaining card they have at that time which is their sexuality.’
Ben Dew is Operations Director at the Brighton-based AllSorts Youth Project. He too says the importance of providing safe spaces for younger LGBTI people cannot be over stated.
He says that it’s crucial to provide non-judgemental advice and guidance to many young people: particularly young gay and bi men. It’s advice they don’t feel able to get from the families, teachers or other adults in their lives.
Meet in public and tell someone where you’re going
Ben says Matt’s story is not at all uncommon. Besides sexual health risks or violence, there’s the potential emotional impact that getting involved with someone can have on a young person.
‘Talking and meeting online is not new and novel to young people, it’s just what they’re used to. But young gay men are particularly vulnerable – they’re keen to connect with others.’
However, their inexperience is what makes them prone to be pressured into doing things that they don’t’ feel comfortable with.
‘That will inevitably be the case, and the arrival of apps has changed the culture further. It’s how young people meet these days – it feels familiar and typical for them. But we continually tell people that the person they’re talking to online may not be who they think they are.
‘Meeting in a public place is always advisable. As is telling someone where you’re going, if you are going to meet somebody.
And if you find yourself arranging to meet someone and considering whether to carry a concealed weapon? Well, that’s a big warning that you shouldn’t be putting yourself in that situation.
‘Exactly,’ says Ben. ‘And if someone is unwilling to meet in a public space, that’s also a sign that something may not be as straightforward as it seems.’