|Posted on December 20, 2015 at 6:30 PM|
By Dennis Stone
I would guess that most everyone reading this has had the experience of going back to visit a place where they formerly lived, and reminiscing about some of the good times from that time and place. I would also guess that most people who have done that have encountered a situation where the location has dramatically changed, or has even been torn down.
I just tried to go back in time myself by visiting “The Backlot” website for the first time in several months. Alas, it’s not the place I remember, and seems to be in a process of being demolished. The first thing I noticed was that the look of the place was entirely different, though the feel was less that of rejuvenation than the feeling you get when a classic piece of architecture is replaced by a soulless building with sleek lines and “contemporary” style. The second thing I noticed was that Ed Kennedy’s iconic “Morning Meme” was no longer appearing.
Research showed that Ed wrote his last Meme on October 25, following the merger of “The Backlot” with “NewNowNext,” another entertainment based website owned by Logo. Longtime editor Dennis Ayers also departed, replaced by Dan Avery, who is editing both sites. “The Backlot” no longer has its own unique URL. Rather, it is now simply a subset of the “NewNowNext” site. In other words, “The Backlot” no longer actually exists in reality.
I never stopped thinking of “The Backlot” as “AfterElton,” its original name from its creation in 2005 until the name change in 2013. The site is a very important part of my life. I discovered it in August 2007, shortly after the first kiss between Luke and Noah on “As the World Turns.” I immediately recognized the kiss as a milestone event, and in looking around the internet for reaction I discovered AfterElton. I remember being rather shocked by the vitriol many commenters expressed about the kissing scene. I don’t actually recall the nature of the negativity, but it had something to do with the scene not going far enough, or being too late in coming, or something. It was inadequate and disappointing, and people were angry.
I thought people were not seeing the issues properly, so I signed up as a member and left a nicely reasoned comment explaining why. I then left town for the weekend with no internet access. When I got home Sunday night I was surprised by the fact that I was being roundly attacked by almost everyone. Not being shy about disagreeing with people, I fought back. Eventually I started commenting about many other subjects. Unfortunately, at that time I was too belligerent and too unwilling to see both sides of issues, and I made more than a few enemies. I decided to quit the site, and so I had my membership terminated.
I couldn’t stay away, though. Here’s a fact that I’ve never revealed to anyone. I re-signed up as another user, with a different profile and different name. And also with a new persona of being more reserved and more accommodating of other points of view. And guess what? I learned that such an outlook is a huge improvement over trying to push my agenda with no consideration of others. In essence I became a new person.
Eventually I came back as myself, but I was indeed changed. And then “Glee” came along and began to dominate the site. It also became a big part of my online gay life, as I anticipated each show, and then engaged on “AfterElton” in what seemed like never-ending debates about its merits. I must have made some good points, because editor Michael Jensen approached me about writing an article for the site about the show. Unfortunately, I was then in the worst part of my recovery from staph infections in both eyes (including partial disability at work), and I couldn’t commit to something that computer intensive.
Not long after that, Michael and his partner and co-editor Brent Hartinger left the site, which seemed to be moving toward a lighter, less substantive format. I complained about it in a comment, and new editor Dennis Ayers approached me about writing substantive pieces for the site. I therefore began work on the piece that became “In My Tribe: Gay Culture, Traditionalists, and the ‘New Wave’.” Dennis was having issues with it, and we went back and forth about changes and different directions. In the meantime, in a burst of inspiration, I wrote the piece titled “Advice To Gleeks: Get a Life” in one evening. It was published within a week (on May 22, 2012), and generated a large audience and huge controversy. Many readers were deeply offended, but others thought I nailed the phenomenon perfectly.
On June 7, 2012 the “In My Tribe” piece appeared, and was then reprinted in two parts by “LGBTQ Nation.” It also generated a large audience and spirited response. I began work on a third piece. Unfortunately, around that time it was announced that “AfterElton” was changing its name to “The Backlot.” It also developed that the nature of the site was becoming lighter and more entertainment based. I finished my third piece, which Dennis Ayers rejected within hours. Further communication made it clear that my type of writing no longer fit the site. My third piece was called “Why Do We Watch Bad TV Shows Just Because They Have Gay People In Them,” and after some re-writing eventually appeared on this site.
I tried to remain a contributing member to “The Backlot,” but I was losing interest. I then hatched the plan for this site. Once work on this site began I simply didn’t have much time to contribute comments to “The Backlot.” Eventually I ceased visiting altogether. Until now. I thought it would be fun to visit such an important part of my past. But, like two of my childhood homes, it now exists only in my memory.
Though, actually, a part of the site remains. As I said, “The Backlot” name still exists, and it has its own page as a subset of “NewNowNext.” The daily column “Briefs,” written by Snicks, still exists. Anthony Langford still writes a column about soap operas. And some of the old regular commenters I remember from years ago are still making comments. The best part is that the nature of the commenter community remains relatively intelligent, mature and respectful to one another. And that’s not a meager endorsement. Just look at the comment sections of other sites. I’ve never encountered a comment community like that of “AfterElton.” Especially after I grew up and started to think about the other person’s perspective before posting. The merger occurred recently, and it will be interesting to see if the nature of the commenter community survives.
“You can’t go home again,” the novelist Thomas Wolfe told us in the title of a 1940 novel. In my life I’ve found that to be generally true. And it’s true of “AfterElton,” the site I owe so much about my current place in the gay world. It gave me friends, it launched my writing career, it helped me understand in a broader way the gay world around me, it helped me to mature and grow up. But it’s now essentially gone, and I’ll have to find new “special places.” The good news is that there are always new special places to be found.