by Stephen van Dyck



ISBN 9781938900259
Publication date: 2019
155 pages, 7.5″ x 9″
Read Press Release (PDF)


In 1997, free software CDs in the mail accumulated on the kitchen counter: America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe. At Sam Goody the cashier would let me take as many America Online CDs as I wanted. My first compact disc sighting: I was ten and with friends in a cul-de-sac where we spent many summer afternoons. Standing on our bikes in a circle, we described to each other, though we could see it for ourselves, the jagged shards reflecting green and violet. Another time in that cul-de-sac we played sidewalk monopoly using each square as real estate. My home that afternoon was the shaded area of a juniper tree in my friend’s neighbor’s gravel lawn.

I remember putting the AOL disc in the CD drive for the first time. Its promise was all of America. And free for the first five hundred hours, which sounded to me like several lifetimes’ worth. Without a modem, I couldn’t get past the sign-in box’s teal-and-purple swirl background. Around this time we moved because my mother wanted me to go to the nicer public high school. My father waited to go to the computer store until after the move. He didn’t like the nearby mini-mall small business computer store owner because he’d fart in front of us.

Before the internet, I wrote poems on Galaxy, a word processor with white text on a blue background in Courier New—no other font choices. I pressed arrow keys to explore menus on DOS where I found a video game called “Captain Comic”: the protagonist, a scuba diver or astronaut walking around a landscape of colorful pixels, had to jump on the dotted likeness of bug aliens to kill them. I found a folder of pictures of women in bikinis that only the computer man who’d set up our desktop could know was there. They were labeled with names like Tanya.gif and Sonya.gif. I stared at the photos to study scientifically what breasts looked like. Before that, my only knowledge of a woman’s private parts came from Veronica, one of my cul-de-sac friends. She and I once stood in her front yard describing our genitals to each other by asking overly specific questions, like we each had mysterious, magical objects only we could see. When I was ten, one afternoon on Veronica’s bed, we kissed. My parents were not capable of finding Tanya.gif or Sonya.gif. If my mother tried to use the computer, the mouse would convulse across Windows 95 as a barrage of folders and programs opened in quick succession. At age six, I wondered if adults didn’t watch cartoons because they couldn’t make out the characters on the screen, like their minds had become so literal and unimaginative that Tom and Jerry were no longer intelligible to them. I wondered if I would ever be that kind of adult.

The first time I came was a few months before we got the internet, the summer before we moved. I was home from my summer school PE class and still wearing my gym shorts—easy access. When semen pumped out, at first I didn’t know what it was. It was an ‘ohhhh’ moment. All the vague insinuations on TV shows and my mother’s prudish explanation of how babies were made—it all suddenly made sense. It smelled like rotting ocean life and basically peed out. I didn’t tell anyone, but my penis was semi-erect with a large, soft, unmovable lump on one side of the interior for several weeks.

The new house was especially isolated. I tried being outdoorsy in the new neighborhood, and dogs at fences would bark and gnash their teeth as I walked alongside, giant castles of houses looming in the distance beyond the gates.

I finally signed on. In the chat room Lobby 530, there were many names—flwrpwrgrl9, SthPrkFan1, xoAlisonxo—all suggesting different tastes and humors. My eyes had to adjust to each new style of wording and punctuation. It felt strange to see content on my screen that I didn’t create.

I talked to Ceecee1234120 from Illinois, who was fourteen like me. Eventually, she stopped appearing on my buddy list, so I went back to the Lobby and met Vert420, real-life name Stacey, in Ohio. We called each other boyfriend and girlfriend. Jerry from the old neighborhood would message me asking how PERvert was doing. He was jealous, I joked, because I was with her all evening while he spent his waking life with video game characters like Sonic or Knuckles or Ecco the Dolphin.

Vert and I would create a private chat room and name it Restaurant or Swimming Pool, then send the other an invite. Our entire date would revolve around the idea of being in a swimming pool. I would type that I was swimming around Vert like a shark. She’d say she was scared. I’d say I was biting her leg and send a smile. We’d describe kissing underwater. I had never kissed anyone. I had no idea if she had. She sent me her pic, a soccer team solo portrait. I had no pic to send back.

One day I found the America Online custom chat rooms, membercreated spaces to supplement the AOL-themed rooms like Beanie Babies or Denver or basketball. The M4M chat rooms vastly outnumbered the other custom rooms and were organized by city and/or fetish. Men were looking for men. Right away I received a message from a boy my age in Italy wanting a long-term relationship. In his photo he had abs, dark curly hair, tan skin and a square jaw. He was shirtless, his mouth slightly ajar. I doubted it was of him, and it didn’t matter. We talked all night and I came. I sent other guys his photo and said it was me. They told me I was hot.

There was an Albuquerque M4M room. I don’t think I had any idea that there were so many gay men in the world, let alone in Albuquerque. Entering the room was the most eventful moment, as its chat members sat waiting for anyone new. I labored over my profile, with the aim of casting a wide net while also being true to my personality and taste. I went through many AOL screen names.

At school, I spent seven hours of half-awake hiding in a notebook, drawing cats and a goth, sneering, drag-queen-ish character, and then I came back to the computer. My parents interrupted to make me eat dinner and play piano, the only other piece of furniture in the small computer room. The French doors opened to the living room, where my mother watched The Nanny and my father watched the British Parliament on C-SPAN. I kept the doors closed. At 11 p.m. my mother would burst in and yank the phone cord from the wall in a dramatic show of force. Some nights I would sneak back to the computer room and plug the phone cord back into the wall, but only after waiting until my parents had gone to sleep. In the interim I listened to Tidal or Tigerlily or Eurythmics’ Greatest Hits, my first album purchase at age eleven. When I played “Sweet Dreams” to my parents, they said the music was fake, because there were no actual instruments. One time my mother paused the song. “Did she say some of them want to abuse you? Abuse?” “No,” I said. “Amuse.”


“Unputdownable. Young gay sex and super mundane details–two things I love, together.”
–Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man


“Stephen van Dyck’s meticulous sexual records reveal the true recent histories of America, the Internet, the nearly-defunct nuclear family and the author himself. Surprisingly touching, People I’ve Met From the Internet is a brilliantly written, taxonomic account of growing up queer in turn-of-the-millennium Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and beyond.”
–Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick


“This is an impressive work, modern, relevant, powerfully startling in its effect.”—John Rechy, author of City of Night


“Bold, brave, sexy… This annotated bibliography of encounters bridging the virtual and real worlds of desire feels like a nineteenthcentury erotic novel transposed onto the present, filled with salacious stories and characters. A truly remarkable adventure.” —D. A. Powell, author of Cocktails


People I’ve Met From the Internet puts van Dyck in the company of Rechy, Samuel Steward, and even Christopher Isherwood (especially his reconstructed diary, Lost Years) as experimental chroniclers of queer lives and times. The creativity of the form seems like something readers may wish they’d thought of themselves.” –Chris Freeman, The Gay & Lesbian Review

“The ultimate memoir for the Information Age … the data becomes a form of narration unlike any you may have encountered before. … In People I’ve Met From The Internet, we share in van Dyck’s struggles at the bleeding edge between life and art, and wonder what to make of the man behind the experiment. Perhaps the point of it all, his book seems to suggest, is simply to delight in the details.” –Julia Matthews, Zyzzyva Magazine


“A brilliant, deadpan account of sexualized youth… If it wasn’t so effortlessly funny and wry, People I’ve Met From the Internet would horrify; as it stands, every sentence—every checked-off box of kissing? oral? anal?—brings on the warm flush a real writer gives you.” —Dodie Bellamy, author of When the Sick Rule the World


“As the internet transformed the gay world from a limited number of spaces to a virtually unlimited homotopia, things were gained and things were lost, but van Dyck was one of its argonauts… There’s a new kind of queer text here, one needed for a new queer age.” —Matias Viegener, author of 2500 Random Things About Me Too


“A glowing diorama that is continuously unfolding with mountains, living, men, cities, and sex. I love the sense of absolute openness in Stephen van Dyck’s People I’ve Met From the Internet, how direct it is, how witty, and at times how sweet.”
—Amina Cain, author of Creature


“Stephen van Dyck’s People I’ve Met From the Internet is a wholly original, brilliant and engrossing book. I couldn’t put it down.” —Kate Durbin, author of E! Entertainment


“This is no ordinary memoir. It’s a moving, funny and rigorous attending to technology, desire and community as experienced by a whole generation… A tour de force of post-internet life writing.” —Janet Sarbanes, author of The Protester Has Been Released


Stephen van Dyck is a writer, artist and educator living in Los Angeles.



Cover art and book design by Sandra Rosales.

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