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One of the perverse things about doing this podcast is that when I’m talking to a potential guest and they say that all of the bars that were ever significant in their life are still open, instead of me responding ‘Yay! That’s great news! Queer spaces are thriving’, I’m like ‘Damn! Now we have nothing to talk about!’
Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that that is exactly what happened when I first got in touch with this week’s guest. J.P. Der Boghossian, the founder of Queer Armenian Library and the host of the podcast This Queer Book Saved My Life.
The bar that he first went to when he started going out, Sidetrack in Northern Michigan, is still open.
But, after a bit of back and forth we realised that one of the other spaces that he frequented at that time, the magical world of AOL chatrooms, no longer exist!
So, we’re taking a trip back to the late 90s, in the very early days of the internet, to talk to random strangers and take grainy pictures of ourselves with our shitty webcams!
J.P. Der Boghossian 00:00
I never was able to take an effective photo of my penis for an AOL chat room, much to the chagrin of many, many men.
K Anderson 00:12
Hey, I am Candice and you are listening to lost spaces, the podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Here is how it goes. Every single week, I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories that they created there, and the people that they used to know. Now, one of the perverse things about doing this show is that when I’m talking to potential guests about the concept of the show, and kind of running through the types of things that we might talk about, very occasionally, the guest will say to me, Oh, well, I really like the concept of your show. But all of the spaces that I’ve ever been to have still open. And rather than be very like, Oh, yay, queer spaces is still thriving. That’s such great news. I’m like, wow, fuck. Anyway, that is a long way of me saying that. That’s pretty much the conversation that I had with this week’s guest, JP Dara BOGO cm, the founder of queer Armenian library, and the host of this queer book saved my life. The bar that he first went to when he started going out and when he came out was sidetrack in northern Michigan, and that is still very much open. But after a bit of back and forth, we realised that one of the other spaces that he frequented at that time, the magical world of AOL chat rooms no longer exist. So we are taking a trip back to the late 90s In the very early days of the Internet to talk to random strangers who may or may not be who they say they are. I guess not really a lot has changed how that.
K Anderson 02:46
straight women are ruining everything.
J.P. Der Boghossian 02:51
I don’t know if this is the experience of other folks when they go into gay bars, queer owned bars, where it’s just like every bachelorette party seems to be at a queer bar now. And I don’t understand why they’re all showing up. They’re like, don’t you have your own spaces to go to like, what are you either fetishizing or CO opting or appropriating at a queer space that you can’t get in your own spaces? Like, what is it about that space that you think you’re getting something that’s that here? I want to celebrate my my wedding.
K Anderson 03:27
But isn’t it more like, and I’m not a straight woman? And I’ve never been a straight woman. So I probably shouldn’t speak on their behalf. But isn’t it more of that they can wear their penis adorned memorabilia and dance around without being harassed by heterosexual men. Maybe like it’s less, it’s less about CO opting or integrating with the existing culture, and more about having a place where everyone’s going to leave him alone. Or where they can be the aggressor.
J.P. Der Boghossian 04:01
I like that our space can be that. But fix your all spaces. I don’t know. I don’t know. We like we have to constantly navigate as queer people, sometimes the toxicity of straight owned and heteronormative bars.
K Anderson 04:19
So then shouldn’t we understand why you would want to like not go there?
J.P. Der Boghossian 04:23
I don’t know.
K Anderson 04:24
I don’t know either.
J.P. Der Boghossian 04:25
I think this is the weird thing about equity and equality for queer communities is that and this is a podcast about law spaces. Is that kind of starting to feel like queer spaces are disappearing? Because we’re integrating because we are like, where’s the space for us? Even I see this as a chief diversity officer. When we start employee resource groups, especially the LGBTQ ones in an organisation. All the Allies want to show up and be a part of it and on the one hand, that’s great. And on the other hand, I’m like no other is for us alone to be in community. Right? And it’s confusing. It’s also confusing. I remember when I was 21 or 22 Going to the Abbey, I was living in Los Angeles and I went to the abbey for the first time. And all these dudes were like, Oh, so you’re straight. That was like the how they opened all the conversations. And I was like, Are you serious right now? But because the abbey had become so infiltrated? Maybe that’s the wrong word, but infiltrated by the strength that they
K Anderson 05:28
are. It’s not because you were totally mask?
J.P. Der Boghossian 05:31
Maybe? I don’t know. I was a very confused queer kid. And maybe I still am today. But yeah,
K Anderson 05:39
what would you do about it? Okay, sorry, I cut you off. So the abbey had been infiltrated by a straight audiences. And we should say say the Abbey is like a drag BA? Am I right in saying that
J.P. Der Boghossian 05:49
the Abbey in West Hollywood is kind of infamous for being a queer bar. It’s kind of like, historically, the bar in West Hollywood had that reputation. And then there’s just been stuff over the years. And I haven’t been there since 2000 to 2003.
K Anderson 06:06
So then why why the Abbey in particular? Why did it get infiltrated?
J.P. Der Boghossian 06:11
I think it becomes a like all of our spaces, all of our spaces are inclusive, they’re beautiful. They are accepting their dynamic, and then they become an attraction, kind of like pride, it becomes a place that everyone wants to go to, which on the one hand is great. And then on the other hand, it’s like, well, where’s our space, then?
K Anderson 06:31
Yeah. So I’m just trying to play devil’s advocate, because that’s the thing I do. No, no. Good. Yeah. Okay, shutting me down already. Just disagree. You know, it’s hard to measure, obviously. But the strides have been made in equality, gay liberation, however you want to frame it have been so significant, because there has been this access point, because there has been this open door policy. And so taking that away and closing ourselves off, is that not going to have a negative impact?
J.P. Der Boghossian 07:10
That is a provocative question. Because at the end of the day, is it only us that’s doing that? If we have a, you know, downtown Main Street, and there’s one queer bar, and there are seven heteronormative bars? Is that change, if only US is making that change? Right? Should it be all of the bars that are doing that? Why should it just be us that is creating that space? And as we are creating that space? Is it having the ripple effect down the street, right, or the other seven straight bars, also making those changes, or they just saying, you know, what, we’re going to keep being heteronormative, we’re going to have the same toxicity. But if you want the inclusive stuff, just go down the street, to the queer bar. And so on the one hand, I see the argument, and I think there’s validity into it. But on the other hand, I also want to see straight folks and straight clubs and bars also doing that work. So that it’s not just on us. Yeah, to do the work.
K Anderson 08:10
Yeah. But how do you raise their aspirations? How do you get them to have a different vision to the one they currently have? And is it best to give them actual tangible examples? Or is it to tell them that they should do it?
J.P. Der Boghossian 08:24
Well, if you can answer that question,
K Anderson 08:27
if you’re listening and you’re straight and you own a bar, and you’re reluctant to change it, then why don’t you get in touch and let us know what the barriers are?
J.P. Der Boghossian 08:36
Well, would a straight bar be open to having a drag show? Why do all the drag shows have to happen in the queer spaces? A queer space that is inclusive that welcomes everybody that welcomes the the straight identified bachelorette parties? Why does that have to only be adults? Why can’t a straight bar say hey, yeah, we’re gonna have a drag show. And we’re gonna make our space more inclusive as well beyond just June Pride Month. Well, I guess when is pride month in the UK? In the States, obviously, it’s
K Anderson 09:06
Yeah, I don’t really know why like it is June. I just don’t know why it is. I’ve been wondering this, like, I just don’t remember ever being a whole month and now it is a whole month. Everyone just just gone with it. But anyway, but then we’d like bleed into the evils of capitalism, because as soon as a straight bar or a non queer identifying owned or the targeted bar starts doing drag shows, then we’re like, oh, well, you can’t do that. Because you’re only doing it because you want to profit and you’ve seen how successful we are. And now you’re taking our business away from us.
J.P. Der Boghossian 09:42
How does that argument not apply to us?
K Anderson 09:45
When we’re stealing away the straight women? Because no one invited them. We didn’t like set up a themed night that was like, hey, hen parties come here. They just came on their own volition right? It’s different than if you will, some of
J.P. Der Boghossian 10:01
them do eau de they some of them do. And we’ll talk about sidetracks. But sidetracks in northern Michigan, they do now market themselves and have for a long time as a bar that everybody, right as welcome. So there is a strategic decision I think that some are doing around that inclusive, right. are we hiding capitalism, within this idea of inclusive spaces that everybody is welcome, ie we want your business and we’re going to appeal to both queer audiences and straight identified audiences. Is that motivated by a capitalist decision? Or is that motivated by an equity decision?
K Anderson 10:37
Yeah. And is it possible that it’s both?
J.P. Der Boghossian 10:41
Yeah. But can it be possible for the straight bars then to have a inclusive drag show that is appropriate run by designed by drag queens and drag kings, and also be a conclusive measure? This is fascinating. I had no idea this was where we’re gonna go this morning. And I love it. I love it. This is just making my day.
K Anderson 11:05
No, but it is really difficult when there is this gatekeeping and I hate the gatekeeping I hate when it’s like you can you can, this is for this person and this person. And you have to have this colour hair and this many freckles to get in. But I can also understand the motivation for people gatekeeping
J.P. Der Boghossian 11:27
I think there is something very powerful. And I was actually, this week, the I guess this is blatant self promotion right now. But a, one of the guests on my podcast, was talking about the differences between being queer and black. And he said, growing up in a black household, even though he wasn’t taught his culture, really, in the schools that he went to, he was in a black family. And so he learned his history, he learned his cultural values within the home. But he said, as a queer person, I didn’t get that I had to go out and cobble that together. And so I started from a place of isolation and had to find my community. And I think for queer communities, that’s the same. And there is this not really an aha moment. But hopefully, and this was kind of my case, and not so much my case of you get into a space that is made up of queer people. And there is something powerful in that, for the first time for the first dozen times that you’re in that space of, I’m with my people, here are my friends, and maybe my family of choice is going to come out of this, that I’m going to develop those types of relationships. And maybe this is because I’ve had such a tenuous history of getting access to queer spaces, particularly queer bars, and clubs. And I’ve had this weird dynamic with them and didn’t necessarily get that experience. I wanted that experience. I wanted that magic, and didn’t really get that magic, often asking myself, why isn’t this magical? Why is it this, you know, walking into this space, and you just find the friends and you find the casual hookups or a, you know, boyfriend, or long term partner, it just didn’t, it didn’t necessarily happen that way, right? For me. But I think there is still that value, even when I was in sidetracks. Of I’m with queer people, right now, I’m in a space that has been historically queer. And that is very unusual for me. And I do think that there is value in that. So when I go in, and I see bachelorette parties, I do feel this kind of twinge of regret, also around the history of marriage, that you are coming in to our space because you think it’s safe, but you’re celebrating your heterosexual marriage, and how many of you would support queer marriage? You know, my dad’s family’s in Michigan, and I was in Michigan in 2004, when there was the anti gay marriage amendment, which ended up becoming one of the worst in the States. And we saw this really big drop off of people who were voting democratic voting for John Kerry, and that election, and a whole bunch of people that refused to vote against this constitutional amendment. And so that was kind of formative for me. And that, okay, well, how many people are willing to say they’re Democrats to say they’re on the left to say that they are willing to come to a queer space or have gay friends, but they won’t actually do what needs to be done to help us to protect us. And so when I do see that I do kind of want to gatekeeper when I see the bachelorette parties, I kind of do want to say, Did you? What have you done? You know, I think there’s a difference between an ally and an accomplice. And I learned about this a few years ago from a colleague that I was working with it an ally, they don’t risk anything. You know, the bachelorette parties at a queer club aren’t risking anything. They can, you know, wear penises around their neck and have their penis cupcakes, and everything’s great. There’s no risk there. And accomplices. Somebody puts something on the line, and I think going back to their straight bars and saying, hey, we want to have a drag show, we want to have something that’s a safe environment that’s not going to have toxic masculinity. Integrating their areas, taking that risk, I think would be for me, and this is just for me, something I would like to see.
K Anderson 15:15
Okay, but I mean, okay, sir, sir.
J.P. Der Boghossian 15:20
I’m gonna get you to agree with something. I said,
K Anderson 15:22
No, no, no, no, I’m not disagreeing. I’m just, you know, let’s colour this in a bit more. So first of all, we’re making the assumption that every bachelorette party is made up only of heterosexual women. We need to acknowledge that they are living in a misogynistic world. And so some of the things like changing the culture within those heterosexual bars isn’t quite as straightforward as all that. There’s also something about scrutinising there, their affiliation, and not the affiliation of everyone else in the bar. Because there’s quite a lot of American gays Oh, and and British NGOs. I’d list like just queer people all over who vote against their own interest, if we’re talking politically. And so are we saying that they’re not welcoming those spaces?
J.P. Der Boghossian 16:18
Is there a difference? I guess what comes up for me? When I think about that question is, I think there is a difference between a queer person who is navigating internalised queer phobia. And a and I’ll be very specific here because I do think you’re right there. There are a variety of different types of bachelorette parties. But I’m going to sorry, STS I’m going to deliberately single out sis straight women who have a bachelorette party and are planning and go, Ooh, let’s go to the gay bar. To do this. I want to and maybe I’m being unfair, but I do want to delineate between those two. I think there’s different work that needs to be done. For a queer person who’s unpacking internalised shame internalised phobias, which we all know happens. Yeah, I think there’s a difference there between the people who want to wear Pina shirts, and eat peanuts cupcakes, and want to come into a space. And hey, also question, are they only coming for their bachelorette party? Do they frequent the bar any other night of the week? Any other month of the year? Or are they coming just for this one exotic event where they’re kind of fetishizing us and going, we’re only going to come for the bachelorette party. Because it’s our last night of freedom or whatever. We want to have a wild night. Why is our bar the wild night?
K Anderson 17:40
Yeah, so in defence of heterosexual women, I
J.P. Der Boghossian 17:45
I know I’m coming off like anti straight women and I have a lot of friends see that. My best friends. Some of my best friends are straight white women.
K Anderson 17:56
So I am one of those gays who very much benefited from the strength and the courage that having a sis woman next to me when going to gay bars brought. So I feel like there is definitely a place for those women, maybe not in groups and maybe not with, you know, lots of penis adornments. But still, nonetheless, there’s also something here about accepting that there’s an internalised queer phobia of people who are queer, but not giving leniency for the queer phobia that the straight women who grew up in heteronormative society are bound to have.
J.P. Der Boghossian 18:45
It’s an interesting point. And I also would love to hear more, because that’s an interesting perspective. Women supporting queer people, like your story there of going in and having that support from them as you’re navigating queer spaces. That’s an interesting take.
K Anderson 19:04
But did you? Well, anyway, let’s not make this about me. Let’s make this about you. So I’m assuming that you didn’t have straight women who gave you the courage to go out.
J.P. Der Boghossian 19:18
I think the role that my straight friends, particularly female identified, had for me were in the personal connections, the personal conversations that we would have at home over wine over coffee at work, smoke breaks. I think that’s where a lot of that support came from. But not necessarily going into queer spaces. But that may have been because I wanted to do that myself. Because I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen was I going to have a great experience and then chuck them was going to have a negative experience. And they didn’t want to have to process that All right, it was interesting for me to have a queer experience and either go positive or negative, and then unpack that with a straight friend. More likely than not identifying as female or woman than it was to be in the moment with them. At least that’s my history of it. I wanted to have the moment to myself, and I unpacked it with them later, whether it was positive or negative, awkward, or a, let’s not talk about it. I don’t let’s just move on. But to acknowledge that it happened. I think that’s also a big part right of our lives, is that we need acknowledgement that this stuff is happening, even if we don’t necessarily want to fully unpack it with them. Yeah.
K Anderson 20:44
So it sounds as though you’re a bit of an over thinker,
J.P. Der Boghossian 20:48
don’t diagnose me on this podcast, okay.
K Anderson 20:51
Is that a diagnosis? And you got treatment for that? Because if you can’t,
J.P. Der Boghossian 20:57
actually there is in there can be right for for various types of therapy. I’m thinking specifically of EMDR, which has been very beneficial for me. And really, have you tried EMDR? Yeah, I It’s because yes, I am an overthinker. You’re seeing this right now I’m sure your listeners of this particular episode are like, wow, this guy is over analysing everything, which is true. And EMDR. For me, short circuited that and got me into my body and just literally was like, nope, stop overthinking this, we’re going to get to how this is feeling in your body so that you can really process this, whatever the topic was, for the first time. So big fan, highly recommend finding a provider that you trust, maybe not for everybody, but EMDR. I’m a big fan of.
K Anderson 21:40
And it stands for eye movement, sending something.
J.P. Der Boghossian 21:43
Yes, it’s a movement dissents to zation I don’t know
K Anderson 21:49
why they do it every everyone, you should go out and try it. But anyway, okay. First of all, there is no stigma on this show about being an over thinker. No one is like putting that on you. So sorry, if that was the impression that No, I was joking with you. And secondly, it was supposed to just be a segue to actually start the conversation for why we’re here. So I brought that up. But let’s paint the picture of JP as a young man, you said before that you were, these are my words, and not the ones you used. But you were not 100%, about your sexuality, what was going on in your brain.
J.P. Der Boghossian 22:30
So I’m Armenian American, and a dual citizen of France in the US because of the the Armenian Genocide, my family escaped and had to get to, while they were in Beirut, and then they you know, there was a refugee visa to get to France. And then my mom and her sister came to the States. That’s a long way of getting to the point of when you’re the grandson and great grandson of genocide survivors, who are also part of a cultural tradition where Christianity is fundamental to the Armenian cultural identity, I mean, the first state and for one ad to adopt Christianity as its state religion, and a faith tradition that says that queerness is a choice. So for my family, and my cultural community to be making a choice not to have an Armenian wife and make Armenian babies is shocking. Like, how dare you? How dare you. And so, I grew up in that faith tradition. Also, we’re queerness. And you see this more in the Republic of Armenia, and pretty much with the conservative folks were LGBT rights and queerness are Western ideologies that are being foisted upon countries in Southwest Asia, to run them and to you know, destroy their own cultural mores. And that queer people don’t exist in Armenia. And even though I never grew up in Armenia, when you hear your people saying that, and it’s throughout the diaspora, it becomes very shaming. A malt is the word for shame, and Armenia. And you could talk to a lot of Armenians straight, and queer, who will talk about that’s one of the first words you learned. I’m not, I’m more to, that’s shameful. So, yeah, it’s, it’s, uh, I want to be I want to be mindful here because I think a lot of folks and it’s frustrating I think for me, lately when I tell this story, is that there are a lot of folks within the queer community who want to have that. Another story of Christianity, harming queer people, blah, blah, blah, just get out of the church and move on with your life. Oh, he says that. Oh, are you kidding me? Yeah. Yeah, there’s this dismissiveness of that narrative, whether it’s passive or or aggressive, it’s just sort of this Well, thank God you’re not in the church anymore. Or here’s the you know, it’s all the same story of being abused and being told you’re going to hell and blah, blah
K Anderson 24:59
blah. Can you do Get over your trauma, that kind of thing, which, you know,
J.P. Der Boghossian 25:03
yes, spent lots of money and many years, right still unpacking that trauma. But I think I want to give voice to queer Armenians. And that’s a lot of the work that I have done over the past few years of being able to address the nuances of being from a cultural tradition that has Christianity fundamentally part of the identity. I know that every Armenian is a descendant of genocide survivors, but particularly for the ones that are, there is this intersectionality of homophobia, queer phobia, that manifests itself that we have to find ourselves unpacking and navigating on a day to day basis from whenever it is whether it’s 11 years old, five years old, 55 years old, when you understand yourself as queer.
K Anderson 25:52
And so that speaks to the wider cultural context within which you grew up? What was it like within your family? Did it reinforce that or were they kind of different absolutely
J.P. Der Boghossian 26:03
reinforced that my dad’s side of the family, the American side was Wesleyan Church. And my mom’s side was actually not the Armenian Apostolic, they were the Armenian, evangelical Protestant church, lots of overlap between them. And I had a very compelling, engaging youth pastor that I was absolutely in love with. absolutely in love with, he was like a father figures slash romantic puppy crush love. And also, I need to preface this by saying like, I was never actually alone in a room with him, never had a one on one conversation with him. So there’s like none of that story as part of my story, which I don’t want to dismiss that. But every time I start this story, people are like, oh, here comes the, you know, abuse, there was that. I think the part of my story that I find traumatic, and that I’ve been unpacking a lot was that this youth pastor taught me how to have a very deep personal relationship with God. So it was less that I was being taught that homosexuality was a sin and Damned you. It was more that he taught me how to have this remarkable relationship with God. He taught me how to talk to God I did, from 11 years old when I was going through puberty and recognising that queerness was a part of me. And I had this faith in God that he was going to transform me that I was going to be a child of God, transformed into a straight person. And I had this like, ongoing conversation with him, literally, at bed during the day, he was the single most important relationship that I had as a 11 years old kid as a 15 year old kid. And so when the transformation didn’t happen, I was not so much going to hell, even though that was true, I was losing the most important relationship to me, who also happened to be the creator of the universe. So I think what ended up happening is once I realised it wasn’t going to happen, that he wasn’t going to do that. I felt abandoned, I felt I lost the relationship.
K Anderson 28:07
So how did those conversations go like for a period of time, you had this faith that he was going to turn you into a heterosexual person and that you wouldn’t have same sex desires or other like non conforming desires? Did you give him like a time cap on that, like what was in your mind about when that would happen?
J.P. Der Boghossian 28:29
I wanted to be mindful. Because a lot of what I ended up doing preface the pray away the gay movement, like I was very shocked when I saw the pray the gay movement, cuz I was like, Oh, I was already doing this. I created this when I was, you know, 12 years old. I took all of the teachings, right,
K Anderson 28:43
I wrote this syllabus,
J.P. Der Boghossian 28:45
I wrote the syllabus, like, here’s my version. Yes, being transformed into a heterosexual person was part of that. But it was also that I was going to be a full on Child of God, I was going to be his son. And what would come with that is the transformation right into heterosexuality. It wasn’t necessarily the primary, there was going to be a whole bunch of other things that were part of that. So I knew I had 1112 years old that this relationship that I’m in this person that I called the Holy Father was going to do that, right. So when you see me, you know, on videos, home videos from that time period, when you talk to family and friends who like you seemed happy, and I’m like, Yeah, of course, I was happy. I had this anxiety and this fear, but I had God there, this personal relationship, and he was going to do it. He was going to transform me. By the time I was 1617 years old, and it hadn’t happened. It wasn’t that I put a time cap on it. I was like, Okay, what am I not doing here? What’s what’s wrong? Why am I not good enough for this to happen? And then it became the conversation started to shift and became more desperate. of okay, what do I got to do here? What do I got to do here? Tell me what I need to do. And that’s when the this coldness kind of came between. And then eventually I just kind of fell Like, when I would speak, I wasn’t being heard any more that I was being cut off. It wasn’t a like, Do this by the time I’m 17. It was by the time I got to 17 I felt estranged, abandoned.
K Anderson 30:15
And it was that for a time you had that two way conversation? And then suddenly you were talking into the void, or you didn’t have that connection anymore? Is that what you’re saying? Yes. And so what was your response to that?
J.P. Der Boghossian 30:33
I left the church, I left the church. I didn’t leave behind necessarily the belief that queerness was dangerous. Well, I got that narrative right away, because I was coming of puberty, right when the virus and right when AIDS was everywhere, and that was considered divine punishment. Or, you know, I was like, Oh, well, I’m gonna get assaulted. And that may end up killing me. And I grew up in a household. And I grew up in a community on both sides of my family. So communities where if you are attacked, or killed, because you were queer, it was your own fault, you made that choice on yourself. So it was kind of liberating in the sense of, Well, I’m just gonna do my thing. Now. And that’s when I, because it was the late 90s. So that’s when we start getting the folks who will remember this, you start getting the AOL CDs, for a free trial, usually about 120 hours. And we didn’t have internet at the time, but I had a computer with a modem in it. So when I would get the CD, I would plug it in there. And I would
K Anderson 31:37
go online, we want to find out about this. But before we do, can you mimic the dial up modem sound,
J.P. Der Boghossian 31:45
just listening to these over the past week, and you can’t, you can’t because it’s this weird, not with your I don’t think with a mouth, you can’t because it starts with the numbers, you hear the dial tone, like you’re doing a fax machine, and then you kind of get this buzzy noise. And then you get this kind of like clicky noise that you hear in like electronic dance music, and then you get this fuzzy, static noise. And then it sounds like those horror movies where something’s happening. And you’re about to like, there’s something in the phone line, that’s like a ghost that’s going to come out of the machine. And then it clicks.
K Anderson 32:22
Ah, anyway, so that’s not important. AOL chat rooms. Right. So AOL was a company that I like, Was it an internet provider? Or was it more like a Yahoo, Google search engine, anything?
J.P. Der Boghossian 32:35
It was kind of its own ecosystem, if that makes sense, because I thought it was the internet. And then learned later that AOL is kind of curating the internet for you. If that makes sense. Not really. But let’s figure like right now, you log on, you know, your Wi Fi connects, and you just go anywhere you want, right? AOL was kind of an ecosystem that you were in, and they brought things to you from the internet, and you had chat rooms, and you had AOL Instant Messenger. But it wasn’t necessarily like Google Chrome, or Internet Explorer, right, that you were, or at least that’s my recollection of it. It was just kind of this AOL ecosystem that you were using to. I’m going to mix all my metaphors here. But it was kind of like, AOL was your spaceship to go through the internet. You weren’t necessarily accessing the internet? How come we don’t surf the web anymore? Because we’re in the web. It’s integrated into us. Now we are that what do they call that generation? Now? The it’s just the the newer the youngest generation right there just integrated into the internet. It’s just part of who we are. So chat
K Anderson 33:44
rooms. Talk to me about chat rooms. Do you remember the first time you were like, right? I’m gonna go into a gay chat room?
J.P. Der Boghossian 33:54
Yes. So let’s talk about first That sound was magic. Right? When I would connect to AOL. That was magic. I get in there, you’ve got mail would that the voice would come up magic. And so first. First, it was learning that there were the chat rooms. And then they were like, Oh, I wonder if there are any gay ones. And so then the next step was okay, let’s do a search to see if they’re there. Right. And then there would be a list that would pop up. And then there was like, the Okay, well, I know they’re there. That’s cool. But do I really want to go in? Okay, let’s see, you know the names of them. And that’s when I learned things like M for m. And also the difference between like a big M, uppercase M and a lowercase m. Oh, well, right. I don’t know this. Oh, yeah. Like a lowercase m is for like a younger guy. Oh, and uppercase M is like just a guy.
K Anderson 34:45
Just a guy that will that make sense? Yep. Just a guy.
J.P. Der Boghossian 34:49
And then there was also capacity in the rooms, which was weird, like you had to connect but if there were too many people, or was that Max, then you couldn’t get it. So, as I recall, there weren’t any chat rooms specific to the geographic region that I was in. In Northwest lower Michigan. There was a Michigan one, but it was primarily folks from the south southern part of the state like Detroit area. And when you got connected, and you were able to get in, it was just this big massive Chat, where all of the people like you’d use your name, and then you would, you know, you see what they were typing. So first, I would find one, the Michigan what was the first one I went into, I think it was like, and for AM, I was trying to remember this and getting here today, it was like M for M Michigan. But you could get in there. And then you could just read write what everybody was talking about. And I thought I was gonna get in there and there’d be like, conversations about being gay. No, was all about sex. It was all about hooking up. Sometimes some very graphic things that people were talking about, right, which was fantasising, like what I’m going to do to you right? Or what I want to happen to me. So you could there was that going on. So you could watch that main chat. And then there was the, you could click on people on the left side of the screen, you could see everybody that was in there, and you could click on them and then start having a private conversation with them. And eventually, what I noticed was is that the main conversations were filthy. And they would also get very, there wasn’t as much happening there. What people were then doing, in terms of hookups were They were then looking at the left side of the screen, and then just trying to connect with people that way. So
K Anderson 36:37
So then your first time in there. I’m assuming you had to pick a username. Do you remember what that username was?
J.P. Der Boghossian 36:45
I do I do was
K Anderson 36:50
you have to remember, I’m 70 We don’t need a preamble.
J.P. Der Boghossian 36:54
It was Blue Monday, 1601. And Blue Monday was this cover of a new order song that a band in the late 90s called orgy had put out and I was absolutely obsessed with the song. Like Repeat, repeat, repeat listening to it. And then 16 I was a theatre nerd. And 1601 was the year that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and I was obsessed with that play as well. So I took two things that I was obsessed with, and they put them into a username.
K Anderson 37:25
I mean, everyone else did that as well like big penis 69. And he also was just a little more cerebral, I guess.
J.P. Der Boghossian 37:32
K Anderson 37:37
And so did you learn the lay of the land quite quickly and start private conversations with people that were you just kind of observing and aghast at how sexual everything was
J.P. Der Boghossian 37:47
observing it first. And I think the Michigan one was the first one I went into. And then I started to I was like, I wanted to see what other ones were like. And I was pretty, I was pretty broad, right? And what you’re looking at, because you’re, you know, I was basically a voyeur. Right at that point, I was just trying out a bunch of different sites, including, like, you know, regular ones that were just about sex and other ones that were about kink. And at first, it was just, you know, reading what was going on there. And then sometimes I would jump into the main chat, and put some things and people don’t know your age, right. But you put things in there that I think, you know, some of the guys would be like, Oh, what’s happening here, right? And then you start getting like the one on one messages in in AOL Instant Messenger, that we’re always like, you know, what’s your COC size? You know, top or bottom? You know, can you send me a pic, which people don’t understand how hard that was? Back then. Because I didn’t have a scanner. So I remember at one point, I went out and bought like this little round Logitech camera, that you could plug into the computer and it would sit on top of your monitor. There was this one day, this is my worst story of this. It was after school, I thought nobody was home. Nobody was home. And so I’m thought oh, I’m gonna take a you know, naughty picture of myself. But how the camera is angled. So I kept trying to like put it and I’m like half naked. And but still, like, you know, underwear on and I’m trying to find the right angle to take this picture. But you have to be mice are still connected to cords. Right? So you had like this weird? Like, how do I take this picture, but stand far enough back to get it? And so I’m like standing there in my underwear when suddenly I hear the door open, like the front door open, like the family are, like, half naked when we make except for my underwear. And what do I do? And so I immediately like, all four because I’ve started to learn like keyboard commands. I’m like, Oh, 404 Close out AOL and I grabbed my clothes and I run into the living room. And quickly like, you know, I’m fumbling trying to get dressed again. And then come around the corner and my brother was like, why are you? What’s wrong with you? Like, why are you out of breath and I’m like, nothing, nothing is you know, immediate He tried to shut down the conversation and leave me alone. But yeah, so sending pictures nobody understands today I don’t think how lucky we are about how simple it is to take a picture of yourself to know send it through something like Grindr just
K Anderson 40:15
don’t appreciate it when it’s easy, do you?
J.P. Der Boghossian 40:20
I do. I very much appreciate it because I all I can think about is that stupid Logitech camera and then for years thereafter, because even like scanners, when I finally did get a scanner, they weren’t great. The images would come out grainy,
K Anderson 40:35
but see, this is something arty about that graininess. Yeah, I don’t like photos, where you can see my paws, quite like these mysterious ones. But you can put filters on. Yeah, but then it’s really obvious that you’ve put a filter on to this, this is where the problem lies. It’s when like, everyone has shed technology. It’s like, well, sorry, that’s it shit technology. But when everyone’s got good technology, it’s like, oh, I just hate myself. I put a filter on it. Anyway, I should remind myself, this isn’t about me. This is about you. So what was it like then what was that feeling of connecting with other queer people? gay man, I should say.
J.P. Der Boghossian 41:14
I was and continue to be a very emotional person. In the beginning when I meet a person that I might woman a relationship now and have been for 11 years. But even that, like, I needed an emotional connection. First, I needed something there. I was really bad. I was really bad at like, casual sex. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. It was bad. It was awkward. If any of those guys remember like, and they’re like, remember me and hear this. They’re gonna be like, Oh, yeah. She was bad at sex. Like it was awkward. It was just
K Anderson 41:49
J.P. Der Boghossian 41:50
are, you know, like, girl.
K Anderson 41:54
Wait, okay, we’ve leapt from just talking to people on a chat room to having sex with them. Were you just like, bang? Let’s go.
J.P. Der Boghossian 42:03
Oh, no, no. So I guess where I’m going with that? Is that the guys that immediately we’re you know, are you a top? Are you a bottom? Like, you know, how big is your cock? Like all of that stuff? Just? No, I would immediately like just dive off of those close those conversations. When I was looking for were folks that I could just talk to right? Did you see this movie? Did you see Titanic? Did you see Shakespeare in Love? Like, what did you think of it? Stuff like that, right? And then like, you know, books, or you know, I wanted to have those conversations, and some guys would stick with me and have them. But it was also very clear what they wanted to get to. Right. Were conversations about sex, which some nights I was about. I was like, Okay, fine. Yeah, of course. And other nights. I wasn’t. So yeah, it’s where I AOL chat rooms is where I technically feel like I became a writer. Because I started to create a persona, I started to create narratives, both in the regular sex chat rooms, and then even in the kink related ones, where I would create this persona of myself, and the stories and then I would write them right in the chat. And sometimes I would be ready for them. I knew what I was going to talk about. And sometimes I would just improvise on the fly. But that’s really where I obviously like, sometimes it was fantasy, right? They’re like, you know, what do you want to do? Like, you know, if we were able to meet in person, and so I would just be honest in those regards, but sometimes I was like, No, I’m gonna create a whole fantasy here. That’s maybe not totally representative of me, but
K Anderson 43:35
and the other side of that coin, when you have a really good imagination, and you’re very creative, you’re also very good at projecting and coming up with narratives for the people that you’re talking to. Did you fall madly in love with anyone who turned out to be nothing like the expectation you placed on them?
J.P. Der Boghossian 43:55
Maybe I say maybe because I never actually got to meet in person. There was one guy in Chicago. We chatted a lot. And I was gonna go to a college in Chicago after I graduated, and then every all my plans fell through. So I never actually got to meet him. There was another guy in New York, that we chatted frequently, but never got to meet him either. So they could have been totally not what they said they were. And I just didn’t end up knowing that ultimately. But
K Anderson 44:29
isn’t it interesting that they’re still residing in your brain? These people that you’ve never ever met? I have that as well. There was a guy I I tried to look him up actually, a few years ago. I remember he was in Canada, and his email address was something like turkey firstname.lastname@example.org or something. I have no idea what that actually means. But we had this like romantic while romantic is you know, like How romantic can you be when you’re 16? But like this, this full on blown like plan of what we were going to do and when we were going to meet and how everything was going to happen. And then obviously, that didn’t happen. But like 20 years later, I’m still like, Yeah, that guy exists. But so, who did you make
J.P. Der Boghossian 45:22
out of the chat rooms?
K Anderson 45:24
Nobody? Nobody. But did they give you an increased confidence or an increased understanding of yourself?
J.P. Der Boghossian 45:32
Yes, in the sense that I was beginning to understand a radically what I was attracted to, and what I wanted to try, and then what I didn’t want to try, and also conversations that I would respond to quickly, and others that I wouldn’t, you know, and these conversations still exist on Grindr. Right, right, show me a picture of your dick, you know, what, what do you want to, you know, breed me, all of this type of stuff, doesn’t get me going. Didn’t then I don’t want to say doesn’t now because, you know, I’m partnered and have been, are throttled and have been. So I actually haven’t been on a dating app for 11 years, which is a relief. But at the time, you know, none of those types of conversations prior, my throttle ever got me going, I needed to have some sort of a emotional connection with them. And I learned that right away from the from the chat rooms,
K Anderson 46:23
so like to win you over, they’d have to be like, Hey, did you know that Hamlet was written in 16? Or one?
J.P. Der Boghossian 46:29
Yes. Yes. If they could also talk to me about which film version of Hamlet they preferred? Or if they like, who is their favourite Hamlet? had they seen Hamlet, like on Broadway or local production? Or, you know, in the West End, or, you know, in Stratford? Oh, if they could give me some type of like a tidbit of history or a trivia about Shakespeare. So,
K Anderson 46:55
so if they are responding to the adaptation question, is there a correct answer?
J.P. Der Boghossian 47:02
Yes, the Kenneth brown Oh, one from 1995 96.
K Anderson 47:06
Listeners, if you are interested in winning over JPS heart, and you’re going to have to burn up a pie. Right. So So then if you could go back in time, and see JP in front of the computer, frantically refreshing, scanning the user names of all the men in the chat room that he just entered? What advice would you give him?
J.P. Der Boghossian 47:38
The thing about those questions is that I don’t want to go back in time and give him advice and leave him there. I want to go back in time and drag him into the time machine with me and bring him to 2022. Like it sucked, it sucks navigating that. And if I could go back and get him out of there using whatever rules of time travel Marvel Universe Back to the Future and get him out. I would totally get him out. Why? Because there are things available today that didn’t exist then to help process in a healing way of what I was navigating and wasn’t navigating, or choosing not to navigate because it was scary. Yeah. So one piece of advice that I would give because I knew I was gonna go to, to LA to an acting Academy was that there was a queer Armenian organisation, the gay and lesbian Armenian society. Galus is that society who I’m blanking, Oh, that’s terrible, anyway, in Glendale, California, and I would have totally encouraged him, younger JP to connect with that organisation. Now knowing in retrospect, that it existed, to get him that information and tell them to go to it and connect in that queer Arminius navigate that specific space of those identities conflicting with each other. And I think that was ultimately lacking. That was where I, in my 30s created the queer Armenian library, because because I wanted to, after not seeing myself represented in anything in terms of Armenian literature or in queer media, that I went on this quest to put it all together, right, so that if someone types into Google, gay, Armenian, lesbian, Armenian, queer, Armenian, here’s the site. And now you can read novels, you can read nonfiction, you can read memoirs, there’s films in there, so that you can the current generations and the next generations can have something to see themselves and to help them navigate the space. And it’s also why I created ultimately because obviously, you can see I’m a fan of narrative and where I started to create queer narratives about myself, and what I liked, and what I projected and hope to be starting in those AOL chat rooms, to now be running a podcast. You know, this queer book saved my life. I’m having queer people talk about literature and narrative. Yes, books, but also narrative that saved you that had a healing aspect in some regard. I think that ultimately, was maybe what I was, as I’m thinking about it with you right now, that maybe is what I was looking for back then was those folks. And that emotional connections that I was seeking, that could help me navigate healing processes to become my own, in a way that was affirming both as an individual emotionally, spiritually sexually, to stop being awkward in bed. I think that’s what, what young JP needed. And those resources weren’t necessarily available to them in 1998, and 1999. So that’s what I mean by if I could go back in time machine, I would want to get him out of there, and connect him now. To those things that didn’t necessarily exist then.
K Anderson 51:09
Do you have any memories of AOL chat rooms? Or do you have memories of other queer spaces or places that you want to share? Well, if you do, I would love to hear from you. So please get in touch. I want to create the biggest online record of people’s memories and stories of queer clubbing and accessing spaces and figuring shit out about themselves. Go to love spaces podcast.com and find the section share a lost space and tell me all about what it is you got up to. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where my handle is lost spaces pod. Find out more about JP by visiting his various homes on the internet. He has a personal website, a website for the queer Armenian library. And there is also one for this queer book saved my life and I’ll make sure to share all of them in the show notes for this programme. And also make sure that you go and have we listen to this queer book saved my life, which is JPS podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribed, left a review on your podcast platform of choice or just told people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to I am K Anderson and you have been listening to the last spaces. Thank you for getting it this far in the episode. Bye