Alex West (@post_prufrock) on the Freedom to be Genuine on Twitter

alex_westAlex West is a millennial, does cancer research, and absolutely loves making friends on the web. Also he would like to be added to The Awls Slack channel. In lieu of plugs, he’d like to redirect readers to a friend’s staggering medical bills. This week, West spoke to me about three of his favorite tweets. We talked about experiencing sexuality through apps, the ethics of screenshots, and good tweets being better than bad ones.

West: Grindr is the most absurd and entertaining communications platform available. Not being able to use it is the worst thing about being straight, I imagine. Nothing is more terrible or spectacular than a bunch of horny guys in an open messaging system. A lot of my favorite tweets come from Grindr screen caps but I think this is the best. This Brazilian guy sent me several pictures of his extraordinarily crooked penis and my immediate instinct was “wow that’s the most crooked dick I’ve ever seen, I have to figure out exactly how crooked that dick is.” So I did, and let him know in case he didn’t already, though honestly I don’t know how you could have a dick like that and not wonder at some point how bent your dick is. I wasn’t expecting it to take off like it did, but I guess dicks are funny. Actually, I know dicks are funny because it was extraordinarily difficult picking three of my tweets for this feature that didn’t involve dicks. I told myself this needed to be the only one.

In your experience, have dating apps been more fruitful when it comes to dating/sex or, like, “having a laugh?” Is there a notable difference between Grindr/Tinder/etc when it comes to this?

I guess it depends on how you go into it, right? I’m not seriously concerned with dating (or sex) right now, but these apps have never been purely about that for me. These apps have been how I experience my sexuality ever since I first came out to myself, and well before I ever had any sort of sexual contact with a man. I actually came out to myself because of Tinder lol. I was 20 when I first made a profile and at the beginning it asks if you’re interested in men or women, and at first I picked women! I quickly realized something was wrong and started over 15 minutes later.

Right now I’m on Grindr to bolster my self-worth (love getting compliments from strangers) and experience, however superficially, what actual gay men are like in the world right now. For me it functions like a tether to my queerness. I guess that’s why I find it such a generous source of humor, because gay men are so often actively awful, especially on Grindr and Scruff where there are a lot of vague assumptions about why everyone else is there (which, as an aside, I’d say is diminishing). It’s not like I log onto these apps solely to make fun of people (and honestly the amount of time I do is proportionally minuscule), but spending a modicum of time on them will demonstrate that they are inescapably hilarious.

Do you feel conflicted at all about posting screenshots of messages with strangers, and where do you draw the line on that, if at all?

I’d say every screenshot is its own judgment call. Even though Grindr is mostly anonymous, I crop names and faces out of most everything I post. Same thing on Tinder and Scruff. Beyond that, it’s a question of “Is this funny or am I just being mean or rude for no reason?” I’d also say that I’m making fun of myself in many of the screenshots I post, or else I’m trying to make some negative aspect of the community (femmephobia, toxic masculinity, body shaming, etc.) the target more so than the person who manifested it. That’s the mark I’m trying to hit.

I love that you can see from the timestamps how much time you spent on the math for this. What’s the most time you’ve spent on a tweet?

Lol. This actually wasn’t the longest. Once I spent upwards of 45 minutes carefully cropping stills of Winona Ryder’s face during the Stranger Things BAFTA acceptance speech for what is now my header photo. It was clearly worth it. These are outliers, though; most everything I tweet is written in the space of a couple minutes like @god intended.

I tweeted this during the Patriots’ Super Bowl comeback but it’s unfortunately quite evergreen. Hell is real and this *vague gesture* is the proof.

Do you typically prefer writing topical tweets or evergreen ones? Is that the same as what your prefer reading?

The narcissist in me says that I prefer writing evergreen tweets because they have greater staying power and require less context to appreciate, and therefore have a greater likelihood of getting me follows, attention, etc. The realist in me knows that this is a lie, though. There are no truly evergreen tweets, they all age badly. Every single tweet is going to look gauche at some point in the future! John Herrman wrote an essay on exactly this back when he was editing The Awl. Twitter is this gigantic context machine, but context is constantly shifting or being eroded so tweeting is really just a way of documenting our disconnectedness for future embarrassment. To answer your question I’ll just say that I prefer writing and reading good tweets as opposed to bad ones.

I just think about this tweet a lot and it always makes me laugh. It’s stupid. It’s great.

What are subjects do you never tire of tweeting about?

Honestly the only things I’ll never stop tweeting are mid-tier media criticism and praise for Portland-based ambient-folk artist Grouper. Maybe my thoughts on being a hot dumb jock too, we’ll see.

How similar is your voice on Twitter to your voice IRL?

I’m much more shy and guarded in real life, I guess that comes with the socialization of a repressed gay. In this sense it’s fair to say that my voice on Twitter is actually more genuine than my voice IRL because I’m not constantly checking myself. It’s the only place I feel I can express every part of myself, especially my queerness, as much as I want without having to worry about toxic masculinity, homophobia, etc. The assumption I get to make when I tweet is that my audience and I are basically at the same level and we’re all friends, which is a level freedom I’ve rarely experienced IRL. That’s what makes meeting someone from Twitter such a relief, it’s like “thank god I don’t have to stress about whether or not you’re a bad person. I already know I like you.”

Jenny Nelson lives, writes, and performs in Brooklyn.

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