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“Do you remember what it felt like for a relative stranger to be like: ‘I see you’? It felt like cartwheeling down a moving walkway, going with the flow and yet still sticking the landing.But developing a sexual identity was as difficult as choosing a screen name.

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There seem to be no limits to the sexual explicitness we consume in music and TV and film.AIM created “a safe space,” genderqueer writer and performer RE Katz tells me. mostly faking, some experimenting, performance.” That performance — complete with the costume of a font and the character of a username — was an attempt at being clever or sexy, at crafting a self. : The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails” and the Twitter account @Your Away Message.Katz credits AIM as helping shape their own gender expression today. The technology was new, but it wasn’t that different from what adolescents have been doing for ages. “I think it helped young women feel like they could come into their own in a lot of ways,” Moss says. In class, I was the person with the right answer — or the person constantly competing with the other smart kid who said it first.“Teens used the service to flirt through text, engaging in a form of written flirtation that looked a lot more like letter-writing practices decades before,” says Danah Boyd, author of “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.” That written flirtation allowed young women to construct their identities as carefully as their away messages. But online, my friends and I who fashioned ourselves as budding intellectuals who didn’t need to always talk like characters in a Woody Allen movie.We planned Halloween costumes and epic homecoming sleepovers.In 2001, I was 16, sitting at the computer in the family room when my best friend, Marla M12, found me on AIM.

I hid a smirk with a frown so my mom wouldn’t wonder what I was up to — at that moment, trying not to be turned on.

Would I be bold enough to look him in the eyes and say: I like you?

Two people kiss in front of the Eiffel Tower at sunset on March 5, 2014 in Paris.

As Boyd notes, “AIM came on the scene at the height of the first large moral panic around online sexual predators and so the media and many parents panicked about the service, deeply frustrating teens.” We heard stories of women and girls who got raped or murdered by guys they met in chat rooms, lechery that now seems like prelude to the . “You had middle school students getting brave,” Moss says, “asking one another questions about sex, experimenting with language, acting in ways they knew to be inappropriate for school.” For young women who were told that their pleasure was inappropriate, the opportunity to develop a sexual identity online was invaluable.

Our response to these horror stories was to be judgmental. AIM helped us become everything our screen names promised we could be: clever, corny, simultaneously over-the-top and understated expressions of ourselves.

Today, such requests seem tame compared to the sort of sexual coercion marking Harvey Weinstein and other sexual harassers.