Finding the Internet and Another Family:
Quite a few years ago, I found myself cruising a much younger Internet with my top of the line 9400baud modem built into my trusty IBM Aptiva 486dx2 that my mother made possible. I learned really quickly that if you looked in the right places, you could find like-minded people no matter how much you thought you were all alone. It was a place I could go to get away from my everyday life and meet others who would become friends without ever laying eyes on each other. Friendships which were not to be based on appearance, race, creed, sexual orientation, wealth or even attraction. It would become a place where friendships were born of the heart and grew being fed by getting to know the "Thoughts" typed out by others and nothing else. A place where if you decided not to hide who you are inside, not only was it freeing but helped stave off depression from always pretending to be who you aren't. Granted, this also leaves you open for deception, and at times heartache, but overall a place to put the gloves down, take the mask off and let people judge you for what's in your mind and in your heart, based on absolutely nothing else. If someone couldn't handle the fact that you are gay or that you have confusing identity issues from your past then, they are in the wrong place; not you. A welcomed oasis having grown up in the 70's and 80's where being different was less accepted and coming from a messed up background more normal than should ever be allowed and something to be buried at all costs.
Why "The Fort"?"
tiac.net/users/tazzy017, #thefort, and JEFFSFORT.COM
In 1995, I created my very first website. It was a two-page site which had not much more than an "About Me" section on it so if in chat someone asked me about myself, I could send them to "My Site", which at the time I thought was really clever. (Who knew...) Later, I would add a third page for my nephew and because it became our online home, I decided I wanted to bring everyone in my life who had become family into to it. To honor the memory of my previous home on IRC "#thefort" and its founder Alex who had passed away, I would rename our personal website to "Jeff's Fort" and begin adding family and friends to it one page at a time. I didn't know at the time that it would take on three very distinct roles in my life over the years. At first, it became an online hub for my surrogate family. People who meant the world to me at a time when I really didn't like who I was or who I had become as an adult (having survived a pretty messed up past). I didn't feel worthy of their love and kindness but, at times I was able to draw from the bad parts of my past to attempt to watch over those who I was close to so they would never go through the things I had. I learned that I was happy with "Uncle Jeff" as the kids in our family used to call me because of who I could be for them, which became my reason to continue on when my own family stopped relying on me to be "Big Brother, Oldest Son/Man of the House" which was both a relief and a source of my loss of purpose. Years later, I would upset that mix in a poor attempt to define who I was based on some pretty distorted principles that I learned at an extremely young age. It would be a dark cloud that would hang over me for years to follow. Today, I understand how I failed those I cared the most about but, the damage is done and I did a pretty good job of burning those bridges. They are not in my life today as I retreated into my own world of self-destruction for a time and having survived it, am thankful for the time I was able to call them family. In my heart, they will always be just that. My love for them will never fade.
achristopher.org/jeffsfort, JEFFSFORT.US (a.k.a. THE FORT - Stories and More) and JEFFSFORTBOARD.COM
Just as work on my personal site slowed to a crawl, I moved the little bit of writing I had done and posted onto a new site that was based in the online family I had been lucky enough to find. Following the lead of authors such as Ted Louis, Comicality, Gary Q, ACFan... I accepted a place at the table with a family that a man named August Christopher was determined to foster an online home for. Unhappy with a free bulletin board I had started using so a few of us could interact with our readers and share fan comments and feedback, he purchased the license and server space for a new online forum and subdomains for us all to have our own space to develop in. The whole idea was intended to feature Gary Q and his Geocities site "Gary's Garden" but, in setting up the forum, he named it "jeffsfortboard" after the one we were using that I had re-purposed. The name would stick for years to come, even as social media started to replace the interactions you could find in online communities. Today, despite all of our members that have disappeared from the web or have sadly passed away, "Fort Family Nest and Retreat" as it was known, may have been way past its heyday but, it still stood as a living reminder of a time when we all spent obnoxious amounts of time abusing our keyboards and telling stories. Four of us who became its protectors (Myself, ACFan, The Story Lover & Akeentia) to this day are still very much a family and I think August would be proud that we maintained his standards. (Friendly sites, Good literature and we sold out nothing to maintain it.) The forum has since been replaced by "The Fort Family Community" which allows visitors to our community one stop to see news and newest chapters from all the hosting sites in our community.
Why is it Still Here?
August of 2009 marks the beginning of one of the harshest tests the Fort Family would ever face thanks to me, and one I had honestly expected to end everything that we had built.
For now, to make a very long story short; I left the web and my life behind me for just over six years because I never addressed the distorted beliefs that I learned when I was way too young to know any better. I grew up believing that from the age of 8 on through my teen years, I chose to view images that the law states a child should not be allowed to view. I chose to act out sexually which of course a child should not be allowed to do and as I got older, I learned the only bad that came from those beliefs was that I was somehow responsible for an adult taking advantage of my want to act out what I saw and had experienced as a way to be liked and accepted as I had been taught and learned to enjoy what had been happening. In the end, I crossed the boundaries of someone I really cared about and for the first time in my life, realized that the kind of damage that had been done to me in my youth could lead me to believe that some of that damage was a normal part of being a teenager. Hell, some of what I was encouraged to look at as abuse from my own past were what I considered some of my fondest memories involving older teens or other peers who I admired very much and still do. I hated that our contact seemed to slowly stop being as important to them as it had remained to me. Never considering this as a part of what I hated most about myself because I knew I had to hide it from my friends and family or be seen as a "fag" and shunned because most didn't seem to feel the same, I left a path of destruction as an adult in the presence of a teenager who reminded myself of a younger me, that could have been avoided had I considered that I was creating the same inappropriate situation that caused me to use bad judgment as an adult. He reminded me of myself as a teen and I was fostering the exact same situation I wanted with the adult who ended out hurting me when I was only 10. I just swore that I would never do anything to hurt him and at the time, to me; that made my decision ok. I put a close friend in a position to be forced to humiliate himself publicly and possibly trust another adult who would have no problem hurting him because I taught him it was ok, I also destroyed the relationship I had with my own son that had finally started to heal from years of distance by not being honest with him and for abruptly disappearing and, I came pretty close to permanently killing the last connections to the rest of my own family.
In the amount of time it took for me to get my life on a better track, "The Fort" did something I didn't expect, it continued to be a "Fort". (Adding a "Nest" which is a really cool hat tip to the author who originally was the base from which our family comes from. Wish I had thought to do that actually ;) The forum got moved from jeffsfortboard.com to fortfamilyforums.com where it is today and the jeffsfort.us domain would be lost to us. By the time I finally found my way back to a family online that shocked me with their support and understanding, I learned that my online family safeguarded the work that we all put in and in the process, asked me to continue as an active member of our still strong community of readers and authors. I never expected to find a home to come to and I am very grateful that I surrounded myself with people who cared enough to want to hear from my mouth just where I was failing back then, and allow me to attempt to lay new groundwork on my "new" website with the "old" name :) Back where I started, jeffsfort.com (as well as jeffsfort.net now) was mine again as a gift from my family. It is my intention to use that gift to share what I have learned from all of this and to get that message out there that when I hated who I was and the fact that I became attracted to teenaged boys when I was still in my pre-teen years and thanks in part to being abused physically by adult males as well as a violent event which would scar me for life, would never look at adult males without anxiety and the memories of fear and pain. My attraction would never mature with me, causing me to feel horribly out of place unless an adolescent male accepted me on what appeared to be even ground. To me, it starts to make sense and I have learned that it is far from being an uncommon occurrence. Which is frightening in all honesty.
This site is my third attempt at building an Internet retreat of sorts. Packed with dreams and good friends, out on the net as an invitation for all those looking to share a smile, shed a tear, heal an open wound and do it with the help of people who genuinely care. In my time on the "Information Super Highway", I have met quite a few people who have touched my life. People who have been with me through the good and the bad. This site has always been and will always be my tribute to them, and so many more. Thanks to the Fort Family, I have the chance to finish what I started and maybe even help in an area that I never knew was possible. I can't undo the poor decisions and mistakes I've made or, hurt I've been responsible for. I also know I can never expect forgiveness for it all but, I do pledge to have a positive impact moving forward in a much healthier way. Something I had intended in the beginning but this time, I won't do it by hiding the real "Me" or based on the reasoning built by an 8-year-old in a bad situation. In doing so, I intend that message to surface in my writing, beginning with the completion of my first story after all these years of sitting unfinished. I learned what I needed to learn in order to hopefully be a better person moving forward and I hope that message reaches those who need to hear it through the work posted right here.
Thank you for reading and for giving me a reason to continue to be me.
- Jeff -