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The Secret Life Of An Alter: The Art Of Online Exhibitionism And Anonymity

Don't be quick to write off the nudes and hookups as deviant behavior—dive into the rabbit-hole and see for yourself
by Ria Esguerra | Apr 22, 2018
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Log on to Twitter and you’ll instantly notice the undeniable: the Twitterverse feels like a completely different world from the physical one or even the social media bubbles of Facebook and Instagram. While scrolling through your timeline, it’s not unlikely that you’ll stumble upon content that you probably didn’t expect to come across. This is due to the platform’s unfiltered nature, coupled with its strong culture of sharing. And if you happen to follow the right people, you may even come across a few “dubious” faceless accounts engaging in questionably “deviant” behavior.

These are alter accounts and their content ranges from tantalizing silhouettes, titillating stripteases, no fuss handies and blowjobs, to straight up penetration—things that are bound to offend some sensibilities, so they generally cover or hide their faces. You’ve probably watched some of them and thought they were pretty hot, but we’re here to tell you that this story goes so much deeper than accessible amateur porn.

Alter is a community built on exhibitionism, voyeurism, and hookup culture. Its members—alters, as they call themselves—create accounts that are for the most part, anonymous, and post sexually explicit images and videos that toe the line between erotica and pornography. It’s primarily dominated by gay men, but that’s not to say that there are no female alters, as 25-year-old Amanda* proves.

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There are no clear rules for being an alter. As Amanda explains: “A lot of people’s definitions of Alter centers on anonymity. If you shed the anonymity, hindi ka na part namin. I don’t see it that way, but a lot of alters do. I feel like for you to be considered an alter, you have to either produce your own content or nagko-consume ka ng content namin.”

Amanda produces her own content and is one of the more popular female alters despite only putting up her Twitter account in 2017. “I started my alter kasi I used to have self-esteem issues. Attention and validation ang currency sa Alter,” Amanda says.

There’s a sense of liberation in knowing that you can express your sexuality freely without fear of being condemned. And as Amanda declares, “If we lived in a world where I wouldn’t be judged, I would much rather be Amanda. Amanda is everything I want to be, ha ha."

Sa Alter din kasi, aside from thriving on anonymity, nagfo-flourish siya dahil sa mismong kawalan ng rules na set in stone—na you can do whatever the fuck you want and for other alters to police you about what you do, off talaga yun,” Amanda adds.

Despite this lawlessness, there are still some practices that are greatly frowned upon by alters, which include, outing other alters’ identities, sharing privately sent nudes without consent, and content involving minors.

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Looking at alter follower counts, the highest to date is in the hundred thousands. And as Assistant Professor at the UP Diliman Department of Broadcast Communication Data Tolentino-Canlas, who also specializes in New Media Studies, observes, this presents a conflict given alters’ professed value for anonymity. “They’re using it as a platform to practice radical sexuality. On the one hand, you wonder if they do want to be seen. Where do you draw the line between anonymity and fame, then?” Tolentino-Canlas asks. “The more you post, the more ‘dangerous’ it becomes for your identity,” Amanda concedes. “Pero iba kasi ang gratification na makukuha mo. Hindi mo makakaila na if you post a picture that a lot of people like, nakakatuwa.”

Tolentino-Canlas says that having anonymity changes how individuals present themselves on the Internet from how they are in their everyday lives. “This part of the web has become, more than expression, a space for experimentation for alters since whatever they say or do on the Internet has no immediate consequence to their ‘real’ lives.”

This is why the Alter community had very polarizing opinions about how they should handle this interview. “Super naging issue nitong pag-agree ko na magpainterview at mag-pose rito sa FHM,” Amanda confesses. “Maraming supportive, pero marami ring nagalit. Nagkaroon ng pulling of ranks na parang, ‘Bakit hindi ako yung in-approach?’ o kaya, ‘Oh, the older alters wouldn’t approve of this.’ This issue made the quiet rivalries come out. A lot of gay alters were offended by my participation in this article. They started calling me a famewhore—a slur na binabato towards alters that actively seek fame outside of the community."

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“It’s petty, but I understand their reservations about doing this because this kind of media coverage could greatly endanger members of the community by inadvertedly inviting prying eyes of outsiders, which has happened before,” Amanda confessed. “I think naging strong lang yung reaction kasi we felt helpless. We don’t want to be exposed to the public, but because of the nature of our growing community, we really can’t [do anything about it]. I accepted this interview so that the community [through my input] could have some control over how we are represented in mainstream media. We didn‘t have the same opportunity before when a news program aired a segment on us. They made it seem like Alter was purely pornographic in nature and the tone of the article was also very derogatory. We just didn’t want that to happen again.”

Exhibitionism is a term that Amanda uses to describe her activities as an alter, but she clarifies, “we’re not exhibitionists in the sense na flashers kami, ganyan. I feel like Alter has a lot more depth than that. And definitely walang excitement from the risk of being caught dito sa Alter. Personally, I feel like I benefit from being an alter because it allows me to express my sexuality in an artistic way—in a way na hindi ako na-o-objectify by other people’s terms. There’s this misconception about Alter na it’s very self-serving, and a big part of it is, pero we do some good din,” Amanda adds.

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Amanda recalls how she’s actually had the chance to play SexEd teacher to clueless followers on a number of occasions: “I used to have my Curious Cat account (an app where you can ask a person questions while maintaining anonymity) open and I would get a lot of questions about sex. It’s simple things like, ‘If we had sex na hindi siya nag-condom, buntis na ba ako?’ Ang dami sa kabataan natin na hindi nila alam yun tapos sa’kin pa nila natututunan, so parang Alter is useful in that way to the rest of society. Kakulangan kasi yan ng educational system natin eh. Like, I shouldn’t have to be telling everyone to use a condom all the time.”

Coming from an exclusive Catholic school, one can only imagine the judgment that Amanda had to go through having been discovered numerous times. “Nahahanap ng mga high school batchmates ko yung alter account ko and chini-chismis nila ako na, ‘O, may batchmate pala tayong porn star!’” she shares. “At this point, I’m desensitized to that kind of mocking already, pero siyempre may fear pa rin of my family finding out. Kasi kapag nalaman nila yun, they’ll kick me out of the house.”

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Yet, even with those risks, Amanda still keeps coming back to Alter. For her—and most members of the community—“it fulfills a complex need to be accepted and understood. Alter is where people show kung sino sila sa loob,” Amanda says. “My alter is something that’s a very real part of me that I can’t express anywhere else. It’s not that I’m hiding behind something. It’s like a hyperreal version of me. Heightened lang yung ibang aspects— specifically yung exhibitionism and self-love."

“Even before I joined alter, I used to send nudes to my boyfriend—we’re in an open relationship—and the guys I flirted with on Tinder. And that’s when I realized that I really enjoyed sending them nudes because of the validation I would get in return. I loved their positive reactions so when I discovered there was such a thing as alter, I knew it was something I would enjoy doing. Isipin mo, imbis na isa-isa ko pang ise-send sa mga nilalandi ko yung nudes ko, ili-link ko na lang sa kanila Twitter ko,” Amanda says.

Apart from gaining a massive following of horny men, Amanda also attracted female followers because of her content. “Marami ring babaeng alters ang gumawa ng accounts dahil na-discover nila yung account ko,” Amanda shares. “A lot of my followers project onto me their beliefs of body positivity and healthy sexuality. Admittedly, I do talk about these issues in my tweets and they do come up in the visuals you’ll find in my nude photos, pero I want to stress na hindi yun yung dahilan kung bakit ko siya ginagawa... mahilig lang ako maghubad.”

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Now, if you had the chance to let out that hyperreal version of you without having to worry about the repercussions, who would you become?

*Name has been changed

Photography Ria Regino of Fat Cat Studio

This story was originally published in the April 2018 issue of FHM Philippines. 
Minor edits were made by the editors. 

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