Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt

Leftovers: An E-mail to the Microsoft GLBT employee mailing list

[Someone on the internal MS GLBT mailing list wondered out loud today why it is that Capitol Hill, Seattle's traditionally gay part of town, seems to be distinctly less gay as of late. I wrote this up and sent it as a reply.]

> I understand that we are a diverse group of people – linked by our sexual orientation.
> But has our diversity suddenly developed over the past 7 years, which
> led us to move away from Capitol Hill? Just curious.

My $0.02: The gay community has gone online. I've seen the progression myself over the last twenty years or so [hard to believe it's been that long]... here's an off-the-cuff summing up. Keep in mind of course that I'm a Bear, and as such this link is inextricably bound up with my personal experience - I'm guessing most of you would write our shared history a little bit differently. :)

1. E-mail [1970s]
2. USENET [1983: net.motss, renamed soc.motss in 1987]
3. Fidonet [1983: if I remember correctly, founder Tom Jennings is gay]
4. E-mail becomes fairly common, at least in academia [early 1980s - I was]
5. BBSes surface - e.g. PC Bear's Lair BBS [1987] in the Bay Area - and gay newspapers start listing them [mid-1980s]
6. The Bears Mailing List is created [1988]
7. AppleLink Personal Edition debuts [1988]...
8. ... which renames itself America Online [1989], becoming the only affordable way to get online
9. ... and before you know it, there are dozens of barely disguised online hookup chat rooms [e.g. Bears4Bears, circa 1990]
10. Mosaic released [1993]
11. Netscape 0.9 released [1994 - I was until 2001]
12. Resources for Bears [RfB] goes live [also 1994]
13. Windows 95 released [1995] - the first consumer OS with integrated IP networking and easy Internet access [no more Trumpet Winsock/TCP/IP-32/MacTCP/etc.]

... meanwhile, the whole dot com thing explodes...

14. In 2004, there seem to be hundreds of thousands of Web sites, newsgroups, Web rings, blogs, etc. There's and a host of similar sites, AOL is presumably still chock-a-block with chat rooms, USENET is still around, the BML is still going strong, and almost anybody who wants to can just head down to the public library and get on with the business of finding someone to chat with, someone to date, someone to have sex with... the possibilities are seemingly endless.

Compare all of that to the scene twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. I've spoken with older men who remember how difficult it was to find someone they could even discuss their homosexuality with, much less find someone to spend the night with. There weren't many places you could go, and even if you did, it was definitely possible that the cops would show up, arrest you, and publish your picture in the paper the next day.

The rise of gay neighborhoods in the 1970s certainly helped things out a lot - it was easy to just go to "that part of town" and have a coffee [cf. the so-called "Bearbucks" just off Castro St. in The City], maybe stop by the gay bookshop for some, ahem, magazines with lots of pictures in them... and maybe a catch handsome feller's eye along the way. There was a strong need for a neighborhood where all of these things could be concentrated, because there wasn't much else of a way to find like-minded folk.

Thirty years later, though, it seems that the necessity of a "gay part of town" has become a lot less obvious due to the availability of online, virtual community spaces. Plus, with increasing social tolerance of homosexuality, there's IMHO far less of a need for specifically gay restaurants, for example [who's gonna get thrown out of an Outback Steakhouse in 2004 for sitting down at a table with your same-sex partner?]

Ultimately, though, I think that what we're seeing is at least in part the slow death of traditional gay culture. The German writer Max Goldt summed it up for me pretty well back in the '80s when he described homosexuality as "a small, but uninteresting personality defect." [Trust me, this sounds less bad in German; Goldt is a very funny (and also gay) writer.] I'm a lot of things - a damned good STE, a loyal husband, a tolerable writer, a wino, er, amateur des vins, a voracious reader, a pop culture magnet, a Bear... and I no longer have to go to "that part of town" to be myself - I'm free to be myself wherever I go. For this, I'm grateful to everyone who paved the way, from Hirschfeld and Kinsey to those brave queens in the Stonewall Inn.



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