22 Things Lesbians Said About The Internet In 1994

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The most popular form of internet access when this book was published

The most popular form of internet access when this book was published

I picked up this 1996 book Assaults on Convention: Essays on Lesbian Transgressors from the library last week. It’s an essay collection that “explores lesbian misbehavior of many kinds,” with essays about lesbians who “break unspoken rules of the lesbian community” by doing things like being obsessive k.d. lang fans, boxing, being or patronizing sex workers or um, being serial killers (the rule against murder has been spoken for, however, I believe). It’s a pretty interesting book written at a really transitional time with respect to lesbian culture and internet culture.

One chapter, called “cyberdykes: tales from the internet,” by Lisa Haskell, attempts to discover the fears and hopes and dreams of lesbians who use that crazy thing called The Internet. She did her ‘research’ in 1994, the year I turned 13 and two years before America Online changed its price from $2.95 an hour to $19.95 a month, which was a very transformational situation. Sometimes I think the craziest thing about that time was that nobody had a photo of themselves on their computer — it was difficult-to-impossible to get one, which meant you’d probably never know what the people you chatted with looked like. Plus, there was no such thing as ‘googling’ someone or looking them up on a social networking site, so the internet felt really strongly separate from real life. Unsurprisingly, from the get-go, LGBT people took to the internet like moths to a flame

Which brings us back to this article and this listling. After explaining what The Internet is, Haskell publishes a series of e-mails she received in response to the following usenet posting she made:

I’m looking to connect dykes who love the net: girls who use their computers for work, rest and play. Tell me what you love and what you hate about the net, let me into your most intimate moments with your computer.

Do you think the net is changing the ideas of what it is to be a dyke? Are we blazing trails for the future, or are we just a sad bunch of lesbo-geeks?

Now, I present to you 22 excerpts from those e-mail responses, written to Haskell by passionate internet-using lesbians and ripped mercilessly out of context for the purposes of this listling. Are you ready, CYBERDYKES?

22 Things Lesbians Had To Say About the Internet in 1994

1. “It’s my computer that puts me in contact with her and I love it for that. But I hate it too because it withholds her from me.”

2. “Somehow, people on the net are less intimidating because I view them as a part of Zorro [the computer].”

3. “I’m looking forward to computer-controlled silicon implanted sex toys.”

4. “Generally, you can tell a man on the net, not least because they will usually tell you pretty quickly. The allure of being a woman doesn’t last long.”

5. “…I think of my computer as being half-way between human and machine… I think of it the same way some people think of their pets.”

6. “I spend as much time as possible on the net: up to three hours.”

7. “The net is, in my opinion, a good place to be an activist to a tolerable degree.”

8. “What I like best about the net is that I don’t feel so isolated here. I hate the net when it is down or being fixed.”

9. “I think that meeting people on the net is about 100% cooler than any type of personals and computer dating.”

10. “The internet is said to be a transnational anarchy… [if it is], it is an anarchy of the privileged: everybody I meet here is from a university or a software developer.”

11. “There’s often an intense excitement involved. Your screen becomes electric in a very real way. Her name becomes magic, your days are spent in fingering her, talking with her, writing/reading email to/from her. And the intensity builds until the words on your screen become flesh and sound when she reaches over the distance to touch you.”

12. “We don’t transcend physical distance, it just changes the nature of that distance.”

13. “Are we blazing a trail? Or just shy and socially inept?”

14. “Sometimes there’s too much ‘showing off’, messages with words I’m not used to, subjects I cannot follow.”

15. “We think in words, so this is like a direct connection line to their thoughts. Pure imagination, a pure connection.”

16. “Here, I get a ‘choice’ of so many interesting women. I could never meet so many lovely dykes physically.”

17. “Political networks exist, and will be on the increase. However, it will still happen on many levels — from local, smaller networks to bigger ones binding them. I just hope there won’t be a hierarchy to these connections, ever.”

18. “It’s not that we’ll always be playing in this primitive environment; in [some] years’ time we [will be able to] easily see and hear each other and we’ll laugh at ourselves for taking these clunky lines of text so seriously.”

19. “Is breaking up [with an internet girlfriend] just as in real life? No, there are differences. When the contact comes to an end, the emptiness is much more hollow… it’s difficult to convince others that something *really* happened to you.”

20. “Yes, we are pioneers. We’re using technology to mutate ourselves according to our own design. In a fully diverse world, gender will become meaningless, the idea of the lesbian confined to history.”

21. “I am more intensely dyke because I am touched by the Sappho conversation every work day. Also, I know more about dyke cultures by being net-connected. It expands my world. We are definitely trail-blazing and cutting edge.”

22. “…I think the net is something special for dykes: it’s like life, but you can afford to play.”

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1762 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    Number 7 :(
    Still such a problem today. Sometimes it’s sad to think that posting articles for CR is my only activism (and then I realize I sign petitions, go to rallys, and volunteer). But still, being on “the net” is my primary form of activism, perhaps because it seems safe and “tolerable.”

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    “Sometimes there’s too much ‘showing off’, messages with words I’m not used to, subjects I cannot follow.”

    Aaargh. This brought my whole childhood back!

    I wonder who I’d be now if I hadn’t been exposed to so much defensive vocabulary- and curiousity-shaming when I was a kid. :(

    I wish we were all more comfortable saying, “what does that word you just used mean?” and “I’m not sure what you’re talking about–would you explain it to me?”

  3. Thumb up 7

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    I participated in the Sappho listserv back in 1994 — lord that dates me! Sappho wasn’t quite the full internet, although some techie dykes were talking about this mysterious thing called Mosaic that you could “browse” the internet with. I couldn’t really visualize what they meant. Sappho was the computer-geek’s answer to the older paper lesbian newsletter called Lesbian Connections. It was fabulous to have immediate conversations with dykes all over the country, but it also sometimes seemed to just speed up the worst tendencies of the community. That’s where I learned about flame wars; we were all trying to figure out how to communicate through this new medium, and we did it the hard way!

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    There is a now-hilarious moment in season 7 (or maybe 6?) Buffy where Willow says something along the lines of, “Guys, we can just google it!” and Xander or someone responds, “Willow, we don’t want to know about your dirty kinks!” Willow then laughs and replies, “It’s a search engine!” That’s a joke that will never work again.

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    “It’s my computer that puts me in contact with her and I love it for that. But I hate it too because it withholds her from me.”

    -Somehow, 20 years later, this is relevant in my life.

    TWENTY YEARS!! Wow. ’94 was TWENTY years ago….Every time someone goes 10 years ago I still say the 90s but it’s really the 2000s. AAAAHHHH

  6. Thumb up 7

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    I dunno if people don’t actually know or were just giggling (because hey, I mean, yeah) but ‘finger’ was a word for looking up someone’s profile/last online time etc sorta thing back then.

    … maybe she didn’t mean that, but I kinda thought so since it was the first word in the list and the rest were tame. Otherwise she started out awfully strong… :D

    Other than that, these are pretty remarkable in their relevance and/or perspective. Great find.

  7. Thumb up 1

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    “It’s not that we’ll always be playing in this primitive environment; in [some] years’ time we [will be able to] easily see and hear each other and we’ll laugh at ourselves for taking these clunky lines of text so seriously.”

    So meta… :) Love this whole article/ list!

  8. Thumb up 1

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    I love how relevant almost all of these excerpts still are. Also, if people thought of their computers like pets in 1994, imagine how they would describe their devices now. “I think of them somewhere between my greatest loves and vital organs I couldn’t possibly survive without.”

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