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October 19th, 2007

The Power Of Stories

Before the Internet opened up to commercial use, before home computers had powerful multi-tasking operating systems, back when 640k of system ram was considered more then most people would ever need or use, little computer bulletin board systems (BBS) ruled.  In the mid 1980s, some of them had banded together into an amateur network called FidoNet.

In the mid-1980s, I was on one local BBS system that had a gay Fidonet echomail board.  Called Gaylink, it had participating BBS systems on it all over the world.  Back in those days, I had an uncle who was a HAM radio operator, and was trying to interest me in taking up the hobby.  He kept trying to tell me about all the people all over the world he was able to communicate with via shortwave radio, and I kept trying to tell him about all the people all over the world I was communicating with via FidoNet.

Gaylink was mostly a social forum.  We chatted about this and that…a little politics, a little dishing.  It never really got very serious.  Then one day a message from a BSS in the Netherlands appeared. It was short and to the point: 

I’m 14 years old.  I think I might be gay but I’m not sure.  How did you know about yourself?  What was it like?

And from literally all over the world this kid got coming-out-to-self stories.  Some of them were painful to read.  Some were hopeful.  Some were amazingly nonchalant.  There were folks whose parents disowned them.  There were others whose parents completely accepted them.  Some people struggled for years with it.  Others seemed to have always known and accepted it.  There was romance.  There was heartbreak.  I sat down and for the first time ever, really thought about my own experience coming to terms with my sexual orientation, and wrote it down for this kid, and the whole world to see.  I could sense that something…wonderful…was happening.

It went on for two weeks.  We never heard a peep from the kid throughout that entire time.  And the stories, from all over the world, from people in all walks of life, just kept coming and coming.  We all began talking to each other, seeing common threads in our lives that we all had, which set us apart from the heterosexual majority.  Seeing those things that made each of us unique and at the same time those things we all seemed to share, no matter where we lived, no matter what culture we were raised in.  Then the kid spoke up one last time:

Thank you.  You’ve all given me a lot to think about. 

That was it.  We never heard another word from him.  Maybe we gave him what he needed to accept himself.  Maybe he was just confused about his own awakening sexuality, and what it meant to be homosexual.  At that age, who knows?  Maybe he wasn’t what he represented himself to be.  But as I watched that event unfold I realized that apart from this one Dutch teenager, there had to also be hundreds of others, all over the world, generation upon generation, watching that conversation, hungry for those same answers to that kid’s question.  And I saw then what this new technology could do for us as a people.  We no longer had to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes.

When I came out to myself in 1971, nearly everything I knew about homosexuals and homosexuality, I’d learned from heterosexuals.  In those days, before the Internet, before the World Wide Web, before Blogs and MySpace and Facebook, what you knew depended in large measure on what the popular media wanted to tell you.  Before cable TV, there were only three TV networks.  You had your local newspaper.  You had your local radio stations.  You had whatever books and magazines the local stores were selling.  And that was it basically.  I had to struggle, in a way most of you reading this now probably never had to, to dig up anything factual, anything at all, about homosexuality.  The image the popular media put forward of homosexuals was relentlessly negative.  We were perverts.  We were psychotic deviants.  We were dangerous, deranged sexual predators.  We raped children and then murdered them.  We skulked the shadows looking for unwitting victims.  Even we didn’t enjoy the sex we were having.  We were mentally ill, psychotic, perverted, sexual compulsives, unable to keep ourselves from engaging in horrible, vile, deviant sex acts that repulsed even us.  There is a film, The Detective, about a homosexual murder: watch the murderer’s tortured confession at the end to see what sick monsters the popular media viewed us as being back then.

Now, it seemed in the blink of an eye, all of that had been swept away.  Maybe not from the eyes of our heterosexual neighbors, but critically, finally, from our own.  We no longer had to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes.  You have to appreciate how revolutionary that was back then. 

And the revolution continues…

Internet project helps gay youth ‘come out’

For young gay people, just coming out to friends and family can be a difficult thing.

Now a new online project is encouraging people to tell the world about their sexuality by uploading video images.

Analysts in Australia say sites like YouTube and Facebook are prompting people to come out of the closet at a younger age than ever before.

One woman in a YouTube video describes her own journey in a message done alone in the privacy of a house, but now being broadcast to the world.

"I came out at 19 years old, when I kissed a woman for the first time," she says in the video.

"While kissing her, I distinctly remember thinking two things – one, this is awesome, and two, my mother can never know."

The online video is in response to a campaign being run by the American organization Human Rights Campaign.

As part of National Coming Out Day this month, it is asking people to post video messages online telling their story.

There are now dozens of online videos that are being posted on the website YouTube, and there are thousands of messages of support.

And every day more people add their voices…

Voices.  Peterson Toscano has been collecting a few over at his blog, and at Beyond Ex-Gay

Ex-Gay Survivor Vince Tells His Story

Vince Cervantes, an ex-gay survivor and one of the this year’s Soulforce Equality Riders (and an attender of this summer’s Ex-Gay Survivor Conference), has been sharing his experiences on his blog and through video. In the following two videos he goes into detail about the reasons he pursued a variety of ex-gay therapies and ministries. He really captures the mindset, the motivations and the conflicts that many us experienced when we lived ex-gay lives.

Now we can tell our stories via Internet TV.  While the corporate news media is still telling itself its comfortable lies about us, we can tell our own stories, in our own words, to each other, no matter where we live, no matter what our circumstances are.  And to anyone who wants to hear it from us, as opposed to heterosexuals talking to each other.  You want to know why the gay rights struggle has made so much progress, so quickly, this is why.  It isn’t the decline of civilization.  It isn’t falling moral standards.  It isn’t rampant godlessness.  Once upon a time the only image we had of ourselves was the mask heterosexuals made from their own sexual guilt and paranoia to make us wear.  Once upon a time they could make us hate ourselves.  If you understand nothing else about the gay rights struggle, understand this: those days are over. 

They were waning as it was, thanks to the changes brought about after world war II.  Jet air travel.  Interstate highways.  Greater mobility.  We could migrate to where it was safer for us to live.  There was already a critical mass developing in the major urban centers of America and the western world, to push for change.  Where we could live together in relative peace, we could see ourselves as we were, not as the scarecrows of other people’s sexual fears and self loathings.  But then the personal computer came along, and computer networks with them, and suddenly no matter where you lived, no matter how isolated you thought you were, you could reach out in an instant, in a heartbeat, and connect to a community of other gay people.  All over the country.  All over the world.  And what we saw when we did that, were not monsters, but people.  The first person you come out to is yourself.  The first eyes you open to the truth are yours.  Your own story is a part of that truth.  Every time you share it with another, you defeat hate.

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