Computers as Theatre, Second Edition (Jason Arnold's Library) by Brenda Laurel

Computers as Theatre, Second Edition (Jason Arnold's Library) by Brenda Laurel

Author:Brenda Laurel
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional
Published: 2014-08-10T16:00:00+00:00

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Rob’s True Name (and Sex)

I joined The WELL in 1990. A number of my friends in Silicon Valley told me “You should join—there are lots of smart and cool people, and there’s this fun monthly get together up in Marin County.” So I looked into it, using my 2400 baud modem and my Mac Plus, and observed that it did indeed look worthy—and decided to get an account.

This was during the height of my dress-in-black flirtation with post-modernism, body criticism, and neo-feminism, and was also when I was the father of a girl in preschool. I noticed that it might be possible to do some exploration with my personal voice, stripped of common signifiers that always lead to projective gender construction, and see what people thought of me from merely semantic communication, sans beard, blue eyes, or affect.

The WELL stated that its policy was always the “you own your own words,” and required people to stand behind them in the online threaded discussion groups. A new account required one’s name, and also an “M” or “F” denoting sex. As it turned out, I knew the sysadmin (Calliope Curious) through a mutual friend, and I persuaded her to make me an account with the name “Tau Zero,” and to leave the sexual identity blank. Subsequently I was careful to avoid emitting anything that identified myself as either male or female in any discussions, which ranged from science and technology to business, the Grateful Dead, relationships, sexuality, and parenting. I merely expressed my opinions, backed up with the best evidence I knew.

After about a year a curious thing happened. Two people (one from Kansas, and one from the Bay Area) who were active posters in both the sexuality groups and the parenting groups started sending me private messages. These were friendly, and then started to become positively flirtatious—and even suggestive. Both of the correspondents were “out” lesbians, and had assumed, purely from the semantic content of my own postings, that I must also be a lesbian.

There was only one thing to do, as a responsible member of the community. I went to Calliope, and had her change the single ASCII character of my sexual identity from a blank to an “M.”


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