February 7th, 2016


Coming out to a ZX81

This image has been floating around Facebook recently: "Aren't you thankful that your childhood happened before technology took over?"

I can see what they're getting at, of course. This LJ has contained many a fond reminiscence about the 1970s, and I don't suppose I'd have liked being for ever available at the end of a mobile phone then any more than I would now. But for LGBT kids and other people who might find themselves isolated (as I was) in small-town and rural communities, with little information available and no visible* peer support, the internet in particular has been transformational. Don't expect me to yearn for the days when the only way people like me could find out about ourselves was by reading the two or three vaguely relevant books in the local library, all of which assured us that we were mentally ill, evil or both. (That, admittedly, wasn't just a technology problem.)

In fact, it occurred to me the other day that although I first came out to another human being only ten years or so ago, I came out to a machine a quarter of a century earlier. That was when I bought my ZX81, with its colossal memory (for the time) of 1kb. (I would later go to London especially to buy an expansion pack that took that up to a mind-blowing 16kb.) While I was teaching myself BASIC, I wrote programs that allowed this computational behemoth and me to have affirmational conversations on these lines:

Me: Am I a girl?
ZX81: Yes, you are a girl.
Me: Really?
ZX81: There's no doubt about it.

It was nothing sophisticated, as you can see, and of course I'd written the code, so in a sense it was no more than talking to myself; but it was very comforting to see those words outside my own head, appearing in someone/thing else's "voice". I was careful to delete the programs afterwards, of course.

Yes, I know it's sad (in more than one sense), but in 1981 that was as good as it got. I'm glad to say that things have advanced considerably since then on quite a few fronts.

* I stress "visible", because it turns out that a large percentage of the kids in my year were in fact gay, and desperately hiding it. Witch Week was my classroom!