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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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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!

The old ZX81 does bring back memories.

Yes. I wished I'd kept mine.

My first computer was a ZX Spectrum in 1982. I remember learning BASIC from an Usborne book!

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

I think it is wonderful that you did that for yourself. I'm just glad that eventually you could tell people you didn't program.

Me too. (Though their responses weren't always as accepting.)


I really like this story. Not the fact that it had to happen, so to speak, but that given the context, it did happen--that as Sovay said you gave yourself that.

Thank you. It's a rather pathetic episode in some ways, but I'm happy I remembered it!

I love that you did that. You needed affirmation in another voice, and you made it happen.

The general idea of Witch Week seems quite common in all sorts of contexts. When I was about nineteen, me and three other girls were talking about our sexual experiences. I was a virgin and hugely embarrassed about it since nineteen is ANCIENT, so I made up stories about having sex so I wouldn't be the only virgin. Something like five years later, I discovered that ALL FOUR OF US were embarrassed, lying virgins!

ALL FOUR OF US were embarrassed, lying virgins!

That's great. And yes, pretty common, I'd bet!

I remember when I was a senior in high school being asked (BY A TEACHER -- I still can't believe he thought this was appropriate) what percentage of the senior class I thought was sexually active. (I think he enjoyed seeing what wildly different figures he got from different kids.) I said I was completely the wrong person to ask, as I wasn't in the gossip loop, but given that there were three people even I knew of who were sexually active [two with each other and one with someone in a different class, not that I went into that much detail], I figured there were likely at least ten times that many, and as there were about a hundred in the class, perhaps thirty percent. (The other girl who was present said she thought it was more than that.) I still think that was a reasonable way to hedge the answer, though I could of course have been way off -- it could have been 99% for all I knew; just not 100, for obvious reasons.

In high school, of course, there are likely also to be a number of people who've had sex, or some version thereof, maybe a couple of times, but who can hardly be said to be "active."

I had a ZX81 -- one I put together from a kit given to me for my 13th birthday. I only programmed games, though.

Yeah, I am definitely glad that I got to be a stupid teenager before the dawn of the era when every stupid thing you do has to be posted on the internet, but we've made a lot of progress in other ways.

I rather like your programming story. I wish I could remember what I'd told our computer to say. Nothing nearly so profound as yours, but I'm pretty sure I did make it pretend to be my friend.