Friday, October 20, 2017

Correcting History

I was reading the biography of a trans activist and was surprised by the statement that in 1992, she "lobbied America Online to change its policies and allow discussions on gender issues on their service. This led to the creation of the first public forum on a major online service, the Transgender Community Forum, one year later" (1993).

I majored in history and I am old enough that I was alive and kicking when some histories were made. And it bothers me when someone tries to rewrite history (like the so-called "historians" who tried to write transwomen out of the Stonewall uprising).

In this case, America Online's transgender forum was not the first public forum on a major online service... not by a long shot.

Anyone remember a transgender forum called Genderline on a major online service called Compuserve?

I recall joining Genderline in the mid-1980's. After doing some research, I found that Genderline goes back to at least 1986 when Jennifer Wells was its section leader. According to my math, that predates America Online's transgender forum by seven years!

And so it goes.

Source: Veronica Beard
Wearing Veronica Beard (Source: Veronica Beard)

Kaitlynn femulates Black Widow for Halloween
(Send me your Halloween costume photo and I will feature it in the Femulator spot, just as I did today with Kaitlynn's costume photo.)


  1. Also, Delphi had a gender forum. I wasn't a CS member but I did hang out on Delphi in the 300baud modem days.

  2. One's perception of the beginning of the Internet seems to always date from the time each user discovered it and got hooked up for the first time. Even many professional technology and history writers seem to get caught in this trap. I got my first 300 baud modem around Christmas of 1982, and rather quickly found gender forums on The Source (my first commercial online experience) and Compuserve. Certainly the Genderline forum was operating by the summer of 1984, and I still have some saved messages from that time period. The real action in those days was in the independent dial-up bulletin boards, although these eventually proved to be a technological dead-end after the spread of always-on TCP/IP based Internet connections. I made my living for almost a decade installing and operating dialup BBSs based on software I wrote. (And a certain author's books were instrumental in my extending this to an amateur radio packet BBS package starting in the late '80s, but I digress!) By the 1983-'84 period, long distance dialup BBSs like Feminet, Gendernet, Carolyn's Closet and the Jersey Shore System were valuable sources of information in those days, and looking back over some of my archives, covered a lot of the same issues and practical questions that are still discussed online today. Only the pictures weren't as good. :-)

    - Diane

    1. Those were the days... when 110 baud was king!

  3. Coming out as trans is a very personal thing, so the first thing we did is what we remember, not some shared history. When you talk to people like Dallas Denny, who not only was there but also cared to collect narratives there is a bigger picture, but that image is lost to most people. Sad.

    In this case, I suspect that the devil is in the details. The CT/TS was a subsection of Human Sexuality -- originally section 8 of page HSX100 -- and not a standalone forum. Jennifer didn't join until it was moved to HSX200, around the time that CI$ handles no longer had to contain TV or TS for cross-gender names.

    Gwen and the TCF on AOL did come later. but it was the first full trans area, marked as such.

    It was the difference between 300 and 1200 baud, and so long ago that it has become meaningless to almost all. Sad.

    1. The biography read "first public forum on a major online service" not "first public standalone forum on a major online service." Compuserve's Genderline was a public forum and it predated America Online's public forum. Those are the facts. They may be "meaningless to almost all," but not to me.

  4. AnonymousJune 10, 2023

    I was on Genderline and remember Jennifer Wells.

    AOL did have a T* section before the TCF though it was not "official" ... there was folder in the lesbian area called Transsexual Lesbians... And Melody was there... Yes she was the one who lobbied AOL... but for sure CI$ HSX-200 long predated it.

    Although I don't know when it started there was also T section on the now long defunct GEnie service.

    There were also mailing lists like Transgen that had been around for awhile back then.

  5. I was on Genderline for a short time when Jennifer was section leader, and then later very active when ::Christina:: was S/L. I too remember 300Baud and Howard owned HSX100/200. Genderline was in room 9.
    Heck, AOL/Steve Case wasn’t even around yet. Kathi