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Internet, chat rooms help gays connect, be themselves Thursday, February 2, 2006 By Chris Cannon special to relish Most of my gay single friends and I spend many of our weekends going to popular places to meet other people - the bars, coffee shops and community events. We also go to another popular place - the online chat room. The chat room has become another one of those additional social fixtures within gay culture, especially among people within the Generation X crowd. I've found myself often caught in a "web" of concentration, chatting up a storm for hours with other gay people. And if you've been to a gay pride festival in recent years, you can't help noticing that online chat rooms and dating sites are lead sponsors. In my early teens, my family got its first computer, a Tandy PC. It was one of those dot-matrix, blue-screen contraptions of the early 1990s that are dinosaurs now. We graduated to an IBM color monitor when I was in high school. The Internet bubble was expanding, and I was a gay, closeted adolescent, with no one who would talk about or acknowledge homosexuality. With the Internet came an abundance of information and an outlet to communicate with other gay people from around the world. Pen-pal and online chat sites allowed me to virtually connect with people my own age with the same sexual orientation. From my rural family home in North Carolina, I realized that I was not the only one who was gay in the world - there were other gay people out there. I just had to graduate, leave home and find a job. It was once deemed taboo to discuss going online to meet friends, get a date or find that special someone. Now it is more mainstream and discussed freely in conversation. Within a network of friends, it's not uncommon to find several who met through the Internet or couples who met online. One long-term couple I know connected from Seattle to the Triad. Then there are those friends of mine who live on their computers 24/7 - even when they are hanging out with me! Instant messaging programs, text messaging, e-mail, cell phones and laptops have allowed everyone to reach out and touch someone instantaneously at any time, without literally reaching out and touching anyone. Some bars and restaurants now have Internet connections for those who always have to be logged on. When I was in San Francisco over the summer, cyber cafes and "chat bars" were the rage. Crowds of people with laptops filled patios along the streets. People go online to talk to friends as often as going to the movies or out to dinner. My parents used to say, "You might meet a psycho online, so be careful," acknowledging the potential dangers of the Internet. I would come back and say, "You can meet those anywhere!" My parents and grandparents would rag on me that communication is more meaningful when it's face to face, and they saw the Internet as the end of that. On the upside, online chatting does make it much easier for those who are closeted and uncomfortable with their sexual orientation to have the opportunity to connect with others who share the same experiences. Hopefully, those people will learn more, feel more accepted and proud and eventually come out as who they are. With lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the minority of society, there are few bars, restaurants and "face-to-face" chat places where one can feel completely comfortable. The Internet is changing things in leaps and bounds, and it looks like it's here to stay. • Cannon produces an e-mail list of items of interest to the Triad gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Email firstname.lastname@example.orgTechnorati Tags: gay youth, gay, lgbt, gay rights, internet, chris cannon, chat, greensboro, winston-salem, triad, north carolina