I’m old enough to remember the sound of a 9600 baud modem connecting my computer to a telephone line.
In the pre-Internet age, online communities were supported by bulletin board systems (BBSs) that were connected by regular phone lines. The host of the BBS would install multiple telephone lines and connect each one to a modem (modulator/demodulator). BBS guests would dial one of several phone numbers from their own modems to connect with the host’s setup.
These were not regular telephone voice calls. They were digital connections that allowed you to type conversations with other BBS guests, much like group text chats happen now on our phones. Many had simple text-only interfaces that allowed guests to post comments and responses to categories of topics of interest to the community.
For queers at the time, some of these BBSs would be the first “safe spaces” to become available, where you could be yourself, ask questions, and chat about queer personal issues.
With names like The Gay Blade, and GLIB Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau, you could find their dial-up numbers listed in advertisements in the back of gay magazines and newsletters.
I have fond memories of chatting late into the night about everything under the sun (and moon), occasionally flirting, and generally experiencing something that felt like a digital home. Here was some validation that you were not alone in the world but had some connection to a larger community of like-minded individuals.
With the advent of the World Wide Web and access to the nascent Internet, BBSs slowly faded in popularity. In step with increasing social acceptance, queer online communities were able to step out of the shadows and develop into dependable online resources for queer information, entertainment and connection.