It was thirty years ago

… well, not today, but this summer. From my 10/23/19 posting “OUTiL: a historical note”:

For LGBT History Month, some notes on a little piece of that history in linguistics, in the loose network of academic acquaintanceship that formed at the Linguistic Institute at UC Santa Cruz in the summer of 1991:

The t-shirt, once available in both pink and purple (design by Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky)

OUT in Linguistics, OUTiL, OUTIL (the abbreviation pronounced /áwtǝl/, through some wags joked about its being French outil /uti/ ‘tool’, with the expected sexual slang use).

The group was primarily social, offering physical places for LGBTQ+ folk and their friends to gather, network, talk about linguistics and their lives — with a mailing list to coordinate these gatherings, and then also to offer a net-place for such talk. Over the years, it changed its mode of operation, ending up as a private group on Facebook, with me as its administrator. But now it’s been years since I was able to travel anywhere, and I’m now an old man in fragile health, not an appropriate administrator.

Meanwhile, OUTiL has served its purpose and ceased to carry any traffic. So, in the absence of anyone willing to take over from me and revive it, I have closed it down. I removed the newsgroup — with some difficulty — this Wednesday morning. Thirty summers after the first.

The models for OUTiL were, in part, the Linguistic Society of America’s COSWL (Committee on the Status of Women), which was both affiliative and ; but primarily the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss (“members of the same sex”, from when gay couldn’t appear in such a name, for fear of attracting harassers), designed for open discussion of pretty much anything (other than attacks on homosexuality); once we had met each other on-line, and then face to face at motss.cons, people would indeed ask motssers for advice on computer systems, on buying cars, on traveling various places, and so on. (I wrote a lot about language, and also about the most intimate details of my sexual life.) It became a large, sometimes quarrelsome chosen family, serving especially as a safe space for people just coming out, dealing with hostile families of birth, with sickness and death and grieving, engaging in political actions — and also producing an amazing amount of silliness.

My hope was that OUTiL would serve as a much smaller linguistics-specific version of soc.motss, and I believe it largely fulfilled that function. Over the years, other resources for this function appeared — notably, the LSA’s new group, COZIL (concerned with LGBTQ+ matters in the Society) and the Facebook Queer Linguist(ic)s group, both run by enthusiastic young people, which (to my mind) is as it should be.

Note. These continue to be difficult times for me, so I have cut back my original plans for this posting. Nobably holding back on vituperation against Facebook for the difficulties it throws up in the way of ordinary users who are just trying to figure out how to achieve certain ends (coupled with the fact that, to a rough approximation, every user sees a different version of FB, and the version you saw 20 minutes ago might well be different from the one you’re looking at now; I do not even mention the unfathomable workings of the algorithm that censors FB material and users).

In any case, with useful hints from other FB users, I was able to figure out how to — laboriously, over some hours, even for a group with only 53 members — remove a FB group.



2 Responses to “It was thirty years ago”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    from when gay couldn’t appear in such a name, for fear of attracting harassers

    My understanding (based on what I heard, since it was before my time) was that at least one reason for the cryptic name was a concern that some large institutions, on which Internet traffic largely depended in those days, would refuse to carry a group with gay in its name. (And at least some harassers seem not to have had a whole lot of trouble finding the group anyway.)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I think that both considerations were relevant. Though the taint of gay might have been uppermost. In any case, people figured out the code word soon enough; code words never last very long.

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