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surf's up: queer and loathing in cyberspace

SOME OF the most fragrant and flagrant groups on the Net belong to the gay community. Though most sites deal with particular gay issues - the fight against homophobia, gay parenting, gay dating - there are also sites for gay sports, gay music, and there's even a Web site for gay Trekkies at http://ccnet.ccnet.com/gaytrek. Much of this information is US-oriented, but it's not too great a problem for those in the UK, as most of the sites have useful information for gays anywhere. If you are after queer pages of a peculiarly British nature there are two Web addresses to try: http://www.deom.co.uk/world/ukgay/index.html and http://phymat.bham.ac.uk/LGB. Otherwise, for gay sites worldwide, you could start at one of the many ''cyberqueer" directories on the Web, such as The Queer Resource Directory at http://www.qrd.org/QRD or The CyberQueer Lounge at http://www.cyberzine.org/ html/GLAIDS/welcome.html. And there's always the trusty Yahoo, with its sexuality list at: http://www.yahoo.com/Society-and-Culture/Gay-Lesbian-and-Bisexual-Resources.

Much queer stuff on the Web concerns gay politics. Freedom on the Net is a big issue, with censorship threatened by the Communications Decency Act in the US, and gays feel particularly under threat: ultra-right activists like Rush Limbaugh nightly bait the white and right into a feeding frenzy on US TV. Almost every gay site has information on campaigns against homophobia in the media, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) home page is a good place for activists to start, (http://www.datalounge.com/glaad/glaad.html). There are links to pages where you can e-mail Rush directly - as if he'd listen - though you'll have plenty of opportunity to do battle with prejudice: Usenet, famous for attracting users who come just to engage in vicious verbal combat, is riddled with bigotry and bile. But at least gays have an equal chance of access and can shout just as loud even if this means that newsgroups such as alt.homosexual and alt.politics.homosexual get choked up with flame fights between bigots and those attempting to educate them.

Sadly, a lot of the polemical pyrotechnics on Gay Usenet newsgroups are caused by in-fighting. Gays accuse bisexuals of "jumping on the queer bandwagon", of not having the guts to be gay and of being unfaithful to the queer cause. All shades and flavours of sexual preference squabble over the label of ''queer" and membership of the queer community.

It's not all serious and sad though. Usenet is a good place for shy guys to search for partners. Many of these postings come from the anonymous remailing services in Finland. These take the information from the top of an e-mail message that shows who and where the message has come from and replaces them with an anonymous address - a bit like a P.O. box number.

For free-flowing, uninhibited queer, bi-, whatever, interaction, go to one of the many talkers on the Net. Paradox, is a steaming bath-house of a talker, which you can access via the Web at: http://cssun7.vassar.edu/ ancolli/paradox.html (you'll need a Telnet application to connect). This virtual space for gays and the gay-friendly offers an opportunity to converse in almost real-time.

The virtual environment of Paradox consists of a number of rooms: some public, others ''private". All have a description and are set aside for a particular purpose or for a particular group. There is a gym; there's even a pillow-fighting room - definitely one for the frolicsome who like a little rough and tumble with their chat. And for cruisers, there is the Cruisers' Den "the place where men who cruise the Net cruise each other. The lights are low, the music is exotic and the mood is perfect". Flirting is okay here, but for hot sex, users are requested to use the "back room". When you enter the back room you are seduced with a description of the sultry decor and atmosphere: "This is a large room with pillows, a large sofa, and the most enormous waterbed you've ever seen ... along the wall next to the stereo, bar and entertainment centre you see a cabinet with all the safe sex toys and technology you could ever dream of." Safe sex? Surely virtual sex is safe enough as it is ... a way of fantasising about all those things that are too dangerous to do in real life?