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This intuitive affinity between place and discourse goes so deep in our understandings of online communication that it can be difficult at times to realize we are speaking in metaphors. That reminder from my Chair to turn in my annual report is in my electronic mailbox; I'll move it to the Trash when I'm done. Where did you find that list of gay and lesbian studies programs? What's the address of the NewtWatch Web ? Even such a political Luddite as Sen.

James Exon, sponsor of the "no cybersmut" rider to SB warns about turning the "information super highway into a red light district" Schwartz. This use of space to inform discourse has a long tradition.

Classical rhetoric, for example, had a very concrete appreciation of place. Different types of rhetoric were associated with specific places such as the law court, legislative hall, or battlefield.

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The topoi of possible means of persuasion gay chat board "places" the speaker could look for possible arguments. The department of memory trained the rhetor to associate sections of his speech with specific columns or other features in the room where he would deliver the oration. More recently, Jay David Bolter points out how computers extend and modify the "writing spaces" that have been with us as long as have used writing.

Various gay-related online venues share this use of place metaphors to suggest appropriate discourse, but to very different ends. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has pointed out, the closet has long been a central ifying space for gay and lesbian people. The counterpoint to the silence of the closet is the speech act of coming out.

This tension between private and public space maps the emergence of gay and lesbian identity from a shameful secret to a public affirmation. Such public demonstrations as the March on Washington draw on the rich activist tradition of moving common concerns onto the avenues of political power, of a community coalescing around the monumental symbols of national tradition. Personal journeys from countless closets merge in this most public of spaces; Paul Monette writes evocatively of how "whatever is left of the hurt is washed away the longer you march, arm in arm with a comrade, rallying to the mustering of the tribe" The potent affirmation of the slogan used by Digital Queers a group of computer professionals at that march, "We're here, we're queer, we have e-mail!

These online "queer spaces" I discuss are "third places" in another sense, as well, in combining the connected sociality of public space with the anonymity of the closet. It's like bringing Christopher Street or the Castro to them" Vaillancourt A note on terminology: it has become standard trope of gay and lesbian studies to include an apologia for the particular terms homosexual, gay, queer the author uses to discuss his or her subject.

My departures from the pairing of "lesbian and gay" ar e generally deliberate: "gay" by itself when my focus narrows to male-centered spaces; "queer" to more broadly include such forms of sexual expression and identity as bisexuality and transgenderism. The users of one system are almost exclusively gay male, the others draw variously diverse users; some systems have developed mechanisms for tight "social" and topic control, other areas remain almost anarchic.

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Each system uses spatial metaphors in distinctive ways reflecting its overall purpose, user base, and general ethos. These queer spaces caht discourse in two ways: on each system individual spaces indicate topicality and appropriateness: this is the particular place to argue about gay legal issues, this to hcat support for lesbian parenting, this just to gossip. Collectively, the spaces on each system constitute a distinctive construction of queer identity.

Such constructions of identity, however provisional, necessarily precede constructions of virtual spaces. The chart below highlights the major features of each system: The first two systems, though both commercial enterprises accessed entirely or primarily by modem rather than over the Internet, have little else in common. One is tightly structured and targets gay men, mostly from a limited geographical area; the other has a sprawling organization with a huge national gay chat board base.

Internet address: bbs. Internet address: lambda. It has the most gaj developed spatial metaphor of any of the systems I consider. The central conceit is that the system is Modem Boy High School; virtually every aspect of the system is made part of this metaphor, often humorously: users are STUDents, the Sysop is a crotchety old maid principal named Ms. Krump, areas devoted to different subjects are classrooms, each with a moderator called a teacher. The different levels of user access, based variously on the gwy of membership fees, progress from Freshman to Senior.

There's more than a touch of cleverness here: the real-time chat area is the Cafeteria, with both Roundtables for group discussion and Tables for Two for more intimate conversations; e-mail takes the form of passing notes in class, and downloadable files are found in the library. I must leave to the reader's imagination what is rumored to take place in the Locker Room.

Though the desired effect o f ModemBoy's central conceit is to encourage a tone of playful camaraderie among users, the implications of this elaborate textual game, particularly for a definition of gay identity, are enough to give pause. It constructs gay men as horny, sexually compulsive adolescent boys "in real life," all over 18, to keep the enterprise legal. ModemBoy builds on images common in gay male subculture and in society as a whole.

The irritant. America Online One of the largest commercial online services, America Online accommodates the needs of gay and lesbian users in two ificant and quite distinct areas: a rich and well-organized collection of resources in the "Gay and Lesbian Ga Forum" GLCF and a free-form, constantly changing array of rooms in "People Connection," the baord chat area. In essence, the queer spaces in AOL give gay and lesbian content to the existing place genres that AOL has established systemwide.

This officially sanctioned space has both political and cultural resources, with a popular series of message boards. Sexually explicit material is prohibited here, as in fact it is throughout AOL though perhaps it is more accurate to say that prohibition is enforced with greater consistency than in the chat rooms discussed below. In any given week, there are 25 real-time conferences scheduled on issues ranging from family issues to alcoholism to trivia and bodybuilding.

Lesbian and gay content on AOL is not restricted to these official GLCF spaces, but can be found throughout the system, thanks in part to official policies deed to combat homophobia and verbal bashing. In a recent listing, there were over gay-related message folders outside the GLCF, in such broader subject areas as movies, religion, and politics. As within GLCF, these boards offer asynchronous communication, since these gzy are stored and can be read at any time.

The People Connection section of America Online is the center for synchronous interaction. Public Rooms on specific subjects such as sports, Start Trek, and trivia are established by the system, each room holding up to 23 people at a given time. Among these officially sanctioned rooms is a "Gay and Lesbian" room. Yet users are not restricted to these official rooms; any user can set up a Member Room with an identifying title.

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On a busy evening, hundreds of these rooms may be listed, with a substantial named in such a way as borad invoke what we vhat term a sexually compatible discourse community; of these, a substantial incorporate the tag "M4M," unofficial AOL shorthand for "men [looking] for men. Not all Member Rooms are sexually related, but many are. In part because parents can bar children from this area of the system, the ban on sexual discourse of various sorts is effectively relaxed.

For even greater privacy, users can create a Private Room accessible only to those who know its name.

Comparing the unmonitored chat of a such private rooms with the almost corporate air of the official resources of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force suggests the range of queer discourses available through America Online. Exactly where the discourse appropriate to a particular space falls on this continuum is conveyed by generic and topical demarcations of space. The last two sites are non-commercial sites located on the Internet.

Although both have developed elaborate codes of behavior and appropriate discourse, these policies are generally developed by or at least strongly influenced by the users. Of its almost available forums on a wide range of topics, perhaps no others have garnered such recurring debate as the boundaries of its three rooms of primary interest to lesbians, bisexuals and gay men: a public forum LesBiGay Issuesa "family-only" safespace Queerspaceand a chat room Stonewall Cafe for queers and supportive straights.

Confidentiality is a dominant concern on this system and particularly in these rooms. Systemwide, users can choose whether to make their real name public or be known only by their screenname; in these spaces, as in a few other forums, anonymous postings can be made without the screenname appearing. Many other spaces allow discussion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues, which in fact may be considered more "on-topic" there than in the LesBiGay forum. ISCA has developed several mechanisms for encouraging users to stay within the posted topic of a particular forum; this is necessary because only the most recent posts in each of the almost forums are saved.

Though the room is open only to those who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, there is no attempt to gay chat board that information difficult as such verification would be. Clearly this is not a high level of security: a woman-only space, by contrast, requires in-person or voice verification; sexually explicit spaces require proof of age.

Serving as a queer-centered counterpart to similar rooms for the general user base, Stonewall Cafe offers a social space free of potential harassment. It supports more synchronous real time discourse than other forums and scrolls rapidly, often within an hour or two during busy times as friends trade greetings and one-liners. Developed by Pavel Curtis as an extension of other text-based virtual reality simulators, the Lambda software program forms of core of most, if not all, other MOOs.

Though it contains several systemwide ifiers that appear apparently by chance to suggest a gay focus, the system has a broad diversity of users. Through ification, this "neighborhood" is marked with features suggesting queer culture, but it is not obviously so deated a queer space as are spaces on either America Online or ISCA. A distinctive feature of MOOs is that users can fairly easily create their own objects, including spaces, to expand the system and enhance their interactions with other users.

Though the deers of a particular MOO will generally establish a central network of spaces to establish the distinctive themes of the space, most MOOs, including LambdaMOO, allow at least a limited amount of building by individual users. Although the central original construction of LambdaMOO is a large abandoned mansion where users were encouraged to create their own rooms along established hallways, the virtual geography has spread far beyond that original construction.

There's no easy way to discover these neighborhoods, no subject directory or address book of interesting places. Much as in an unfamiliar city, a newcomer must either be guided to them by a someone who knows the neighborhood or by exploring areas off the beaten path. If one wanders through the park south of the mansion, through the gypsy camp, and into an old barn, one might well notice a rug hanging on the wall, a rug which serves at the gateway to Weaveworld, the neighborhood to which I refer On second glance, you are amazed by the exotic workmanship of the carpet.

Its strange des of people and places seem to describe an entire world, and you wonder if this magical tapestry might have been hidden away here. It beckons you to step closer. Suddenly coming to life, the fabric and patterns of the carpet unravel and transform around you.

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You find yourself in a forest, and behind you the visually confusing frontier between tree and vine on one side and the weave of the carpet on the other. You follow a path to the east out of the forest. Weaveworld is a skillful play of ifiers that imply queerness on the whole, though not specifically. Inspired by Clive Barker's novel You are standing on gaay top of a hill covered with fragrant and unfamiliar flowers and grasses. From this vantage, you see a large xhat of Weaveworld, a riotous patchwork of geographies hastily rescued from some ancient peril.

Just to your north is a large nutmeg tree which seems climbable. To your south is an old well, crumbling apart from age and neglect. You walk along the path to the east until you enter the small village. Gsy the road thru the village widens into a circular plaza of red cobblestones. On a large marble gay chat board is a statue of two Greek warriors clad in bronze and silver armor. Inside the pedestal there is rumored to be a golden urn, like many ancient treasures, hidden away for safe keeping in Weaveworld.

Upon this plaque is inscribed upon is the passage from the Iliad where Achilles mourns his lover Patroclus. You see the two boys from the statue, wrestling. You see Michel Foucault in white pants and a leather jacket. Weaveworld and its environs are spaces marked as queer, in the sense of non-conforming and bboard yet this queerness creates a safer space where sexual non-conformity can become the norm.

Other more literal queer-themed spaces have sprung up throughout LambdaMOO, including a Gay and Lesbian Community Center and a rather predictable sex club for gay men. Yet Weaveworld, with its anarchic challenge to the main spaces of LambdaMOO, initially carved out the space in which these more literally-defined gay resources can exist. Weaveworld is largely the creation of one user, whose creative re-thinking of what a queer space might look like simultaneously broadened definitions of queer identity.

This synergy of space and community suggests more broadly the manner in which online discourse and queer identity illuminate each other.

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Or that the modern gay movement and the computer industry were both born at roughly the same time in the late sixties by people who were breaking with convention. Or that both thrived and grew within the liberal political climate of northern California. One issue, with implications for other online discourse, is how space functions as a constructive factor in online discourse. A second issue is how these spaces embody varied constructions of gay and lesbian identity.

The most obvious use of online spatial metaphors, on these systems as well as others, is to encourage certain appropriate kinds of discourse and constrain others. Who defines such "appropriateness" is generally determined by the corporate or political structures that govern each system; the function of spatial constructions is to convey such decisions to users.

When users have the opportunity to create such spaces themselves as on LambdaMOO and in an ephemeral way on America Onlinethe power to encourage and constrain discourse is thus shared. It's no surprise that one of the hotly contested questions in national debates the Internet, the issue of explicit sexual content, is dealt with in various ways on these systems. On ModemBoy, it's something of a selling point, and is encouraged for "Upperclassmen" whose membership fees earn them access to the aforementioned Locker Room, with its promise of more lurid conversations.

All users, even non-paying ones, must affirm that they are over 18, though no verification was required as of Throughout America Online, as discussed above, explicit sexual discourse is officially prohibited, though in certain spaces the rule is more readily enforced. One of the functions of a Private Room on America Online is to serve a s an appropriate spot for more explicit conversation.

As part of ISCA's integrative strategy for gay, lesbian, and bisexual content, questions and comments regarding same-sex practices are welcomed in that forum and prohibited in the three primary gay chat board spaces.

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Thus ISCA shares with America Online the deation of spaces for gays and lesbians where sexuality is, paradoxically, proscribed. That LambdaMOO has a ificantly different approach to regulating discourse is apparent; control of an individual room rests with its owner, who can lock the room so that no one other then the users in the room can read what is said or done. There are, however, no explicit rules on content of any sort: the disclaimer on the opening screen lays the foundation for this laissez-faire approach: PLEASE NOTE: LambdaMOO is a new kind of society, where thousands of people voluntarily come together from all over the world.

What these people say or do may not always be to your liking; as when visiting any international city, it is wise to be careful who you associate with and what you say. The operators of LambdaMOO have provided the materials for the buildings of this community, but are not responsible for what is said or done in them. In particular, you must assume responsibility if you permit minors or others to access LambdaMOO through your facilities. The statements and viewpoints expressed here are not necessarily those of the wizards, Pavel Curtis, or the Xerox Corporation and those parties disclaim any responsibility for them.

Thus the spatial metaphor of a metropolitan city suggests where responsibility for access to potentially offensive material including gay chat board content should rest. Sexually explicit language is, of course, not the only kind of discourse that may be perceived as disruptive.

One of the advantages of online systems is the ability to meet people with similar interests, yet for such discourse to be profitable to gsy, the noise level in the form of off-topic or gzy irrelevant talk must be kept low. By suggesting what kind of talk is appropriate in various rooms, system administrators can shape appropriate discourses.

Systems have a variety of ways to keep the content of various spaces generally in line with what has been established boarr the proper topic. ModemBoy uses volunteer "teachers," moderators who genially keep things on-topic and also have the responsibility for stimulating discussion in their "classrooms" when things get dull. Rooms in America Online are named to encourage appropriate postings, and moderators have some ability to regulate content.

Because of the limited message capacity on ISCA and the gay chat board scroll rate of popular forums, topicality is a major concern and often the subject of contentious debate. Due to storage constraints, each new post cons a post to virtual nothingness: "off-topic" posts accelerate this process. Complicating this in interesting ways is the fact that gay and lesbian biard are on-topic in other relevant forums and users are directed to post there, for issues of love and dating advice, sexual technique, religion, AIDS, and so on.

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On ISCA the broad als about topicality generally given by a spatial description become rigorously disciplined, to the point of seeming absurdity. Equally disruptive to serious conversation is the casual chatting which some users seek. Conversely, of course, one could argue that serious conversation disrupts playful banter.

The system administrator of a California municipal BBS once compared the difficulty of making decisions in an online community to holding a committee meeting in a room with someone screaming in the corner. On many systems, the distinct provisions for both synchronous and asynchronous discussion also suggest separate spaces for formal and informal discourse. Chat gravitates to synchronous spaces, serious discussion to asynchronous ones.

On America Online, Message Boards offer asynchronous, often more serious, topics of discussion while Chat Rooms are places to gather simply for conversation. America Online also provides for serious discussion in real time, through its topical Forums, where a moderator is empowered to keep things in order or through Center Stage, where many users can read simultaneously, but only invited guests may post.

The metaphors of different physical spaces reinforce these distinctions. The basic system architecture of ISCA privileges asynchronous discourse. Though users may send express messages to other users singly, no facility is offered for multiple-user real-time communication. In the forums deated for serious discussion, informal chatty posts are even more highly discouraged than off-topic posts.

Boarx forums deated for chatting and humor, including "Babble" and "Flirting," scroll rapidly, yielding something approaching a synchronous experience. The third queer space, Stonewall Cafe, serves this function for gay, lesbian, and bisexual users, as well as sympathetic straights. An one point, non-queer users had to be sponsored by a member and voted in by the membership; this process proved cumbersome and was eventually dropped as being discriminatory.

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