A Decade of Progress
Speaking Out, 10 Years On
I'm not sure where exactly in the timeline that this event occurred, memories are badly filed and generally prone to corruption after all, but I do remember where it happened. Down in the depths of the old Craigmount High School, Edinburgh, in what was supposed to be a Business Studies class. Though, our class may have just been dumped down there due to another class being cancelled -- it's hard to tell, looking back, as I don't remember a great amount of work ever being completed in the basement, under the supervision of the husband and wife team that was the Department. It wasn't even really a basement because it did have windows and it was on street level at the back of the building, but the blinds were usually closed and the light was dim. The teacher couple, the sole educators of Business in the school, were a funny pair in the sense that they were stereotypes. My recollection at least has them bickering, like married couples do, with a vague sense of disdain. Still, this isn't about those two, nor the Department or even school, for that matter; I'm just taking my time getting to the point.
On this particular day, through whatever particular course of events, I was thrust into the spotlight in a way that I was neither familiar nor comfortable with. It wasn't a positive experience and I guess, in retrospect, it could've stifled the growth of something that was to become a very important factor in my life. Perhaps fate had it all worked out differently.
Earlier that year, a couple of days before my 16th birthday, I came out to my best friend at the time. For all of us who identify as LGBT, that was a turning point in my life. That was me, for the first time, releasing years of internal angst out into the real world. My birthday came and went and a couple of days later, on 7th April 1999, which was still a good while prior to telling anyone else, I published a webpage. It wasn't my first foray onto the world wide web, and I'd been playing with web design in the form of a personal homepage for at least a year, but this time I picked a random website host which was entirely unrelated to my previous ventures. It was to be the place that I, for the very first time, openly began to discuss the trials and tribulations of being a gay teen. I wasn't fully to grips with the coming out process yet, but I was certainly on a roll when it came to self-discovery and self-empowerment. This was Graham: Speaking Out.
From one solitary, unpublicised page, grew a complete website filled with thoughts, ramblings, poems, graphics, and some tasteful pictures of random cute boys, and why not? As the website grew, so did it's fan base, although perhaps growth was inspired by the positive feedback. But of course, this new found internet popularity did mean that despite the site never being publicised, it had been indexed by the search engines. The significance of that failed to register with me, much as it fails to register with many of today's internet newbies. Back then of course, the concept of online privacy wasn't as defined as it is today. Still, this isn't about search engines and privacy; they're not relevant to the story. Trust in friends, however, is relevant and indeed central to the plot.
Some sequences of events never come to be known, but sometimes you're too much in the midst of it all to really recognise what's happening. The finer details, in this case, faded into the background in terms of significance. Lets get back to that Business Studies classroom, which was fitted out like a computer lab complete with internet access. On that day, during that class, in that place, something changed. I became aware that, on someone else's computer screen, the webpage that was open in Internet Explorer was none other than Graham: Speaking Out. There's was no mistaking it, with its distinctive black and orange colour scheme. I think that, possibly, a classmate had gathered the attention of others and quickly I was being questioned, mocked and otherwise sent into a state of shock. Shell shock. After school that day, I took everything offline and replaced the site with a message stating that it may or may not return in the future. It was clear that I'd lost my anonymity, my safe space. I'd been stung by my own freedom of expression, and I know many of you will have been through something similar.
QueerAttitude.com exists today because I did put Graham: Speaking Out back online. I don't remember it being offline for over a week because I know my own impatience and I know my own determination. By this stage, I was out of the closet and known as the gay boy throughout the entire school. There was little choice but to roll with the situation, and there was little sense in being anything other than forthcoming. The straight-forward approach made things easier and earned me respect in the process, despite the fact I'd not set out to be the gay kid. At the time, whether it was or wasn't, it felt unprecedented. During that period, I was still dealing with the break-up of my parents and that undoubtedly had the bigger impact on my life, so the coming out process was just thrown in for good measure. I'd like to have been that bit more bold, and that bit better placed to manage it all, but in time my sister would prove to be more valuable to both myself and my mum than she maybe realised. The consequence of the whole experience however was that I learned to be unafraid of standing out and to ignore my inner lack of confidence, which I'm sure lives within a lot of us.
Today is the tenth anniversary of Graham: Speaking Out being published online for the first time. A decade since the inception of the website that would become QA. Its growth and development has mirrored my own life by becoming wiser, more confident, more established and ultimately, better placed to face the future. It's at this point, though, that some divergence becomes inevitable. This year, QA4 will expire after 5 years of service and we'll replace it with QA5, which will stand the community in good stead for years to come. It'll be the first version of the site not to be built around GSO. The remaining GSO content, for those who knew about it, will lose its home online and become a relic of yesteryear, archived forever in the Wayback Machine. Also, by most definitions, I'm no-longer classed as a youth having turned 26 years old on Saturday, and I'm no-longer in touch with you -- the youth of today. Whatever the future holds for QA, it'll no-longer be a place for me to speak out, but a place for all of you guys to speak out.
I would like to end this entry with a touch of soppy sentimentality by saying thank-you to all of you, the QA members of past and present, for making our community one of the nicest and most genuine places on the world wide web. I'd like to think that some of you carry a sense of pride in the site, and in yourself, and I hope you'll all take away something from here into your real life and make equally important contributions to the people and communities around you. I aim to do nothing less. Here's to believing in something real, and human interaction, and making things better. Here's to the last, and the next, decade of progress.
*apologies for the crappy video!*