Martin's Column

by Martin Widmer
January 1996

(continued from last month)

I was about 19.5 years old when I discovered what we call Videotex in Switzerland. It is a national information system, based on services provided by Swiss telecom. Private organizations can provide their own information systems and databases over Videotex as well.

I was fascinated because it was the first "virtual world" I knew. It did not take long for me to discover the gay places there. They were online messaging systems where people inside the system were represented by anonymous nicknames.

I realized that being anonymous was protecting me. Nobody could find out who I really was and in this protected world I made my first gay friends. Then military service came. I had the most horrible pictures in my mind about military service, and those 17 weeks as a recruit seemed to me like an eternity. For those who are not familiar with the Swiss system, here some explanations:

Each Swiss man is obliged to go through at least 300 days of military service in his life. A recruit school (17 weeks in 1992, 15 weeks today) and refresh courses every year. The military service is mandatory and up to today there is no legal alternative.

Military service was not that bad. Although I hated the things we had to do, I had very nice comrades and our lieutenant was a nice guy too. I mean, he had charisma and he was definitely the type of man you do something for because he does something for you. During the 17 weeks, I didn't have much time to think about being gay because in recruit school you usually use your spare time (you don't have much of it) to sleep or to write letters.

After the military service however all my feelings were there again and they were somehow stronger than before. I felt something like a vacuum inside of me, the strong wish to know someone who felt just like me, who was gay. Of course I had not the courage to tell my parents and I knew nobody else to talk to. Then one day a guy on the Videotex system gave me the address of a gay youth group.

One evening I took all my courage and went away to the town. I told my parents that I'd drive my car to some hills to play with my CB radio. But actually I went to the meeting point of the ROSE. This was the name of the gay youth group.

When I got there, I met eight gay guys and we were talking and drinking tea and coffee together. That evening was very confusing for me because for the first time in my life I had met people with the same feelings. There were many things in my mind when I came home, so I did what I always do when I am confused: I switched on my computer and wrote a letter. Of course the letter was about the ROSE, that's why I wrote it on the computer -- the only place where my parents couldn't find it.

I decided to print the letter and while the printer was working, I went to the bathroom. Somehow my mother must have had the impression that printing a letter that late in the evening was strange. So she got up, went into my room and read my letter while I was in the bathroom. I could hear her screaming for my dad... and my heart stood still for a moment. My first thought was: this is the beginning of the end.

For information on the ROSE group in Switzerland, click here.

Martin Widmer, 22, of Basel, Switzerland, is a student at the University of Zurich, where he is studying computer science and economy. He can be reached online at 100647.274@compuserve.com.
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