Virgule Mailing List

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Mailing List
Name: Virgule-L
Date(s): 1992-2003
Moderated: yes
Moderators/List Maintainers: Sandy Herrold, lizj, Morgan Dawn
Type:
Fandom: slash multifandom
URL:
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This is distinct from the Virgule convention run in Seattle in '94, '95 and '96, and Virgule (LiveJournal) community which was created a decade later.


Buttons created by the Media Cannibals for members of the mailing list. These were most likely worn at various conventions in the 1990s such as Escapade, Virgule and Zebracon.

While there had been some small online discussion groups in the early '90s on GEnie, and local BBSs, Virgule-L was the first Internet slash mailing list.

Beginnings

Virgule was created in October 1992 by Sandy Herrold (who had no listserv-fu), and almost immediately, lizj volunteered to host the list on her private listserv on the East Coast.

The first post was by Sandy Herrold on October 19, 1992. In that post she reviews the slash zine Homosapien Too and goes on to note that there were only 7 members on the list. [1]

In December 1994, lizj announced she could no longer host the mailing list on her private server and Morgan Dawn volunteered to distribute the list from her account. The list was moved in May 1995, and the name changed to the less obvious Virgule-L.

From then on, the two of them admin'd the list together, until 1995, when Morgan Dawn was added to the moderators.

At that time, broadband at home was rare, and most of the original Virgule members joined on work accounts.

The use of work email accounts led to the first flame war on Virgule when in 1993 a disgruntled list member trolled through old archives to identify the workplace of a fellow member she was having an on list dispute with. She then posted to the mailing list that she knew where her nemesis worked (actually identifying the workplace in her post to the mailing list) and claimed she could get her fired (presumably for using work resources to receive mailing list emails). Not surprisingly, her actions led to the first mailing list member being banned from Virgule.

It wasn't the first time that a fellow slash fan threatened to out another fan, but the list began to take member recommendations more seriously and for a brief while, new members could be put on hold if a mailing list member objected because they believed the proposed member was untrustworthy or lacked integrity. Some fans felt this was the equivalent to blackballing new members but others pointed out that because the mailing list had already seen outing threats, they had little choice but to put measures in place to safeguard the existing membership. [2]

The objection policy was dropped in the summer of 1995 and new members were added automatically if they met the membership criteria and agreed to abide by list policies. The FAQ listed the following three criteria for admission: "interest in slash, ability to maintain confidentiality of the list, and a tolerance of others."

These altercations added to the dangers of being associated with or discussing slash, making membership originally quite restrictive. Members were asked not to mention the list anywhere online. To join, you had to be recommended by someone already on the list, and you had to give your real name to the list admins (although pseudonyms were allowed on the list). Finally, as with any closed membership mailing list members were asked not to forward (or in later years repost to the web) mailing list emails.

The mailing list's first name was somewhat unimaginative "slashfen". Some fans also referred to it as "Slashnet." However, as more and more fans became aware of the openness of Internet communication and the increased visibility of and hostility to slash fandom, the list moderators proposed that the list be titled something a bit more...oblique.[3] Even when meeting in fan-controlled spaces (such as fan conventions) the mailing list room parties were advertised discreetly.[4] Still, in spite of the perceived concerns, the mailing list's name was not formally changed until 1995, when the list moved to Morgan Dawn's server. That was when Sandy Herrold's 1993 suggestion, Virgule, was adopted.

Early Years

Oddly, the early 1990s were a relatively dry time for fandoms. There weren't a lot of slashable shows airing; in fact, it was common for fans on the list to proclaim that they didn't watch TV. On the other hand, there was a lot of recruiting fans of older fandoms (usually Star Trek or Blake's 7) into slightly newer fandoms (usually The Professionals at first).[5] The list which began with 7 members (plus Sandy) had over 150 members by October 1996. One of the biggest growth spurt in membership came after the mailing list advertised in the Media Monitor adzine in early 1993. It would be the first - and only time - the list would publicly advertise. By February 1993, the list was generating as much email traffic as some of the larger, more established Blake's 7 mailing lists.

It wasn't all guns and lube, of course. Many of today's wanks had easily identifiable proto-versions back then. There were memorable fights over membership: should men be allowed to join? can men be 'real' slash fans? should slash fans, who are also academics, who might want to write about slash fandom, be allowed to join? Another joyous fight was over the creation of a second slash mailing list, CI-5, dedicated specifically to slash conversation about The Professionals. Many of the Virgule members didn't see why fandom needed two mailing lists. After all, that way lay madness.

There clearly was a pent-up demand for slash mailing lists. In October 1996, a fan at UC Davis set up Slashpoint, an open slash mailing list and publicly advertised it on Usenet. Within 5 days it had over 100 members with as many as 100 posts every 24 hours.[6]

Golden Age

The list spawned some interesting meta: The Wave Theory and Pros Fanfic Angst Viewed As a Five-Star Thai Menu.

Other topics discussed in the first twelve months: RPS, Rape fic, Fan Fic Stereotypes, The Professionals Drinking Game, The Professionals FanFic Drinking Game, the history of K/S fandom, songvids, favorite zines, reviews of zines, whether reviews were destroying fandom, the dangers of the Internet, why fandom should never be publicly mentioned on the World Wide Web (and why some fans needed to stop worrying so much), the electronic circuit library, the perils of putting fanfiction into electronic form, men in slash fandom, academics in fandom, writing sequels to another fan's fanfiction....

Or to put it in the words of Alexfandra, one of the list members:
"I mean, during our past year of list existence, we've pretty much covered it: How I Became a Slash Fan; What Is Slash?; What My Mother Thinks of Slash; What My SO, Boss, Co-Workers, Friends, and Pets Think of Slash; Fanfic Likes and Dislikes; Where Did Slash Come From, Anyway?; Academics Study Slash--Ooh, Ick; Actor Slash--Ooh, Ick, Where Can I Get Some; Zine Pirating Will Ruin Fandom; Diversity into Mini-Fandoms Will Ruin Fandom; Academics (Ooh,Ick) Will Ruin Fandom; Fandom Will Ruin Fandom; Why I Like Rape, S/M, Death and Mayhem; Elves Suck; No, They Don't; Bleeding Versus Sniffle H/C Versus Emotional H/C; Explicitness and Slash--Is It Sex Yet?; and My Guy's Wanger Is Bigger Than Your Guy's Wanger."[7]
Other fans appreciated the list for the amount of debate it generated:
"I like Virgule, and wouldn't unsubscribe......for a lot of small reasons, and one big reason: Lots of people on Virgule disagree with me about almost everything. It is very easy for me in my local fan group (the Media Cannibals) to think that if we all agree on something, that it must be the fannish consensus. People on this list were chosen (arcanely, but so far accurately) by the list admins to be of-like-mind on at least some issues. It's easy, for me at least, to forget that people I respect in fandom often have different opinions about important fannish issues. Sure, the threads often go on long after the important points have been made, and people whose opinions I do not respect do far more than their share of posting. But Virgule is a cross-section of fandom different than any other: there are people who don't go to cons, who never belonged to an apa or letterzine, who don't write or publish, and I hear things there I wouldn't otherwise hear."[8]

As early as 1996, some fans mourned the loss of intimacy of the initial mailing list:

"Virgule list was a remarkable experience for me -- my first exposure to slash fans en masse. The fact that there's more diverse a masse than there was when I first joined is probably a good thing, at least in theory. In practice, the feeling of community that was there when I joined is mostly gone."[9]

Later Days

After the CI-5 list, other specific fandom lists spawned, encouraged by free list software offered by ONElist/eGroups/YahooGroups until every possible splinter of fandom had its own list, and the need for a rather controlled private list grew less. The Virgule Mailing List ceased operating sometime on or around October 1, 2003.[10]

List Surveys and Notable Discussions

A Fan Describes this Community in Late 1994/Early 1995

Ever wondered why you never hear from someone? Chances are, if they have a modem, and particularly if they are based in the US, they are on the slash net! US readers of LfB will probably already know about it.

I've just got an account on the Internet at my university, and have been accepted onto the slash bulletin board based in the US. I thought that some of the readers of LfB may be interested to hear a bit about it, especially if they are not yet au fait with bulletin board systems (I'm not).

In some ways, it is similar to LfB, in that it is a forum for anyone with an Email account to write to other slash fen. It is not direct communication, there is no direct talking with any other members like some chat boards, but rather a posting of informal electronic letters which reach the board in seconds and can be answered daily.

The main pro of the board is speed. The main con of the board is, also, speed. You can send a query to the board and have rt answered immediately, and news and titbit's reach the whole group of 80+ members immediately. . Unfortunately, if you miss posting on a day (and I generally miss a week at a time), then that's just tough. It isn't topic of the week, but topic of the day, or even of the hour. With a letter zine such as LfB, tribbers have time to compose their messages and consider what they wish to say. The slashnet doesn't give you that time.

Messages need to be kept very short or they are only skimmed by readers, who may have to deal with over a 100 messages every time they log on, and don't want to read dissertations. In fact, it seems that the majority of messages consist of "Did you see so and so an episode last night? Wasn't whats-his-name a spunk?".

There are a number of reasonably famous slash type people on the board. Gayle F is a regular poster, along with Mysti Frank. It is also a very quick way of tracking down people in the US who may be able to tape shows, or share a common interest, or get an opinion on a zine. I did see one tribber ask for a pirate copy of a zine though, and she went down in flames. That's another problem with the speed of the board messages, if anyone says something that another takes exception to, there is no cooling off period. Say something wrong and the flaming can be acid.

If you thought that LfB often had things in it that you were not interested in, you aint seen nothin'!. The sheer amount of chat that goes through this board means that 80% of it is rubbish. Certainly, there are some very interesting items posted though, enough to keep me looking in, but I get approximately 100 messages every time I log on, and only reply to three or four. It may sound rude to ignore all of those people, but that is the only way to deal with it all.

The latest talk that has been dominating the Board is the possibility of Ezines. There is already an electronic Professionals library available, with about 119 stories that can be posted to your Email address. (This is fabulous - totally free stories that just come down the phone line and print off your own machine! Although etiquette is that you type one in return). No real agreement was reached, with everyone saying they preferred paper zines, but agreeing electronic zines would be a lot cheaper than buying paper zines. The main consensus was that like the Professionals (paper) stories circuit, there just isn't enough feedback to help it compete against zines, and no rewards for editors either, so that it may be a long time before Ezines become a reality.

It is an expensive option, if you want to trib to the net from home. Take into consideration the costs of setting up a modem, a carrier, account maintenance, and phone calls, but it is cheap, (albeit time consuming) if done from a university if you are a student.

I cannot give out the address, as it is a strictly private board, but if anyone has a modem and is interested, if you write to me, via CARLA, I'll give the board your Email address. You have to apply to the board, all members are asked if they have any objections to your joining, then you are sent your first lot of messages. There are quite a lot of rules to follow, but it is certainly an enjoyable way of killing time, but be prepared to loose many hours in front of your screen. [11]

References

  1. from a reposted email sent to the mailing list on October 31, 1996, accessed with permission. A copy of that first email can be read here; reference link.
  2. Source: Sandy Herrold personal recollections, accessed May 25, 2011.
  3. Oblique was in fact the first name suggested by one of the list moderators.
  4. For example, at the MediaWest 1993 room party members were directed to the "WSEWR users' group meeting" in purple letters.
  5. On the mailing list's third anniversary (October 18, 1995), Sandy posted the following overview of the mailing list membership:
    "A lot of the early bios say things like, I knew there had to be people like me out there, but I didn't know how to find them. They sound so thrilled to be here (and we were thrilled to absorb their enthusiasm and fire). Others of us were more ho-hum; the list just complemented the many fannish contacts we already have (apas, penpals, local slash communities), but complemented them usefully, and added aspects of fun and communication that we'd miss now if we lost them....
    We currently have 83 subscribed accounts (some of which are shared). We've lost 10-15 people, for any number of reasons. Some people have come and gone 2 or 3 times as they've gained and lost e-mail accounts or sufficient time in their lives.
    A lot of the early bios had a variation on the phrase, 'Sandy dragged me into this list...' I've long since stopped playing recruiter, and most of the last 20 or 30 people I've never heard of before, but I'm still making new friends of the people that show up, and still having a blast with this list.
    I'd love a round of applause for Betsy who did all of the work for the first 2+ years of the list (I just did the fun parts), and Morgan Dawn, who shares the work with her now." Reposted with permission.
  6. Source: Sandy Herrold's email to a private mailing list. She wrote: "For reference, CI5 has about 95, and Virgule has 150 [members]...Lots of familiar faces from Virgule and others, but lots of people I've never heard of, and some people I know through fandom, but never knew were online..." (quoted with permission).
  7. posted December 1993, quoted with permission.
  8. Sandy Hereld posting to a private mailing list on Sept 30, 1996, quoted with permission.
  9. Post by Jan Levine to the mailing list dated Mon 9/30/1996, quoted with permission.
  10. The last list message is dated September 27, 2003. By October 6, an attempt to renew a subscription to Virgule-L resulted in this message: "No LISTSERV list by the name of "VIRGULE-L" is known to exist." Saved email, accessed April 18, 2010.
  11. by Ferret in Late for Breakfast #24 (February 1995)