DEAR ABBY: Several months ago I wrote you using the name of a dear friend and longtime prankster, Michael Deibele of Portland, Ore. In it, "he" was writing about his hobby, baton twirling, and the fact he was receiving flak about it.
I, not Michael Deibele, wrote that letter. I thought that people who know Mike would read it, think it was funny (obviously a joke) and no one would be the wiser. I intended to use this harmless prank as a way of getting back at him for years of practical jokes.
Instead, my friend Mike has received homophobic crank calls and a lot of unwanted attention from the media. I feel terrible about this!
Abby, I need to clear up this situation, take blame where blame is due and apologize. I hope you will print my letter. -- JULIE WILBORN, PORTLAND, ORE.
DEAR JULIE: You have shown maturity by writing to set the record straight. Your letter illustrates the danger of practical jokes, the consequences of which can sometimes mushroom.
Since I published your original letter, I've been reminded that there exists an outdated public perception that certain activities are "masculine" or "feminine," and those who cross over and enjoy them are suspect. For example: Needlepoint has long been regarded as a woman's hobby. But Rosie Grier does it, and can hardly be classified as effeminate -- nor should male surgeons who sometimes do needlepoint to keep their fingers strong and nimble.
Professional dancing has been similarly classified. But no one would label Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mikhail Baryshnikov or Patrick Swayze "gay." The same goes for male hairdressers -- and anyone who doubts it should rent a video of the cult favorite, "Shampoo."
It is estimated that up to 10 percent of the population is homosexual. Homosexuals are represented in every profession, sport and hobby, whether they choose to disclose it or not.
But I digress: Until this unfortunate incident, Michael Deibele told me, he was unaware of the extent to which homophobia has blossomed in the USA of the '90s. It should be unnecessary for Mike to explain that baton twirling is not and never has been a hobby of his, that it was a figment of your fertile imagination, and that he is the victim of a practical joke. Not only have there been homophobic phone calls, but also calls from male friends who assure him, "We're with you all the way" with a knowing chuckle, and numerous calls from the national media asking to interview him about "his hobby."
I apologize to Mr. Deibele for the part I unwittingly played in this unfortunate incident. And in the future, I am asking readers who want their letters to be published to include a phone number that I can use for verification.
Practical joking is a hobby that BOTH of you should discontinue. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.