Queer Internet Studies: Workshop Recap

Back in September, I asked Mark Hansen about sponsoring a workshop for people who work on queerness and online technologies.  Mark directs the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, which awarded me and my collaborator Adam Golub a grant to study social media use in Brooklyn’s Drag Community, and in addition to being deeply supportive of that project, he was immediately enthusiastic about the idea of workshop.  Six months and many emails later, the workshop came into being (yesterday!) with the (deeply, deeply appreciated) support of Brown, JustPublics@365 and Microsoft Research, not to mention the efforts of my co-organizer, the indefatigable Jack Gieseking.

We started off the day with a group of activists, artists, thinkers and makers who shared how they see the politics of technologies playing out in their work with queer organizations and institutes.  Hadassah Damien spoke about her work with the Interference Archive, and in addition to explaining all the awesome things they do, she opened up discussions of how archives and activists construct the concept of public(s), access and visibility.  Kalle Westerling came back to this topic when talking about CLAGS, and thinking about both the institutional affiliation of CLAGS and questions of how best to manage outreach. Rachel Corbman‘s talk on the Lesbian Herstory Archives used the Wayback Machine to illustrate technological change.  Highlights for me (everyone, really) included getting to see pictures of Gayle Rubin in chaps and a 1982 photo of Judith Butler sporting a t-shirt, tie, shorts and Chuck Taylors.

I was struck (and concerned) by the shared precarity of these institutions, all of which are at risk of losing their funding.  During our Q&A, Irene Javors raised a really terrific point about consequences of increasing acceptance of queer subjectivities in mainstream society, which requires re-thinking how we tell our stories, conduct outreach and conceptualize queer identities.

The afternoon starting with Jack leading a really fun and really productive map-making project.  After grouping us by the decades people came out, we started mapping queer New York, which opened up some really fascinating conversations of where our queer experiences, interactions and travels have taken place.

Our second set of speakers was focused on different experiences with and ideas about queer technologies.  Merrie Cherry got us started by talking about how social media technologies have intervened in her life as a drag performer, and I loved her openness about issues of policing speech as well as bodies.  Jacob Gaboury shared some of his work on queer technologies, and encouraged us to think about queer failures, as well as how to tell histories of marginalization that simultaneously do justice to alterity while not reifying those groups as always-already in a position of victimization. Bryce Renninger talked about politics of race and sexuality in the context of online dating technologies, bringing together some really compelling questions of intersections of race, sexualities and technologies. Maggie Galvan made the case for thinking about feminist and lesbian history in the 1980s, arguing that it’s an era that’s simultaneously understudied and theoretically rich. Drawing on her research on the technological practices and fluencies of queer homeless youth in New York, Jessie Daniels made me think about the stereotypes we (tend to) carry about who uses technologies and how. David Phillips closed out the panel by talking about queer surveillance, the pleasures of marginalization and possibilities for contesting big data.  Summarizing these talks in one sentence is a series of brutal condensation, but the panel provoked a really generative set of discussions that I hope will lead to some really wonderful projects, collaborations and interventions.

I’m so grateful to the amazing line-up of folks who came to share their work, to Jack Gieseking for his brilliance, patience and sunshine-y warmth, and to the organizations that backed us.  Special shout outs to Mark Hansen, Michael Krisch and Kate Crawford for their support – I am so, so thankful for the different ways you made yesterday possible.

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