Diana Anselmo-Sequeira is a postdoctoral fellow in Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently working on a book examining the fan practices and personal archives of the first generation of movie-loving girls to emerge in the United States. Her research on female adolescence and film history has been published in Cinema Journal, Spectator, several academic anthologies, and is forthcoming in Camera Obscura and Screen. She is also the coeditor of the anthology Girls’ Economies: Work and Play Cultures (University of Illinois Press, 2016) with Miriam Forman-Brunell. She generously shared this reflection with us on her visit to QIS2 as an attendee.
Full disclosure: I am a silent film historian. My work examines girls who went to the American movies in the 1910s and the fan objects they created as a means to articulate non- heteronormative desires and aspirations. So when I attended QIS2, my main goal was to look for connections and breakages between those girls’ early fan practices and current queer, girl- dominated, internet communities. What I found at this gathering was equal parts surprising and rewarding.
I discovered that the ethical and methodological questions haunting the reportage, archiving, and dissemination of personal queer materials produced in the past are not so very different from those produced in the present. There’s something indelibly galvanizing and daunting about studying queer people’s confessional media production, being their blog posts, their self- generated images, their yellowing love letters. I was reminded of that while having conversations at my table with a medley of queer activists, undergraduates, and professors. That writing about queerness is a collective endeavor, collaborative if usually solitary (and most academics will tell you that it’s a bittersweet solitude, always crowded by the echoey voices of your artifacts, your sources, your ancestors, your peers). But that is why gatherings such as QIS2 are so important, at least to me. Because in addition to the dynamic sharing of ideas and resources, they are also meeting points for the body when so much of academic life is lived in the mind, as is so much of everyday life in the digital, the abstract, the disembodied.
Panelists and participants further reminded me that by taking up queer studies as a field of study we are inherently pledging to a labor of responsibility, of intersectional allyship, and care-taking —that that’s the burden and pleasure of writing the history of marginalized people. This notion struck me the clearest while listening to Adrienne Shaw and Shaka McGlotten talk about their respective projects. While Adrienne is engaged in the vital and ever-expanding task of cataloguing all video games integrating LGBTQ content, Shaka interrogates the fast-changing digital interfaces mediating queer sexual encounters. Both wrestle with questions of ephemerality, of creating a legible repository and traceable history of queer desire, and both question the ways it surfaces in mass- and self-made representations. Both examine how technological innovation enables the elision and visibility of LGBTQ life-stories, their affects, their images. We diverge in our time periods, as in our media objects, but the joys and frustrations of recovering a presumed-lost video game or a particularly juicy Grindr profile remain exactly the same—exhilarating and raw, much like the fan production we, scholars on different sides of the historical continuum, exhume.
Full disclosure again: I am a covert introvert, which means I will put up a good impersonation of gregariousness only to mask a constant longing for being alone. Consequently, fellow attendees, participants and organizers may not be aware of how much I appreciated being part of this conversation, largely because I remain quiet and am the first to leave. Yet I very much did so, precisely because QIS2 tucked at those sharps you have forgotten are still lurking, those uncomfortable questions I have become so familiar with, I don’t pour over them as intensely Diana W. Anselmo QIS2 anymore. Mia Fischer at some point in her talk alerted to the dangers of extractive research, that razor edge taunting most scholars doing ethnographic, immersive, and/or audience reception work. Mia then mentioned that queer activism can come in discreet gestures like funding scholars, local activists and artists to present a talk, to speak about their projects. In the age of social networks regulated by massive exposure and numerals, one forgets activism does not always have to be signified by a nationwide campaign, have catchy slogans, be instagrammable. Sometimes it’s just about being mindful and nurturing towards the community around you.
I’m a queer historian of dead fans and an introvert, so that resonated deeply with me—the idea of fostering small mercies and small kindnesses, not only in our work, but in those laboring alongside us—being here and now, or once upon a time.