Queer Internet Studies 2.0, a Reflection

Our last reflection comes from Kalle Westerling, a Ph.D. Candidate in Theatre and a Futures Initiative Graduate Fellow, at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and Director of HASTAC Scholars, a vibrant student network within The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC). Currently, he is completing his dissertation on the history and aesthetics of male-identified bodies in 20th-century burlesque and 21st-century boylesque, “The Roots and Routes of Boylesque: Queering Male Striptease and Burlesque in New York City from 1930s Golden Age Burlesque to the New York Boylesque Festival in the 2010s.” The post was originally uploaded on Kalle’s site here.

Queer Internet Studies 2.0

Although I had a two-day migraine, I could not resist going to Jack Gieseking’s, Jessa Lingel’s, and Anne Esacove’s gathering of queer internet researchers from all over! When I arrived at the end of the first panel discussion, the second Queer Internet Studies Symposium audience was already abuzz with questions in the seminar room of The Institute of Contemporary Art at UPenn. We were all looking what “queer internet studies” might look like and mean for research, policy, and activist agendas.

The first Q&A session discussed many things, like:

  • Is hacking inherently queer? (No, it depends on what you are trying to do; queer hackers don’t make queer hacking; there’s queer potential in hacking).
  • Hack-a-thons produce a commercialization of “hacking” which often just has privilege and exclusion as result.
  • Hacking is only called hacking because there are certain people doing the work. In spaces where privilege is not, it’s not called hacking.
  • What are the histories of representation that queer kids have to engage with, who are getting into game design now? And how is this changing the landscape? (It is.)
  • What are the ethics of creating an archive online? How can we create archives not just for researchers but also search for responsibility in the academic work through our creation of archives?
  • The non-informational role of art.
  • The dual nature of the Internet. (We used to say “the Internet is so amazing” but then we need to remember that “a bunch of nazis” used the same algorithms that we do and won an election.)

A delicious lunch was served, catered from a local restaurant.

After lunch, T.L. Cowan presented a talk on ethical concerns when doing digital research, “Internet of Bodies/Bawdies—Trans-Feminist and Queer Community/Scene Protocols.

Cowan started out with a recognition of her position as settler and the stolen land where we all present our work. She also named all the collaborators and the practices from which her thoughts came, which was a really amazing moment and something I think a lot of us forget to do when we present our work. Here are a couple of notes from Cowan’s talk:

  • Internet of Bodies: the networked connection of bodies—ranging from wearables to Corporate Content Managers, and laborers in electronics manufacturing. But also the forced digitization and online publication (connectivity/searchability) of previously non-digital ephemera from Trans-Feminist and Queer community-based kink shows, porn, erotica, spoken word, cabaret, etc. — See Tara Robertson’s commentary on the digitization of On Our Backs (which eventually was removed from open-access but only to “protect the children”).
  • Development of Trans-Feminist and Queer (TFQ) community protocols: Queers and indigenous peoples should learn from each others. Specifically, in order to develop community protocols for what’s shared online, TFQ communities can learn from Mukurtu’s Traditional Knowledge labels.
  • Theory of “medial drag”: Theorizing the movement of certain content into different media posing answers to the question “What does it mean to do drag in media, but lose local community protocols?” I.e. What are correlation with 150 people in a room with me stripping out of a pink outfit and my expectation of privacy (public, advertised, announced in newspaper)? 150–300 people were in the room. But when it is published on YouTube or Vimeo, the video is available in a public setting and thousands of people can watch it without discrimination.

Cowan then moved into the maker-session part of her talk, where we focused on rapidly prototyping community protocols for TFQ digital archives available online, in four steps:

  1. Ask yourself: is there anything you have ever performed, published, spoken, or done “in public” that you would rather not have on the Internet?
    • What is it? (You may keep secret if you want.)
    • How do you keep it off the Internet?
    • What would you do if it got onto the Internet? (Take it down? Password-protect the content? Write and require the display of a contextual paragraph?)
  2. Now ask yourself: What kinds of TFQ events do you attend/scenes do you participate in?
    • What are the codes/community protocols of these events or scenes?
    • Do these codes/protocols extend to the way these events or scenes conduct themselves online?
    • To whom are you (or your research) accountable?
    • What are the competing logics, priorities or accountabilities at play in your scholarly practice?
  3. To your knowledge, have one of your posts on social media ever been used for a research or journalistic article? What does this shifted exposure feel like?
  4. Now divide yourselves into three teams: Team Jacob, Team Edward, and Team Data.
    • Team Jacob: How do you keep it off the Internet?
      • Rapid prototyping group on TFQ non-online archives—protocols for digitization and online circulation of our viscera and ephemera.
    • Team Edward: What would you do if something you did in a queer “public” got on the open access Internet and you didn’t want it there? How do we build TFQ protocols for permission/consent/agency/filter and our viscera and ephemera?
      • We can be in the archive AND the researcher = we have a position to think about this.
    • Team Data: What are some possible harms that can come from the mining, scraping, (re)circulation of TFQ born-digital materials? What are some benefits? Are there TFQ community protocols that we can implement for Data Ethnography, Ethics, re: QIS. Is there a TQ Harm Reduction Models?

After brainstorming in our respective groups, we went around the rooms in report-backs. Then, all of the drawing paper that the groups used were posted on the wall of the meeting room:

After Cowan’s maker-oriented part of the afternoon, Katherine Sender and Shaka McGlotten had a conversation around McGlotten’s recent work. Their conversation was oriented around four images. Some of my notes follow the pictures below.

  • Virtual Intimacies, and specifically “failed intimacies” (the topic of the last chapter of the book).
  • The book grew out of McGlotten’s dissertation work about public sex in Austin. The city was groomed as a new Silicon Valley, and were early adopters of new technology so McGlotten had an interest in its early geographies and materialities of technology. The book, then, focuses on how gay men “navigate social worlds in which the boundaries between real and virtual have been thoroughly confounded.”
  • Queers have resisted the “failed” intimacy that queerness is (in a heteronormative framework) through many strategies, like new kinship structures, forms of cohabitation. McGlotten finds potentiality in this failure (in Jack Halberstam’s word) or this excess and immanence (in Gilles Deleuze’s words).
  • Sender: When you say “sex publics”—what does that mean? Virtuality? Mediated?
    • Sex publics = engaged in sex together, often in public. Sex can always be made public. (Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner)
    • “Ghosting” example of new sexual practice. Phones as erotic objects. Foreplay is swiping/tapping/clicking.
    • Borrowing the terms “virtuality” from Deleuze but not completely faithful to him: it means both what he means (the more real than real) and the “digital” meaning of virtual.
    • Cruising encounters are mediated through virtual means.
    • There is never a time outside of neoliberal capitalism but there are spaces for intimacies. Chat rooms were based on text. Then there was a demand of a photo. Intensification/acceleration of neoliberal logic? Grindr was launched in 2009 and is a case study in neoliberalism – people are turned into a grid. Gamification as well – Tindr is a good example: “Do you want to keep playing?”
  • Sender: Gendered dimensions of hook-up apps. There’s speed, repetitivity. That’s how they make money. How to create apps for lesbians? Queer potentials, sure, but where are the frictions?
    • Bumble had a gate-keeping function.
    • Some other apps have been marketed as “not hook-up apps.”
    • Gay male socialities are fast. But “I wonder if the problem is really around temporality?”
    • What are the problems that developers are facing?
    • Socialities that made the web social – a lot of them were driven by AFAB. Gay men didn’t do it. Bandwidth of gay men is more narrow.
  • Sender: Let’s talk about this image (see above). Different forms of failed intimacies. Where did this picture come from? What failure and productivity came out of this?
    • The image comes from “Douchebags of Grindr”. Fatfobia, transphobia in these apps. I was interested in browsing—not everyone goes online to get off. There’s a logic of “going through.” Catfishing/baiting is looking to collect stuff – stories, images, douchebags…
    • Interesting ethics to the site – not widely published. Not stumble-upon.
    • Ethics here — screenshot of a screen posted on a website, printed in a book.
    • Maybe this has to do with narrow bandwidth – exclusionary practices built into gay male sociality.
    • When doing fieldwork on public sex (Sam Delany wrote about it), McGlotten had a sense that certain public sex spaces were more allowing than online spaces. Bersani: gay men’s sexuality is still ranked. But in any searchable app it’s more rampant — you can chosen what you want to see. In the bathhouse or toilet, you can’t choose who goes there: more potentiality there.

  • Sender: I want to move on to your more recent work. Zach Blas is messing with facial recognition data.
    • Algorithmic discrimination – codes themselves are reproducing racial
    • Black data — that work began and then I was thinking: black people have historically been operationalized data (commodity/revenue streams, insurance against theft, statistical deviations) = abstraction from humanity into data to consume.
    • In 2013 I thought of this. Snowden revelations came about. Then: mass surveillance, big data, biometric stuff.. Zach Blas’ work. Not just “datafication” of black people but also evoke things like black sites, black blocks, black box.
    • My ethnographic and archival research started with transwomen of color on YouTube: TS Madison, for instance, who creates these spaces online.
    • Amazing project: The Lab of Speculative Ethnology.
    • Returning to Afrofuturism as conceptual framework – to bring it forward in a way that it never seem to have been brought forward. I’m not alone in this. There has been proliferation of black queer studies, re-engagement in questions of tech. Even people like Kara Keeling. Affect theory conference in PA a couple of years ago, a whole stream of stuff on race. Theories of affect and tech in many ways.

[Image missing]

  • Sender: This is an image of anthropologist who composited data, found links between normative facial image and attempted to say something about the person, body, self. A really long project working with compiled data, asking: What is the face of the pervert, the queer, the person that it’s supposed to be. I want to ask you about what you think about the idea of publics. Portal phase is over (gay.com)—now disaggregated content and material. Moving from print to portal to the algorithm as a form of organizing. How to think about publics and/or markets, when data is changing so much?
    • I think it’s easier now for marketers/companies to do data scraping where they had a small dataset before.
    • Predictive capacities of algorithms are important to think through. What does the gay market look like now? But going back to failure—I think of Grindr as failed. They’ve moved through a couple of phases. Majority sale. A couple of problems in terms of monetizing. Grindr was first free, then tiered system… The ecology of the app changed. Like chat rooms on gay.com – you could get dick faster than a pizza but then familiarity with people in the network, the network changes – the ecology. Lot of younger gay men don’t use Grindr, or migrate to other apps… Holding on to a market and accurately anticipate a market – part of it has to do that with the app and the impossibility of predicting the way your app will be used. Snapchat great example.
    • I’m more interested in hearing from you about what you think of this!
  • Sender: I’m interested in the coarseness of the algorithm, the physical market, the multiple intersectionalities… I don’t know what it means to study the gay market now.
  • Sender: The idea of the black box – masking, hiding – and how they may be strategies of resistance. Choice to be secret, hidden, unseen. Sam Delany again, you are much safer on a busy street in NYC than where you’re seen.
    • Highlights the double bind in reperesentation – increased visibility has resulted in increased normativity: trans folks is an example.
    • The logic of transparency is a western logic (something has to be seen to be real, true). Refusal: I don’t have to show you who I am (that’s how I know who I am).
    • I don’t want to argue against all forms of transparency…
    • Fantasy of sovereignty, neoliberal self-branding. We might need to go dark – use encryption. Refusal is a politics. But at the same time, my refusal against Facebook.

  • Sender: Porn-fast paper. Dense image. Activity-trackers, and about the erotics of activity-trackers. Particularly our obligations to be (appropriately) sexually active. Not just NO sex but connected sex toys. I want to hear you talk about the presentation of the neoliberal self: sexual enough, not too sexual…
    • This is part of the larger biopolitics of self-regulation and self-management.
    • I had found porn so boring or masturbating too much. It highlights ambivalence we have about sexual practices and new demand toward self-optimization (be the best you can be—monitor all your activity).
  • Sender: Fast porn—let’s turn it upside down: slow movement. Self-monitoring or improvement?
    • Both.
    • Cock Hero” [link NSFW]: Masturbation to the beat of music. Overlayed on pornographic material. Maybe its about slow porn / auto-erotic encounter but also regulatory because you’re getting told what to do (masochistic pleasure?).
  • Sender: Now I want to talk about the masturbation notice (see image above).
    • It wasn’t real. It was a hoax. Meme.
    • I can’t remember how it happened. Many of them; not just at Penn. Linked in the article to self-regulation. Some of the earliest medical tracks were against masturbation. It hailed to reflect on practices but also played on longer history of appropriate expression of sexuality. You also see it in development around sexual compulsivity and addiction.
  • Sender: Lastly, what are you working on now?
    • Two book projects (don’t try to do this!)
      1. Political Aesthetics of Drag. Working with a range of artists. Racial antipathy, gentrification, utility of drag (T.L.’s transmediality could be interesting here). Drag does both as we know from Butler. I’m not saying it’s either/or. Looking at specific case studies of artists who are using politics very specific. Politics include being unappealing or anti-transparency.
      2. Black data. Liberation. Chapters on artists, chapter on gaming.

The day ended after the conversation between Sender and McGlotten with a collaborative discussion focusing on the question “What outcomes do you want from this event?” The group then had a discussion around those keywords. Sadly, I had to leave as I had to catch a train back to New York City to make it back in time to another event.

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