Why are all the queers sitting together at the conference? Or, reflections on AAG 2016

The American Association of Geographers and Sexuality & Space Pre-Conference meetings took place in San Francisco last week. I’ve been back in Hartford a week and still feel like I’m getting my sea legs back after six days of conferencing. The Sexuality & Space Pre-Conference served as a great kick-off for the week and allowed to catch up with or connect to geographers of sexualities on their research-in-process. I reflect on the great papers and ideas I heard throughout the week and, most importantly, the segregation and diversity of the meeting, and how we must come together even further to create truly rigorous and diverse scholarship.

I took part in four exciting sessions during the week. In the first two, “Dilemmas III: Institutionality, Queers, and City Exclusions and Negotiations” and “Queering code/space: difference, disorientation, and the digital,” I acted as discussant for papers from scholars ranging from Sarah Schulman to Petra Doan and Agnieszka Leszczynski. The first session, organized by Julia De Montigny and Rae Rosenberg, examined the role of policy and framing in the production of lgbtq spaces. Schulman always takes our thinking to the next level, and her work on the criminalization of HIV infection in Canada is surely a forthcoming book that we need. Doan took us through the role architecture plays in the production of late 20th century lgbtq gentrification with her in-going work in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida–why have we not discussed this before? Papers by graduate students Amanda C. Micklow, Ali Bhagat, and Leah Roberts were equally exciting as they addressed, respectively, the role of heteronormativity on zoning and housing design, definitions of citizenship in post-1994 Cape Town, and the discursive production of lgbtq identities and possibilities as written in the Gay and Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

The “Queering code/space” session was my favorite gathering of the week. Grad students Daniel G. Cockayne and Lizzie Richardson put together a truly incredibly conversation around the mutual production of space and code. Agnieszka Leszczynski is theorizing the production of the corporeal body of code, and Samuel Miles and Carl Anthony Bonner-Thompson gave some really smart papers on Grindr and the productions of masculinity and sexuality. It feels like some smart work on the meaning and effects of online dating and cruising is finally coming to the surface! Lastly, Olu Jenzen‘s great work with trans youth’s use of Tumblr in Brighton, UK, perfectly coincides with my own on-going project on text analysis and social network analysis of trans Tumblr and which I presented on later that day.

The “Speculative Critical GIS” panel with Luke R. Bergmann, David O’Sullivan, Craig M. Dalton, and myself led to some terrific conversation about the role of difference in the future of truly critical GIS. Organized by Jim Thatcher, David O’Sullivan, and Luke Bergmann, I spoke briefly on the need to queer and therefore refute norms of GIS, namely what we call the “industry standard” that is ArcGIS in both our teaching and research. It was great to finally meet David in person (it’s awesome to meet someone with equally great hair!) and hear what everyone was up to–all invigorating smart work that will soon be a special issue of Canadian Geographer. Keep your eyes peeled!

My own co-organized session, “Queer Data II: Locating Desire, Tension, and (In)Difference in the Data Mine,” with Gregory Donovan had a great attendance and some exciting papers. This session was a continuation of our Queer Data session from last year’s AAG in Chicago, “Queer Data: Desire and Tension in the Production of Media Ecologies.” Amanda Matles spoke on her PA work on broken windows policing with Make the Road and Public Science Project, and Donovan discussed his critical examination of smart cities and the role of data within. My own paper, “Size Matters to Lesbians Too: Queer Trans Feminist Interventions for a Scale of Big Enough Data,” was the sum of multiple years of work and forthcoming and in-progress in two papers. The first examines what happens when the data of the marginalized does not “measure up” to the size requirements of “big data”–a phenomenon that is more often true than not given the “deviant” and ridiculed place of minorities in the world; this paper is under review with Professional Geographer. The paper in-progress that offers a queer trans feminist approach to the scale of “big data” will be sent off to First Monday or some place similar in the near future. The fabulous Elizabeth R. Johnson who took part in last year’s session served as this year’s discussant, crafting some eloquent thoughts on the role of queering climate change data to bring our session to a close.

In all of these discussant sessions, it again struck me how at least half of most lgbtq sessions at the AAG–and surely across the disciplines–are populated with graduate students or recent PhDs who have not secured tenure-based lines. I also remain eternally frustrated of the lack of intersectionality in our sessions; my own attempts to create an intersectional series of conversations led to a four-series session entitled “Space & Identity || Speaking From and Across Categories” at AAG Las Vegas in 2009 (was it that long ago that we found those food trucks and stayed at the Circus Hotel for $24 a night?!?!). As Kate Derickson is always telling me (my gah, I adore that brilliant friend of mine), we need to attend and speak out of the general sessions of topics — cities, GIS, political economies. political ecologies — to make sure there is difference brought to the table of what is defined as the core discussion on a topic. I want to add to Kate’s idea that we also need to further the theories and critical approaches that must confront those “baseline” conversations. Then it’s a matter of getting those “big boys” (as Cindi Katz calls the over-cited and sometimes only cited straight white men of social theory) to come to the other conversations as well. Otherwise, we keep pouring in the insights of the “margins” into the center without the much needed reverse–how else we will come to be whole?

Finally, kudos to my dear friend and stunning colleague Marion Werner whose book, Global Displacements: The Making of Uneven Development in the Caribbean, is recently out from Antipode. Her author meets critic–with the all-star crew of Derickson, Beverly Mullings, Matt Sparke, and Melissa Wright (see below)–met this tremendous text with smart and invigorating discussion. I look forward to seeing Marion at Trinity in fall when she comes to speak about the book in September!