Queerness, sexuality, technology, and writing: How do queers write ourselves when we write in cyberspace?

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Queerness, sexuality, technology, and writing: How do queers write ourselves when we write in cyberspace?
Jonathan Alexander, Barclay Barrios, Samantha Blackmon, Angela Crow, Keith Dorwick, Jacqueline Rhodes, and Randal Woodland
University of Cincinnati, Rutgers, Purdue University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, California State University–San Bernadino, University of Michigan–Dearborn


“Queerness, Sexuality, Technology, and Writing: How Do Queers Write Ourselves When We Write in Cyberspace?” is primarily an edited conversation transcript on how queer writing is changed by and influences cyberspace use by queers. The conversation took place on January 21, 2004. Participants Jonathan Alexander, Barclay Barrios, Samantha Blackmon, Angela Crow, Keith Dorwick, Jacqueline Rhodes and Randal Woodland gathered in AcadianaMOO (http://acadiana.arthmoor.com/cuppa) and annotated the conversations in the weeks that followed.
Keywords: Gender, LGBT/queer, MOO, Online writing, Race, Sexuality, Subaltern, Technology, Virtual reality, Wit.
1. Introduction

This piece is an example of a successful collaboration on several levels. Its genesis was a series of conversations between Jonathon Alexander, Angela Crow and Keith Dorwick. As we talked through plans for an article intended for this special issue of Computers and Composition on “Sexualities, Technologies, and the Teaching of Writing,” and struggled with the relation between the resources we frequent online and our queer identities, we started wondering if we could imagine being queer without the Internet. While talking about the types of queer sites we frequent, and whether we could live our own queer lives without technology, one of us asked, only half in jest, “where would I be without the gay.com Phone Fun room?” In attempting to say something about queerness, sexuality, technology and writing, however, we realized that we had many questions that required more than our perspectives and found ourselves wondering about several issues.

We, therefore, asked a number of other queer-writing theorists to participate in a virtual conversation that would speak to the impact of cybertechnologies, such as the Web, on our sense of queer life and writing (this introduction is based on that invitation), and are grateful to Barclay Barrios, Samantha Blackmon, Jacqueline Rhodes and Randal Woodland for joining the conversation. The group of seven scholars who gathered that night reflected a wide range of positions and locations. We are different ages, classes, ethnicities, races, genders, and members of various subcommunities within a decidedly nonmonolithic, wider queer community. The conversation is richer for its diversity.

Like many scholarly conversations, there are several layers of discourse here: First, participants had several questions in hand (developed by Jonathan, Angela and Keith) several weeks before the conversation took place—providing all seven participants the opportunity to think through how writing and queerness intersect, for us at least, on the Internet. We began by asking what our favorite queer site is or which queer site we see as most significant (and why). And we asked these additional questions:

  • Can you imagine being queer without technology—or queer without the Internet?

  • How have online technologies enabled us to extend, configure, reconfigure, interrogate, and play with the queer imagination as queers?

  • We don’t automatically assume that technology is queer, but we know that we’ve attempted to use technology for queer purposes. What are those purposes? What are those rhetorical events? What are those compositional imaginings? Would we mark them as successful queer moments?

  • What, if anything, has cyberspace done to our conception of writing and of writing queerly, including the kinds of writing we do for the World Wide Web?

The conversation took place in AcadianaMOO (a synchronous multi-user chat domain) of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for Java-compliant browsers or for MOO/MUD clients; Keith then edited and arranged the transcript to better serve readers. Largely, the editing attempted to reflect the several ongoing threads that existed by eliminating the discontinuities in the conversation that resulted from such factors as differences in keyboarding speed, lag time, and bad connections. Finally, after-the-fact annotations from participants were added to the edited version, allowing them a chance to revisit and rethink the conversation asynchronously. We intend the edited transcript and its annotations to serve as an article and a record of a hybrid synchronous and asynchronous event, with all seven participants sharing equal co-authorship.

The authors would like to note that MOO language is its own particular, unique, and wonderful discourse; the editing of the transcript did not try to fix or change those qualities by correcting what would be grammatical and spelling errors in a more traditional text. However, reordering the conversation involved difficult editorial decisions and relied on the (perhaps faulty) memory of the editor. Therefore, following Dene Grigar’s suggestion for an earlier MOO-based article for Computers and Composition, the original conversation, without editorial changes, is archived for scholarly purposes at .

2. Conversation

Keith [Dorwick, University of Louisiana at Lafayette] says, “welcome to AcadianaMOO, and thanks all for coming... the recorder is running and we’re live from Acadiana! O.K., first question: We will begin by asking what your favorite queer site is or which queer site you see as most significant (and why), and I guess as one of the authors of that question, I could see it meaning either personally or professionally, or both.”

Barclay [Barrios, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–New Brunswick] says, “umm are we going in order, or jumping in?”

Jonathan [Alexander, University of Cincinnati] says, “Jump in, Barclay.”

Saffista [Samantha Blackmon, Purdue University] says, “Interestingly enough my favorite/most signif site isn’t exclusively queer, does it still count?”

Barclay says, “My favorite site? Hrm. The problem I have with this question is that to answer is to out my specific desires, something I’d rather not do until I’m tenured. But with this hesitation, I guess I am at least willing to admit that my favorite queer sites have a lot to do with meeting people who share my particular configurations of queer desires. I’m hoping that will be answer enough. As for the most significant queer site, I would actually have to choose something that’s neither specifically queer nor actually a site: America Online [AOL]: it allows for multiple, stable online identities (allowing people to explore new queer identities and manage their outness online); it has chat rooms for all kinds of queers (allowing queers to find other queers); its instant messaging creates private conversation in public online spaces (allowing more private explorations of desires and interests); and it’s where I first started learning HTML [hypertext markup language]. Plus, there was the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender] area & what was it called? On Q?”

Jonathan says, “I’m experiencing a little of what Barclay mentions about hesitating to name one’s desire—even on the other side of the tenure line...”

Barclay nods

Saffista says, “It still counts, in my opinion...”

Keith adds, yes, it counts in my opinion, too; in fact, most queer spaces on the Internet are embedded in other, mostly commercial, mostly straight spaces. I’m thinking here of Yahoo.com, which has wildly popular M4M rooms, and AOL, which also offers queer spaces within chat spaces that are mostly nonqueer. The M4M rooms were first created on AOL (and later on Yahoo). They exist primarily for use by MSMs [men who have sex with men] to meet. These spaces are not identified as gay or bisexual, and many of the men (and sometimes boys) who use them would not identify as such. They are largely used to meet other individuals for sex without the supposed stigma of being called gay. Meanwhile, all-gay spaces such as Gay.com

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