Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Virtually Queer?" and benefits and problems with queer community building online

In the article "Virtually Queer? Homing Devices, Mobility, and Un/Belongings," Mary Bryson, Lori MacIntosh, Sharalyn Jordan, and Hui-Ling Lin discuss their project to examine the way that queer women in Canada use media and the internet as a source of information and site for community building.  They note that the internet can be used to create spaces for community building on email lists and chat room websites, but that these spaces can also be sites of policing if people do not meet criteria set by other users (Bryson, et al., 2006, 794).   They also interviewed lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer women to see how they engaged with new media, fandoms, and television.  I found their discussion of blogging and blog reading to be particularly relavent.  They write,   
"The narrative act of blogging adheres to a performative standard that is tightly tied to audience expectation and thus audience’s consumptive participation in the blogging process. Blogging as a self-productive act is driven by desire and is both a “means” and an “end” to the production of the “self as—” (Cohen, 2005). Individuals perform the “truth(s)” of who they are via gender identifications, belief systems, political positionings, et cetera. This “truth” of being requires that others witness and thereby confirm the recognizablity of the self’s emergence (Butler, 2005). Yet blogs are not utopic spaces of virtuality where the self can posit an endless number of representations, claiming subjectivities in an online world of free-floating signifiers." (Bryson, et al., 2006, 802).
I think they do a really good job at hitting at the possible conflict between the act of revealing parts of the self in the public act of blogging while maintaining some degree of anonymity.  People have to share some parts of their identity in order to engage with their audience.  The act of engagement and writing for others is an integral part of the idea of blogging.   They especially noted the act of creating the public self in the personal blogs of the people they interviewed who tended to maintain blogs about their lives rather than blogs that are focused on a topic or issue (Bryson, et al., 2006, 801-802).

They also note how important the internet can be in allowing LBTQ women to find community and a place to find information and ways to express their sexuality.  They note, 
"Irrespective of age and location, interviewees continued to identify an ongoing relationship both to “the closet” and to pervasive and persistent impacts of homophobia. While unevenly distributed as a function of geography, occupation, and likelihood of being perceived as “queer,” participants’ narratives of sexual subjectivity testify to the cost of the “economy of visibility” within which being recognizable as queer is both necessary and also constitutive of a mark of difference that is a target for violence in its myriad incarnations." (Byrson, et al., 2006, 803)
I thought this was a particularly astute statement about the problems of visibility for queer women.  The problems of being seen and not being seen as queer or gay are very real and complicated for queer people.  This problem can be compounded for queer women who identify as femme and are less visible than women who noticeably break gender barriers and for people who live in rural places where there is not a large queer community or where people are not allowed to express divergent sexualities or gender presentations.

They do note that the internet is a very critical space for people to find not only information but also communities, either in the physical or the digital world, where they can connect to people like themselves (Bryson, et al., 2006, 806).  They do think, however that it is not a perfect place and that problems of identity policing still take place there and that there continues to be lack of awareness of racial marginalization of minority women by white women (Bryson, et al., 2006, 806-807).  It is problematic to think that the internet will be a magical utopia for queer people where the problems of the "real" world do not exist.  Because the internet is constructed by people, people bring the problems of the physical world such as racism with them on to the internet and recreate those problems.

Bryson, Mary, Lori MacIntosh, Sharalyn Jordan, and Lin Hui-Ling. 2006. "Virtually Queer? Homing Devices, Mobility, and Un/Belongings." Canadian Journal Of Communication 31, no. 4: 791-814.Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2012).

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