Marika Cifor, Department of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
Quantified Sex: Queer Archival Practices of Sexuality and Self
“‘McDonald, Bob.’ Chicago. 28-III-50. Mysterious past, the Lincoln Blackfoot Club. Actually, a plain-clothes cop and as queer as they make ‘em. That is, if his sucking my cock makes a man queer. He did—twice.”
“M__, Eddie. Chicago, 24-XI-49. Botticelli beauty. Thighs of Michelangelo’s David. Torso of a young boy. 17 years old.”
“A__, Marie. New York-Columbus, 1930. 3 x. lezz.”
“__, Augustus (Gus). 2016, Brk. June 9, 1966. A9. Ami de Milt H__. Aging queen. (Ain’t we all ?)”
The entries above are to be found among the hundreds of index cards that make up Samuel Steward’s “Stud File,” a card catalogue in which he chronicled his sexual activities from the 1930s through the 1960s. The Stud File, now at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, was but one medium for Steward’s larger project of documenting, classifying and quantifying his queer sexual existence. Steward carefully tracked the partners, locations, dates, acts, accessories, and releases. He also offered gendered, racialized and racy remarks on the bodies and personalities of those with whom he was engaged and the activities and pleasures they shared. In another archival practice David Louis Bowie in his diaries, held by New York Public Library’s Archives and Manuscript’s Division, chronicles his queer sexual life and world from 1978 to 1993 in text, numbers, photographs and graphic illustrations of genitalia and sex acts. The diaries are both documentation and themselves a documented sexual object of arousal for their creator. Both of these queer men engaged in an analog archival process of quantifying and classifying their queer sexual lives and beings for posterity and pleasure that was personal and public. In our contemporary moment the quantified self movement has brought new digital possibility for tracking and rating sexual life through apps and wearable devices. This movement opens the potentiality for queerly reorganized relations between bodies, technology and archival documentation practices. However, in practice the quantifying of sexual activity through such technologies serves to represent only a limited scope of sexual behaviors thereby reinforcing constraining normative conceptions of sexual activity and desire. The intimate nature of the collected data and the capitalistic nature of its ownership also raises a series of privacy concerns for users and those with whom they engage. I argue that looking to underexamined queer histories and practices in archives can offer a promising alternative possibility for documenting and analyzing sexual practices in a digital world in ways that are queerly idiosyncratic. Archives thus hold the potential for critiquing gendered, raced, classed sexual norms to form a more vibrant and just social and sexual world.
Marika Cifor is a doctoral student in Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is also pursuing certificates in Gender Studies and the Digital Humanities. Her research interests include affect, community archives, queer and feminist theories, bodies and embodiment, and collective memory. She is beginning work on her critical archival studies dissertation, a qualitative examination of nostalgia, representation and the records of HIV/AIDS activism. Together with Anne J. Gilliland Cifor is guest editor of a special issue of Archival Science on “Affect and the Archive, Archives and their Affects” and is an editor of InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies. Her work has been published in TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, Archival Science, Archivaria, and InterActions.
Melissa Rogers, Women’s Studies, University of Maryland, College Park
“Soft Circuitry: Queer Craft as Social Media”
How might artistic research methods offer new ways of approaching the questions of queer, feminist, and new media theories? This multimedia presentation explores how feminized crafting techniques such as embroidery and knitting function as forms of erotic archiving with the capacity to shape queer sociality. As a habitual and everyday form of cultural production, craft is a kind of “digital” media in which the fingers (digits) manipulate the material data of thread, yarn, and fabric, constructing projects that can cohere social worlds. Using embroidered assemblages composed of thrifted and found craft ephemera as well as the open-source LilyPad Arduino platform, I contextualize my own experiments with making, demonstrating how a speculative feminist materialism informed by bricolage can attend to crafting’s affective and material implications. I argue that queer crafting offers us tactile modes of knowing and relating centered in failure, “making do,” and the labor of care. Such ameliorative practices can reorient and reorganize our lives in ways that are not hetero- and homonormative. When combined with new physical computing technologies for the creation of electronic textiles, queer craft can productively unravel “big data,” the quantification of LGBT life, and the surveillance and monetization of digital networks while troubling the binary between resistance and complicity. We could think of queer feminist craft praxis as a soft circuit: a technological pathway or schematic for feeling our way toward newly habitable worlds and ways of being.
Melissa Rogers is a doctoral candidate in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her dissertation explores DIY cultural production across queer feminist contemporary art worlds and “maker” movements. She uses fiber craft practices to think about the relationships between materiality, technology, and knowledge.
Noah Tsika, Queens College, CUNY
CompuQueer: Machine Reading, Memetic Mutation, and the Search for Queer Cinema Online
“Queer,” writes Annamarie Jagose, “is always an identity under construction, a site of permanent becoming” (1996, 131). To extend Jagose’s reasoning, queer cinema—a corpus of films by or about sexual and gender minorities, or marked by diversely counterhegemonic aesthetics—might profitably be seen as similarly unfinished, its boundaries vague, its taxonomic “place” profoundly portable. But what becomes of queer cinema online? What are some of the methods through which it achieves intelligibility on the internet? Writing online, critics tend to promote, and position as emphatically queer, a number of methods unique to digital networked technologies, from the creation of dedicated YouTube channels where clips of queer cinema may be curated to collaboration on shared Facebook pages where the genre may be parsed in startling, perhaps even paradigm-shifting ways. But what, exactly, are queer about these methods, and how has the very concept of a queer method achieved coherence and popularity online, without becoming synonymous with an ethos of extreme, indiscriminate inclusivity—with a sense that “anything goes,” especially on the internet, and especially under the banner of “queer”? How do digital networked technologies both manufacture and undermine the intelligibility of specifically queer methods? I consider these questions through analyses of two conspicuous, readily accessible frameworks for identifying queer cinema online: machine reading, which here involves specialty search engines that seek to circumvent human interpretation—especially the kinds of methods that would limit or otherwise distort “queer” to suit any number of established paradigms—for the sake of discovering the expansively queer; and the creation and modification of memes, whether GIFs, image macros, or hashtags. While both of these approaches to making queer cinema more visible and interpretable online might convincingly be described—and certainly describe themselves—as queer methods, their results often favor the subjectivities of white, gay, normatively bodied cis men, reflecting both the inescapable representational limitations of most commercial films and, more broadly, what Lisa Duggan refers to as “the sexual politics of neoliberalism,” whereby the radically queer is occluded for the sake of the salability and “spreadability” of homonormativity (2002, 179).
Noah A. Tsika is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Queens College, City University of New York. He is the author of the books Gods and Monsters: A Queer Film Classic (2009), Nollywood Stars: Media and Migration in West Africa and the Diaspora (2015), and Pink 2.0: Encoding Queer Cinema on the Internet (2016). His essays have appeared in African Studies Review, Black Camera, Cineaste, Porn Studies, and The Velvet Light Trap, as well as in numerous anthologies, including LGBT Identity and Online New Media, The Brokeback Book, Reading Brokeback Mountain, and Queer Youth and Media Cultures.