Really Gay: Social Circuits of Sex and Identity

Harris Kornstein, Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU
Real Names, Digital Drag: Queer Strategies of Realness and Obfuscation
In the fall of 2014, several San Francisco drag queens found themselves locked out of their Facebook accounts after being reported for using so-called “fake names.”  Without warning, their online identities, message histories, and digital performance archives simply vanished. The #MyNameIs campaign quickly formed to protest the policy and represent users affected by it, including queer and transgender people, domestic violence survivors, Native Americans, and members of other marginalized communities.  Within a few weeks, calls for protest were publicized in international media, forcing an apology from the company and promises to fix the policy.  More than one year later, the policy remains in effect with only minimal changes. 
This presentation will offer a brief history of this ad-hoc campaign, from the perspective of one of its organizers.  However, rather than focusing on an analysis of the arguments for or against the policy, it will instead explore competing concepts of “realness” in the tension between the company’s attempts to regulate users’ identities through reference to a “real life” presumed to exist independently of Facebook itself, and the ways in which users construct and understand their own identities.  The talk also suggests that drag queens’ profiles provide a uniquely queer example of digital obfuscation: by using non-legal names, posting heavily made up photos (which confound facial recognition software), and creating user profiles with semi-fictional histories and personal data, drag queens complicate the “realness” of the data collected by platforms like Facebook while still building authentic relationships with their fans and communities.
Harris Kornstein is a PhD student in the department of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU, and is also a media and performance artist who holds an MFA in Digital Arts & New Media from UC Santa Cruz. He has exhibited work in galleries and festivals in New York, LA, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Bergen, Norway; performed in venues ranging from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to OccupySF; and is an organizer with the MyNameIs campaign.


T Clutch Fleischmann, Creative Writing, Columbia College Chicago
Benjamin Haber, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
Gheez this is Uncomfortable: Performing the Impotence of Masculinity
Starting in 2015, the presenters have run a collaborative twitter project that aggregates online user reviews of the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, also prescribed for pulmonary arterial hypertension. A documentation of the performance of wounded masculinity in the context of digitized communities and medical interventions, The Cialis Review reveals the contours, textures, and inconsistencies of aging masculinities as they turn to online forums (often unfamiliar venues to Cialis users) to form communities, share compassion, perform virility, and generate information. “I feel like I can cut diamonds again,” one review reads. “My wife accused me of trying to hurt her LOL,” reads another. “Before this medicine I felt lost.”
What happens when a community of older, cisgender, primarily straight men experience the cyborg body of pleasure-based, non-reproductive sexuality, resisting heteronormative narratives of aging and sexuality while also generating their own discourse and language through the feminized platforms of online sexual health communities? How does masculinity resist the diminishment of its power while also articulating flaccidity as a component of virile impulses and turning to non-familial, non-professional sources for comfort and information? What even is the pursuit of masculinity when its ultimate performance is an inward turn, an undoing, or an identification away from the masculine that gave birth to it. “Gheez this is uncomfortable,” as one man has it, “I think I know how woman feel when menstruating.”
T Clutch Fleischmann is the author of Syzygy, Beauty and the curator of Body Forms: Queerness and the Essay. A Nonfiction Editor at DIAGRAM and Contributing Editor to EssayDaily, their recent work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kenyon Review Online, Brooklyn Rail, PEN Poetry Series, and Fanzine. A Visiting Writer at Columbia College Chicago, they are currently finishing a book-length essay on ice and the visual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
Benjamin Haber is a PhD candidate in Sociology at CUNY Graduate Center and a Digital Fellow at The Center for the Humanities. His dissertation “The Queer Allure of Data: Digital Anxieties of the Networked Body” is a cultural and material exploration of emergent infrastructures of corporeal data through a queer theoretical framework. His article “The Queer Ontology of Digital Method” will appear in the WSQ special issue on Queer Method this fall.


Mikhel Proulx, Concordia University
Protocol and Performativity: Queer Selfies and the Coding of Networked Identities
Despite the formative myth that digital networks would yield liberatory spaces—outside the confines of race, gender, and body—contemporary networked cultures carry forward offline ideologies that proscribe certain forms of restrictive self-presentation. A study in contemporary digital visual cultures, this paper addresses Queer, feminist and trans* performance in digital networks to recognize how the performance of self online is pre- structured by technical systems, and thus how digital self-imagery is coded by both technical and social structures. To this end, the paper will pull from examples in visual art, as well as from vernaculars of everyday imagery in dating and sex networks. Together, these case studies elaborate the modes by which identity is coded by protocols of computational systems, and work to upset how these codes structure networked self- imagery. In these Queer selfies, we can see counterpoints to regulatory codes of identity and visibility in the digital age.
Mikhel Proulx is a cultural researcher and PhD student in the department of Art History at Concordia University, Montreal, where he teaches media art histories and Queer visual cultures. His research considers Queer and Indigenous artists working on the early Web, and he has curated exhibitions across Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. He currently is a recipient of a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship and is the Jarislowsky Foundation Doctoral Fellow in Canadian Art History.


Patrick Sweeney, Psychology, Graduate Center, City University of New York
Ways of Seeing Sexuality: Resisting the ontological primacy of biology and challenging the oculocentric imperative.
A growing number of social psychological studies purport to find that participants can accurately differentiate between the faces of homosexual and heterosexual people. These studies are situated within not only from the larger psychological literature on relationships between facial attributes and perceptions of social phenomena, but also from the long line of research on bodily manifestations of sexual orientation – in clusters of brain cells, hair whorls, fingers, the inner ear, genitals, and so on. They contribute to a conceptualization of sexual subjectivity thought to be rooted in biological “reality,” responding to a cultural context in which ideas about the malleability or fluidity of sexual desire as well as more psychodynamic or social constructionist etiologies of homosexuality are used to support reparative therapy or argue that homosexual orientations should be changed. However, these images of human faces (along with associated descriptive metadata such as the presumed gender, sexual orientation, and location of the uploader) taken from social networking and online dating websites are used to artificially fix the multiplicity and fluidity of sexual desire into legible classifications of sexual subjects. The images that ostensibly reveal a physiognomic sexual truth only do so through the lens of sex/gender binaries reinforced by the technologies of contemporary social scientific research and socially mediated representation. These ways of seeing make certain bodies visible and often function to strip sexuality of its social aspects, portraying it as a property of an individual body and occluding its historicity and relational nature. In addition, assumptions about race and gender play a large part in how these faces are perceived, raising critical questions about validity, as well as the ways in which prototypical whiteness is built into research methods.
Patrick Sweeney is a doctoral candidate in the Critical Social / Personality Psychology program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY); and a Digital Fellow at the Graduate Center Digital Scholarship Lab. His dissertation explores how scientific theories about the etiology of homosexuality have become part of public discourse and used in arguments to expand or contract the scope of justice. His research interests include citizenship, queer theory, qualitative methods, digital media, and critical psychology. 


respondent: Edward D. Miller is Professor of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island. He received his PhD in Performance Studies from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. He is the author of Emergency Broadcasting and 1930s American Radio (2003) and Tomboys, Pretty Boys, and Outspoken Women: 1973 Media Revolution (2012). Recent publications include contributions to Cinema Journal and American Historical Review as well as chapters in Media Authorship (2013) and Pornographic Art and the Aesthetics of Pornography (2014). His creative work appears in Hinchas de Poesia, Red Fez, Boston Literary Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Counterexample Poetics.