The Politics of Queer Archives

Rustem Ertug Altinay, Department of Performance Studies, New York University
Digital BDSM Archives and Queer Political Critique in Turkey
How do digital BDSM archives facilitate queer sociality and political critique in Turkey? My presentation will explore this question by focusing on the photography work of a dominatrix.
The formative years of the Republic of Turkey (1923-1938), also known as “the Kemalist period” after the President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, were characterized by a centralized secular modernization and nation-building program. To facilitate women’s participation in this political project, the regime granted them certain civil rights and professional opportunities. Over the years, Kemalist women, whose subjectivities were defined by secular modernization and Turkish nationalism, became the major proponents of this ideology. Since 2002, under the successive governments of the Justice and Development Party, Kemalism has lost its power while a combination of economic neoliberalism, social conservatism, and Sunni Islamism emerged as the new hegemonic paradigm in Turkey. These developments have not only created a crisis for Kemalist women but also inspired new strategies for political critique.
In this presentation, I will focus on the photography work of a Kemalist dominatrix to discuss how the archives developed, maintained, and disseminated through BDSM networking websites serve queer political critique. I will investigate how sexual and aesthetic practices facilitate the affective reproduction of Kemalist citizenship by enabling new embodied historiographies, and proposing alternative forms of queer sociality. As I examine how BDSM creates a rupture in time, I will analyze how these sexual practices help subjects resist chrononormativity and the neoliberal fantasy of progress as they invest in new subject positions. Using the case of the Kemalist dominatrix as a vantage point, I will explore how digital archives allow queer subjects to remember the past and experience the present differently, and thus shape their desires for the future.
Rustem Ertug Altinay is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. Ertug’s primary fields of research are the politics of gender and sexuality in Turkey, with a focus on feminist and queer performance and literature, queer historiography and archival practice, fashion and material culture, visual culture, and Islamic sexualities. His essays have been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Trans- and Fashion special issues of Women’s Studies Quarterly, Radical History Review, Transgender Studies Quarterly, the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, the Journal of Women’s History, and Feminist Media Studies, as well as various anthologies. Ertug is currently working on his first book manuscript, Dressing for Utopia: Fashion and the Performance of Citizenship in Turkey (1923-2015). He is also a playwright and theater professional with extensive international experience. 


Jason Baumann, English, CUNY Graduate Center
Sex, Drugs, Rock-N-Roll and AIDS”: Iris de la Cruz Haunting the Media Archive
Recent films and exhibitions on the history of the AIDS crisis have been criticized for their lack of political analysis, historical accuracy, and missing perspectives of women and people of color. Many contemporary theoretical discussions of LGBT archives have questioned the silences in the archive due to the effects of censorship, archival practices, and state power. However, thanks to activist filmmakers, the media archives of the AIDS crisis also preserve counterhegemonic voices that challenge us with alternative strategies, but also haunt us with forgotten histories. Iris de la Cruz was an activist, writer and person living with HIV in New York City during the 1980s who was active with PONY (Prostitutes of New York), People with AIDS Coalition and ACT UP, as well as prevention outreach to injection drug users. In addition to her prominent role in many AIDS activist documentaries in the 1980s, she wrote for porn magazines like High Society and Stag in the 1970s, later wrote for PONY’s newsletter, and had a regular column in People with AIDS Coalition’s Newsline as “Iris with the Virus.” In this presentation we will consider the range of Iris de la Cruz’s media production including the online archive of her poetry, her journalism, and her self-presentation in activist documentaries and oral history videos. In contrast to accounts of AIDS activism that privilege white gay protest politics in the late 80s and early 90s, consideration of the archives of de la Cruz’s cultural production and her cinematic image will prove the contributions of activism by people of color, injection drug users, and sex workers; show the continuity of this activism with radical sex and Latina/o movements of the 1970s; highlight the use of humor and the essay as a form in the literature of HIV and AIDS; and demonstrate the importance of community creation as a form of activism.
Jason Baumann is currently completing his PhD in English at the CUNY Graduate Center, focusing on American prison literature. He is also Coordinator of Collection Assessment, Humanities, and LGBT Collections at the New York Public Library, where he has curated two exhibitions—1969: the Year of Gay Liberation and WHY WE FIGHT: Remembering AIDS Activism. He is also Visiting Associate Professor in the Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science, teaching courses on museum studies, cultural diversity, and archives.


Margaret Galvan, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Recuperating Queer Networks: Alison Bechdel & Grassroots Politics
Today, lesbian comics artist Alison Bechdel is widely celebrated, having been awarded Guggenheim (2012) and MacArthur (2014) Fellowships in addition to the five Tony Awards won this year by the musical based on her celebrated graphic memoir, Fun Home. This renown has been building since the runaway success of her 2006 publication of Fun Home rocketed her from a cartoonist beloved by lesbians to a more broadly known figure. While her meteoric rise has attracted ample academic attention to her work, critics focus on Fun Home and subsequent work, largely ignoring her early comics, including the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008). In this presentation that draws from a funded digital humanities project, I analyze this early work by creating network graphs through Gephi of the grassroots communities that financially support Bechdel’s comics.
Bechdel’s successful self-syndication of DTWOF in as many as 50 grassroots publications at any one time allows her, starting in 1990, to support herself solely through her artistic production. To study the moment before self-sufficiency, I create publication networks of the grassroots periodicals that Bechdel worked on—WomaNews (1983-1985) and Equal Time (1986-1990). Combining an assessment of these Gephi networks alongside the graphics that Bechdel produces for these publications, I examine the nodes of influence whose feminist and LGBT politics directly impact the early evolution of her strip. In recuperating this material through non-digital archival research and representing it through digital tools, I ask: what queer genealogies are unknown and what sort of tactics must we use to recover them? Moreover, by considering the prolific readership networks in the comments sections of Bechdel’s current website, I ask: what do the digital networks that surround Bechdel’s work today tell us about the state of the grassroots politics that germinate her early work?
Margaret Galvan is a PhD candidate in English with a film studies certificate at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her recently-defended dissertation, Archiving the ’80s: Feminism, Queer Theory, & Visual Culture, traces a genealogy of queer theory in 1980s feminism through representations of sexuality in visual culture. This work was funded by six archival research grants over four years, including a fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. Her publications include essays on underground comics artists in the Fall 2015 issues of WSQ and Archive Journal. 


Shyamolie Singh,  Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Rebuilding the Queer ‘Movement’: Ambedkarite Archives on the Internet
Over the last year, net neutrality and Free Basics became a major talking point in India. Simultaneously, there has been a great deal of work being done about the usage of online spaces – still inaccessible to a great deal of the population, but also unmarked and more open to new entrants than traditional offline circles of academia or social organisations – in the contexts of social movements and activism, such as the recent student movements in JNU and HCU. The queer movement in India has also found a great deal of space to work with online, and archives such as Orinam, Gaysi and Gaylaxy, or queer Facebook groups discussing both personal (cruising, for example, has seen a shift online as well, from unspoken of but well defined cruising spots in cities to apps and online groups) desires, and political questions (Sec 377, events, trans rights, the NALSA judgement, conferences, censorship of films with queer contents etc.) Questions of the co-option and indeed, the active participation of the queer movement in the profits of neoliberalism, Hindutva politics, and casteism have also been raised time and time again by theorists and queer individuals who find themselves uneasy and excluded by the movement itself. This paper will attempt to examine the contradictions and relationships between queer desire and the radical edges of Dalit-bahujan and Ambedkarite movements in India, and the spaces these movements occupy on new online platforms, social media and other ways of consolidating virtual communities. It attempts to undertake this reading by examining some of the major Dalit-bahujan archives online such as RoundtableIndia, and writings that examine the relationship between the queer movement and the anti-caste movement. Even as the queer movement has sought visibility and has gained some of it (the Koushal v Naz case, pride, queer collectives in universities) it has failed on several accounts, whether it is transphobia or casteism within its own circles. Critiques of neoliberal queerness – being deeply intertwined in the massive frameworks of data capitalism – can then, be further posited by examining the rich legacy of the Ambedkarite movement, one that has opposed both Brahminism and capitalism historically and today. The queer movement has literally been archived and inscribed by the massive frameworks of data capitalism, and these virtual community spaces – Facebook, Twitter, and the digitisation of traditional media formats such as the daily newspaper – capture both the gains, and losses of a queer movement that has been rightly dubbed as exclusionary, upper-caste, and English speaking. Yet, to condemn the entire queer movement is to ignore the the fact that there has been considerable work that is being recorded by Dalit-bahujan individuals both within and outside the queer community, in a way that queers the linear, teleological ideas of queer progress thoroughly. Dalit-bahujan archiving – whether of casteist experiences within the queer community, or of experiences that are not necessarily ‘queer’, such as the collection by the Ambedkar Age Collective, Hatred in the Belly – has fissured and changed the way we must see queerness. Casteism is an oppressive structure that has excluded and continues to exclude Dalit-bahujan individuals from traditional modes of “speaking out” – financially, socially, economically. Universities, publishing houses, traditional media, corporate structures, and the queer movement itself, all practice and are seeped in caste practices. What do online Ambedkarite archives – speaking of queerness, caste, love, politics, capitalism, exclusion, movements – tell us about the queer movement in India today? The Ambedkarite and queer movements on new platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become arenas for exploration of a multitude of queer voices who do not accept a queer fight that ends with legalisation of same sex desire, presently criminalised in India. Instead, there is a deliberate push towards an intersectional politics of archiving, speaking, and consistently writing into presence the queer movement in India today. How do we understand this movement? Is there a possibility to queer a space such as Facebook or Twitter? Can this queer desire, politics and radicalism be preserved and intensified by way of statuses, discussions, comment threads, and retweets, even as sections of the queer movement participate in the celebration of neoliberal visibility and capitalism, and in the exclusion of those who do not fit into the ideals of the appropriate ‘queer’ subject?
Shyamolie Singh is currently pursuing her masters in Political Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her current research interests include casteism in queer politics, political and protest poetry, and contemporary movements that question the frameworks of the modern-nation state in India.


Respondent: Jaime Shearn Coan is a PhD student in English at The Graduate Center focusing on the politics of identity in contemporary performance and literature. He is the recent recipient of an ERI Knickerbocker Award for Archival Research in American Studies, teaches at Hunter College and currently serves as the Curatorial Fellow at Danspace Project.