Searching for early queer web documents

I just handed in my last course paper ever. It’s a hasty history of the queer Internet from 1995–2000 that I approached as an early attempt to grapple with a topic that will eventually form a historical chapter in my dissertation. One of the hard parts of doing Internet history of any kind is the complete lack of an archive, or preservation standards for web documents, a problem that lots of smart people have written about at length (see, for example, Lisa Gitelman). You can try your luck with Internet archives like the waybackmachine, but you need to know the URL of the site you want to look at, which makes it difficult to study, for example, the beginning of the queer WestHollywood community on Geocities in 1995 (though this is a dream project of mine).

A fairly typical site from the early days of Geocities WestHollywood.

Working on this paper, I’ve noticed that the peculiarities of web archiving are a bit different in queer contexts, and I think this has something to do with the fears about representation, or lack thereof, that a queer media public traumatized by the AIDS crisis and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (1993) brought to the early days of the web. Another project I’m working on is a study of digital and online archival politics in grassroots queer archives. On a research trip to the Lesbian Herstory Archives a year ago, I sifted through vertical file after vertical file stuffed with printouts from various “born digital” documents, from simple, html sites on queer topics to email correspondence. The researcher in me was thrilled to find this stuff, but I also couldn’t help but think how strange it is that archive volunteers printed and saved all these documents when so many other archives didn’t bother. I’m wondering how the politics of queer media in general during this period might have inspired a different way of thinking about web documents.

A print archive of the web also raises all kinds of questions about studying online media in print form. Rather than get into these questions here, I’ll just put up two images to illustrate:

Planetout homepage from 1997, screenshot from waybackmachine.


Sreenshot of Planetout from 1997 taken from a black-and-white paper copy of Nina Wakeford's Cyberqueer, which was then scanned as a PDF and circulated online for a course reader.

Mo Problems

I’ve been trying not to write something about Movember because everything that I might write seems obvious and has already been said better by someone else. To rehearse a few of these critiques in brief: the project holds up working class white masculinity as a object of ridicule and brackets it to the past; it’s a reactionary men’s movement (a response to the “exclusions” created by the success of “women’s” health movements) and should be contextualized in a larger, anti-feminist genealogy; the way it’s practiced in workplaces perpetuates gendered exclusions that have lasting implications for women’s and people of colour’s labour chances.

These gendered, racialized and classed dynamics of Movember are what make this kind of men’s movement seem harmless: “We’re educated, white, creative or managerial types who share the child rearing and domestic responsibilities with our wives: WE LOVE WOMEN!”

It’s hard to be critical about any well-intentioned project that raises money for charity, especially one that gives men a language with which to talk about their bodies, albeit in opaque ways. But it’s important to talk about how and why these projects are gendered, a conversation that has taken place quite brilliantly around breast cancer fundraising (see Samantha King or Barbara Ehrenreich). Growing a moustache with your bros is way more fun than wearing a pink ribbon; asking questions about Movember’s racialized, gendered and classed tactics becomes an exercise in ruining someone else’s bromance. I feel fine writing about my problems with Movember on this blog, but I freeze up when the otherwise lovely, pro-feminist men in my graduate program want to talk to me about their moustache-growing clubs. In these moments I see myself as Sara Ahmed’s, shaving–cream wielding feminist killjoy, and I don’t say anything at all. As Ahmed writes, there’s an economy of affective labour, and a real courage that comes with a feminist act of killing someone else’s joy.

For folks who haven’t seen the Movember ad campaign wheat-pasted around their city, I’ve included some images below. When I first saw these posters in the street they straight up blew my mind: “Working class professions and styles of dress are beneath me, but not this month!”

Writing Comps Lists as Collaborative Process

I haven’t updated in a while because I was at CACS in Montreal over the weekend and because I’ve fallen into a dark citational abyss that is preparing my comps readings lists. In my program, there is no set canon of texts from which you are expected to choose; rather you put together your own lists with your supervisor. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of other people’s cultural studies lists online, and talking to as many people as possible about their experiences with this process. It strikes me that, as a process of citation, preparing a comps list is actually a super collaborative process that extends way beyond the student-committee relationship, but for some reason, there aren’t many social or technological mechanisms in place to make this collaboration happen. Sometimes asking people about their comps lists, or to share their comps lists, feels like asking them to do something deeply risky and revelatory, like singing Karaoke in public. One thing that I plan to do other than blog about this process is add a section to this site with links to online comps resources that I’ve found helpful, as well as my own lists (once they’re finished).

My Comps Areas:
Major General: Media and Culture (program defined): culture, identity, politics and social life (my addendum)
Major Specific: Feminist and Queer Theory (I got to pick this)
Minor: Digital and Online Technologies (I sort of got to pick this)

Things I’ve learned in the process so far:

  • This is much more a process of de-selection than of assemblage.
  • If you want to stay sane, you can only work on this for two hours a day, max

Advice other people have offered:

  • Follow the citations to make sure you really cover your field
  • Don’t follow the citations because you’ll get stuck in a comps hole. Break off key debates instead.
  • This is going to be the best part of your PhD
  • This is going to be the worst part of your PhD
  • Set it up so the finished written product is useful to you
  • Stay focused by reading to your questions
  • Think of it as an exercise in relating your own position to a broader field
  • The most important quality of a good list is that it’s manageable as a project with a specific timeline


Other People’s Lists that I’ve found helpful so far:

Pamela Ingleton, PhD candidate at McMaster
Cultural studies, social media, public sphere, the everyday, authorship

Fenwick McKelvey, PhD candidate at Ryerson
Communication studies, code politics, digital research methods, political economy of information

Simon Fraser University Graduate Program in Women’s Studies
Very comprehensive on feminist theory and cultural studies

Why we make jokes about lesbian feminism

I’ve been revising a paper I wrote a few months ago for the CACS conference at McGill next weekend. The paper is about the political challenge that digital and online technologies pose for grassroots, lesbian-feminist archives. A lot of my reading this past summer focused on queer theories of history and time and since then I’ve been noticing how lesbian feminism is described in more general queer and feminist work, a project helped along by Clare Hemmings’s great new book Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory, recommended to me by Dylan.  The best of this work captures the complexity of lesbian feminism as a politics that seems outdated at first blush, but continues to matter and get invoked in curious ways that concepts like “parody” or “nostalgia” can’t account for. Elizabeth Freeman’s idea of “temporal drag” is especially good on this:

[Temporal drag] suggests a bind for lesbians committed to feminism: the gravitational pull that “lesbian,” and even more so “lesbian feminist,” sometimes seems to exert on “queer.” This deadweight effect may be felt even more strongly twenty years after the inauguration of queer theory and politics, in the wake of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, legalized same-sex unions, and The L Word.

Gloria Steinem knew how to work a macrame belt.

Humour seems to be crucial in how a lot of post-2000 queer studies work talks about lesbian feminism. One of the funniest I’ve read is Heather Love’s essay “A Gentle Angry People: The lesbian culture wars” (subscription required). As if the too-perfect “gentle angry people” weren’t enough on it’s own, the essay is full of witty in-jokes like these:

Continue reading “Why we make jokes about lesbian feminism”