For our final project, my group wanted to deal with themes of sexuality. Being a gender and women’s studies minor, sexuality is something that I always enjoy talking and learning more about, so this gave me a perfect opportunity to delve into a topic that I was not as familiar with: sexuality and technology. After reading Alexander and Bank’s “Sexualities, technologies, and the teaching of writing: a critical overview”, we thought it would be interesting to dig further into creating safe spaces for LGBTQ individuals, especially online. The concept of “cyberqueer” and “queer cyberspace” was really fascinating to me. Specifically, this LGBTQ cyberspace (chatrooms, forums, websites, etc.) being used for “the creation of new versions of the self” (Banks, 279) really piqued my interest. These spaces on the internet provided platforms for queer individuals to share information and meet others, but also it provided them with the opportunity to “construct identity” (Banks, 279).
From then on, our group decided to focus our group project on using various media to compile the history of queer cyberspace. We created a multimodal timeline of what we dubbed ‘queer digital culture’, across mainly web and mobile outlets. We decided to use prezi, as we could both look at the bigger picture of all the different categories (queer websites/news, social media, mobile app, online communities/dating sites) and also focus on details. We could also incorporate videos, images and text, making this a project of media convergence as well. We focused on how individuals choose to express their sexualities digitally.
For my personal topic, I was mainly researching LGBTQ online communities and dating sites. Gay dating sites have been around since internet was taking off, with the first gay dating site gay.com launching in 1994. Since then many different versions of the same gay dating site have been launched – Adam4Adam, manhunt, and so on. Not solely on gay dating sites, I found that queer individuals would also look to more heteronormative dating sites like okcupid to find people to date. Furthermore, many queer individuals have used classified websites such as craigslist to ‘cruise’ since its inception. According to studies, queer individuals were “more likely than heterosexuals to have exchanged correspondence [and] meet others offline” (Lever), which could also explain for the enormous popularity of gay mobile apps that focus on connecting people for ‘meet-up’s like grindr.
In terms of online communities mainly focusing on support and information, I found that there have been LGBTQ forums from very early on in the internet history as well, starting with datalounge (a gossip and news web portal and forum) that was launched in 1995. I was also able to find online communities focusing on specific topics, such as LGBTQ and Christianity, and forums to aid individuals with their coming out, or a travel-community that helped people find LGBTQ-friendly lodging around the globe. Looking at these online communities and dating sites, I realized that even in these ‘queer cyberspaces’, there were still some form of oppression. While I found an abundance of gay men’s dating websites and communities, it was much more difficult to find women’s queer dating sites or information about such sites.
Another form of queer cyberspace I researched was queer communities on non-LGBTQ websites. Specifically, I looked at reddit and how it provided a safe space for queer individuals to talk about practically anything. I came across a variety of queer subreddits that focused on numerous different queer topics. Some subreddits I came across included /gaybros (for gay men who enjoyed more typical ‘bro’ activities like sports and BBQ), and /radicalqueers. Despite being on a very popular website that mainly catered to a straight audience, LGBTQ members were able to create safe spaces where there were minimal interruption from straight people. These subreddits provide a queer cyberspace different from the more “mainstream” queer cyberspaces where people can express their sexuality freely. Going back to the Banks reading, it was interesting to see how queer individuals acted more ‘gay’ online than they normally would ‘irl’ (in real life).
After learning all this, I became curious if some of my friends were the same in terms of expressing their sexuality more online or creating a different personality of themselves on the internet. I interviewed 3 of my friends who all identified as gay, and created a video that was included in the prezi presentation at the end. Each of them had an interesting history online, which I never knew before. Some were more active on the internet within their queer cyberspace, and some were not. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to hear how they used these cyberspaces to express their sexualities.
I think it was a good decision to use prezi for this project because we wanted to look at the bigger picture but also at the details as well. Furthermore, prezi was extremely handy in incorporating different media like images and videos. If we could do this project again, however, I would like to add an audio component to it, such as a short podcast or an audio excerpt.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this project and really learned a lot from it. I have never thought about it very much, but while reading on the topic I realized that I also am more open with my sexuality online than in offline, and that I also have ‘queer cyberspaces’ that I use as a safe space to express my sexuality.
Alexander, J. and Banks, W. (2004). “Sexualities, Technologies, and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Overview.” Computers and Composition 21(3), 273-293.
Lever, Janet, et al. (2008) “Searching For Love in All the “Write” Places: Exploring Internet Personals Use By Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Age.” International Journal of Sexual Health 20(4), 233-246
Resnick, Gideon. (2013). “Gay Bros: A Unique Online Community for Men Struggling with Stereotypes.” The Good Men Project. Web. 3 Dec 2013. http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/gay-bros-a-unique-online-community-for-men-struggling-with-stereotypes/#!pvXD3.