8900: Identity discovery for the “other” in online spaces
My last two 8900 posts were embarrassingly long, so I’ll attempt to narrow in on my point much sooner this week. I’ll focus just on Alexander et al.’s Queerness, sexuality, technology, and writing.
The first question that comes to mind in choosing to comment on this piece is one of my own identity: what right do I have to speak here? I’m the definition of “default,” as the participants in this conversation would conclude. In virtually any broadly trafficked digital community(that is, a place founded not on those identifying a specific way), users are assumed male, Caucasian, and heterosexual. I do believe the past decade has seen the internet user as a conglomerate entity mature and attain a more nuanced awareness of the non-normative. Still, we humans like social sorting, and any deviation from our concept of “norm” translates to some degree of otherness. These identity-based online communities, as the authors discuss in relation to queerness, are powerful tools in exploring, defining, and contextualizing aspects of the self that users might otherwise never get to know as fully. As the “default” user assumed in so many online spaces, I can only imagine the power of these digital safe harbors for those who don’t see themselves when they look at the internet at large.
Samantha Blackmon contributed to this insight when she retold how the internet was part of her coming out process:
“It gave me a space to contemplate my feelings. Online I was able to experiment with my queer identity. I learned that it was actually okay to be a ‘tomboy’ and that I looked like I was in drag when I wore a dress because I actually was… It was all a question of performativity and ‘performing the femme’” (14).
Blackmon later adds,
“I think it is easier to come out online where nobody knows that you are older, darker, fatter, etc., things that can make you less desirable… a place where the various layers of ‘otherness’ can be hidden if one chooses, where one can ‘pass’ by a simple act of omission” (16).
I’ll tie this back to composition instruction in a way I didn’t anticipate when I started this reading. What happens when the students Selfe was most concerned about – those already at risk of underdeveloped tech literacy – happen to fall into one of the “other” categories? Quite aside from the already significant heap of problems associated with this denial of digital naturalization, some of these students may never experience the same growth opportunities the authors relate. If the digital writing space remains unfamiliar ground to these users, they may never trust it enough to be the negotiator between their real world “in” self and their digital “out” self. Such self-discovery may take years or decades longer as a result, and will be littered with the same pitfalls some of the authors disclose from their pre-digital days.
Again it falls to those of us who are comfortable and initiated in the digital writing world to hold the door wide for those who are not yet.