BSSN column in G-Scene

Brighton and Sussex Sexualities Network monthly column in G-Scene – Jan 2012 is here:

http://www.gscene.com/pdf/gscenejanuary2012.pdf

QUEER ONLINE AND QUEER CANCER: A REVIEW

In 2006 I was involved in editing a collection of academic essays under the title Queer Online. I really enjoyed the project and it generated a reasonable amount of interest for an academic book. I tried to incorporate essays to reflect a varied LGBT experience of digital culture and to engage with debates in the field. So far so good; it was fun although it also had its share of disasters. My co-editor’s partner (who is an artist) designed the image for the front cover: a surfing fairy. People still buy it on occasion. Ever since its publication I’ve thought about how I’d do things differently, about what worked and what was missing. There are many answers to ‘what was missing’ but questions about both lesbian identity and biomedical concerns seem like obvious gaps now.

These are not necessarily linked and they weren’t completely absent. The inclusion of Sharif Mowlabocus’ (Sussex) work on barebacking and HIV provided one link to biomedicine and Irmi Karl’s (Brighton) work was in part about speaking to lesbians and their use of technology.

I recently attended an Internet Research (IR 12) conference in Seattle. This is an exciting and well-established event which has cultivated a strong LGBT dimension over the years. Many of the contributors of the original Queer Online collection were there, and there were conversations about Tom Bollestorf’s Coming Of Age In Second Life (and Tom gave a keynote at the conference), and a recent collection LGBT Identity And Online New Media. This latter book, an excellent collection by Chris Pullen (Bournemouth) and Margaret Cooper (Illinois), makes the idea of revisiting my own fairly redundant. However, from the conference as a whole and in reviewing these other books my feeling that there is a lack of visibility for research on the intersection of lesbian identity and media technologies, and on biomedical and biotechnological aspects of digital culture, was strengthened.

I did find a way forward though. One paper at this conference really stood out in bringing these concerns together; Mary Bryson (British Columbia) gave an excellent presentation called The Queer Biopolitics Of Feeling Cancer. It was just amazing to hear about this project that works so carefully with the cancer narratives generated online by queer women. In working with these blogs and web materials Mary offered a challenge to the pressure that those living with cancer are under to express a progress narrative. Heroic stories of battling against all odds and of regaining some kind of normal dominate participatory media culture in this area. Mary persuasively demonstrated that working with these materials through a queer lens might offer a way forward for a different and more inclusive ethics of research, a more joined up biomedical ethics that engages the pressure to be normal, and the inequality and marginalisation in health care settings and health knowledge. It won’t cure cancer but this kind of work attends to those living and dying with cancer whist challenging the intersection of information and biotechnology that is the contemporary culture of DIY health knowledge.

More info about Mary Bryson: http://ubc.academia.edu/MaryKBryson

BY KATE O’RIORDAN

BRIGHTON & SUSSEX SEXUALITIES NETWORK (BSSN) The BSSN is an inter-university research network aimed at supporting research and researchers who work on issues of human sexuality within the Universities of Brighton and Sussex and the wider Sussex area. We consist of community members and academics who have an interest in knowing about current sexualities research. Our organising committee, which is open to all, meets about twice a year. A sub-committee organises our annual conference. Anyone can come to these to suggest and organise events http://www.it.bton.ac.uk/bssn