Queering the Cyber World

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As you read this can you see me? Have you seen me before? What do I look like? TELL ME!

Truth is you can’t see me. Therefore, you don’t know who I am, even if you’ve seen me before or know what I look like. Sure, I can tell you that I am 5’7”, slim, and that, as a Latina, I look like all the other hyper sexualized Latinas in the media. Depending on what you’re into, that might just turn you on. I can also tell you that I am a 6’ male, with a hot body, amazing pelvic cuts, vice president of a company and I might even go as far as tell you that I am amazing in bed. Now reality is that in the cyber world I can be any of these things and at the same time I can be neither. Don’t let this scare you. Many have found numerous ways to embrace the cyber world and use it to their advantages.

I recently finished reading, “Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Space” by Juana Maria Rodriguez. In “Queer Latinidad,” Rodriguez aims to break down the notions of identity, how one is perceived, how one performs identity and ultimately the power that identity has over the self.  Rodriguez not only focuses on identities valued as the social norms, but also queer identities; those identities many are afraid to claim, unable to explain, and incapable of sharing. Through her exploration of such identities, she concentrates on the process by which Latin@ identities take on different meanings when involved with language, politics, cultures, and public policies. Rodriguez introduces identity as:

“Identity is more than a list of categories that name out sexuality, gender, HIV status, nation, age, ethnicity, ability, class language, citizenship status and religion. Even if we expand this list to include all the other significant features of ourselves, what do these attributes actually explain about our lives? What aspects of identity exceed the categories we have created to define our place in this world.” (Rodriguez, 21)

I want to take it a step further and ask what role does identity play beyond this world. How is queer identity shaped differently in the cyber world and what the Internet world allows for one’s self-expression of identity?

When elaborating on cyberspace, Rodriguez quotes de la tierra.

‘Who I am electronically? Well, I am not differently from who I am in person, but I am more of who I really am. Electronically I tend to be more honest, spontaneous, affectionate, wild, hip, desirous, poetic, and easy going than I am in real life, where I tend to be moody, to put it politely. In fact, I’m much more pleasant person to be ground when I’m not really there.” – de la tierra (127)

Why does one feel that they can be more of themselves online than in real life? It’s a shame that society has so many standards by which one’s identity is judged, given privilege to, and ostracized. When considering queers the cyber world is a non-judgmental world; a world where no one really knows who you are and one can create themselves to be whoever they want to be. They can become sexier, express sexual desires, be more daring, and outrageous.  The cyber world provides an escape from the real world full of hate towards culture deviance. With every new log in, a new identity can be formed. People find it easier to entrust total strangers than trust their own friends, as it allows them to truly be who they are and say what ever they want without being scared because they don’t know who they are talking to. Trying to assert new identities on others with every new encounter with someone else online only asserts one’s personal identity.

I am very much aware that sexual predators, rapists and perverts can use the Internet with negative intentions in mind. Nonetheless, I want to focus more on the idea of being able to express true identity instead of how false created identities can be used to do wrong. I also would like to keep in mind though that false created identities can be used to assert real identity—false identities that are not made to do wrong, but to further explore the self.

Queers, or those who go against the normative of heterosexuality, turn to online sex chatting websites to express their sexuality in the real world. . Yet, still even the simple idea of online chatting has been socially constructed to be a heteronormative act. When “people chatting online” is searched with Google pictures it’s hard to find same sex users chatting with one another. Mostly, all the pictures are of a man talking to a woman. Thus, its not surprise why queers must search under the cyberspace norms to find places to communicate.  Queer websites range from lesbians, gays, Spanish speaking gay males, to English speaking lesbians, Black lesbian, Canadian gay men, and many other categories. Such websites provide a safe net against hate and discrimination. On such websites, anyone can explore their deepest sexual desires—whether it be a heterosexual female who wants to talk to lesbians or explore her curiosity. In today’s society she will be quickly criticized, questioned, and maybe even laughed at. But in the comfort of her own home, she can be whomever she wants or wants to be. It’s like unleashing the true being lying within the norms of society.

I choose to focus on identity and its crossing with the Internet because over the past few years the Internet has grown into far more than just a search engine. The Internet has turn into a place of rapidly growing social networking. There is far more than Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Tumblr, and even blog sites. Just like cities, the Internet too has its low-key sites where queers venture into in order to interact with other queers, in order to feel a sort of similarity with other, to explore and assert who they truly are, and to not feel judged or discriminated. Cyberspace has become a world of its own, offering many options for one to further explore who they are when real life doesn’t allow one to do so in public without being judge. It’s interesting to think of the Internet in that way. I never stopped to think about the complexities and all that the Internet has to offer beyond the search engines, online shopping, and Facebook. The idea of the Internet and identity should be taken more into consideration because ultimately, it’s a shame that queers have to hide from exploring themselves within real life.

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8 thoughts on “Queering the Cyber World

  1. Esthefany, I love the way you think while you write. You seem to encounter many of the complex entanglements Rodriguez is dealing with in her own work. First I notice how “false” identities played against “true”:

    “I also would like to keep in mind though that false created identities can be used to assert real identity—false identities that are not made to do wrong, but to further explore the self.”

    As you proceeded through your argument, false and true belie each other’s coherence. I wonder if “truth” retains any value at all, for you or for Rodriguez?

    Then something similar happened here:

    “Queers, or those who go against the normative of heterosexuality, turn to online sex chatting websites to express their sexuality in the real world…Yet, still even the simple idea of online chatting has been socially constructed to be a heteronormative act.”

    At first I thought, well, not all queer-identified people use cyber space, and there are plenty of non-queer-identified people using cyber space. What you end up revealing is how cyber space is represented as heteronormative despite the fact that it is a haven for queerness. Great stuff!

    -RP

  2. Good stuff Esthefany. It’s interesting that we are addressing the topic of queerness within the worldwide web while we ourselves have this blog. This blog is an example of a safe space where we as queers (queers because we are not your traditional students :D) or those who are reflecting on/supporting the silenced or non-conformists of society, can use this space for dialogue, thought, self-expression, entertainment, creativity etc. just like the queers who log into chatrooms do. We may not alter our physical attributes per say, but we give space to those reading this blog (who do not know how we look via our pictures) to imagine who we are through our writing. In this class, we are all different. The interpreter’s imaginations will soar as they give faces to usernames. If I did not have a picture, I wonder how the cyber world would interpret me as? I love that the cyber world’s perception of us (that have no clear images of who they are) is ambiguous. Generalizations suck! Ciao. Peace. 1.

  3. I agree with all that you are saying Estephany and also find it really sad that we feel more comfortable expressing ourselves over the internet. People take advantage of posting anonymously on the internet to express their true feelings about anything. Six billion secrets is a site where people all over the world post any secret from a silly joke to something really serious like confessing that they have killed someone. Our famous collegeacb is a great site for this as well. When browsing through some of the acb post, I came across this one: http://collegeacb.com/sb.php?school=wes&page=thread&id=1023760&p=2. What are you afraid to let everyone know? This obviously only can be asked online since you don’t want anyone to find out. There were comments on cheating on their partners, not going to Wesleyan but reading the Wesleyan board, not writing a paper for a class, incest, having a child, and admitting that they were queer. It’s so easy to write about something online with the knowledge that nobody will find out who you are and therefore cannot judge you. This is what makes cyberspace so desirable, I can express my true feelings about let’s say for instance my sexuality without having my family or friends think different of me.

  4. As an ex-forum junkie (:D), I’d like to offer some explanations for why it’s sometimes easier to explore/build an identity in a cyber world than IRL.

    I think it’s much easier to craft a personality when you have the option to edit. You can rewrite a sentence literally dozens of times before you decide to post it, making sure it has a “feel” that is consistent with your online persona. You have the choice to really be who you want. On the other hand, IRL, you can’t just take back a comment you spat out in haste. I think the quote of de la tierra’s that you provided explains this perfectly. If you’re moody IRL, you have the option to lose that moodiness online. However, this idea has its obvious restrictions— you can’t take back what you’ve entered into a chat and oftentimes can’t delete what you’ve written once it has been posted.

    Then again, the ability to “shut it off” means being able to continuously reinvent yourself until you discover who you want to be. That is, you can easily click out of a chat room or leave an online forum if you’ve become someone you don’t want to be.

    Although the quest to join an online community could start as a way to find refuge from the real world, developing an online persona really forces you to figure yourself out. When exploring your identity in cyberspace, every embellishment, slight exaggeration, or flat out lie, causes you to reexamine your real life identity. I could say that I’m a heterosexual male, but IRL, I could identify as a queer Latin@. I’d have to think about why I wanted to experience being a heterosexual male and what implications those experiences have for my real-life identity (as is the case with Rodriguez). So, in “writing” who you are (or who you’re not), you are forced to reflect on what this means for real-world you.

  5. I completely agree with what you have said Esthefany. I feel as if Rodriguez’s discussion on the Internet was very interesting as a whole. Her examples and life experience give all of the claims that she made more validity. I particularly found her discussion on language to be very interesting. I think that being able to create these cyber identities gives us a place where we can be whoever we would like to be (as long as we are not considering all the dangers that can be present when using the Internet). I particularly found her discussion on the use of language in this chapter very fascinating. It is remarkable that we can make up our own identities in the cyber world, but our use of language, which is one of the identifiers of who we are in the real world, could completely ruin who we are trying to make other believe that we are. Rodriguez explains how she often times had to prove to others that she was a lesbian and not a male trying to be a poser because of the way that she spoke. This makes me question to what extent we are actually free to express who we are or who we want to be via the Internet. Yes, it is easy to create all of these identities, but it is not easy to maintain them all. I do not feel as if we should have to create these alternative identities in order to express ourselves, but then again, the lack of a more widely accepted means of expression for queer people is just another flaw of our society.

  6. I think that this is a great take on how people form their cyber identities. I really like how you take certain aspects from the real world, like going into a gay bar, and compare it to its equivalent in cyberspace, like going into a low-key online queer website. I’m curious in what other ways cyber-spaces and real-world-spaces overlap and act in similar ways among queers. How have other aspects of queer culture which originated in the real world manifested themselves online? And more specifically, how does it change those aspects? For example how have queer political movements morphed by becoming conversations in the cyber world? I would have to imagine that the same anonymity that you discuss which gives people the freedom to explore identity online also gives people the freedom to explore new political and social ideas, etc… The cyber world changes the discourse for queers in a number of ways on a number of subjects, and I think you do a really great job of bringing some of those up and exploring how queer identity exists online.

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